Subtle Surprises

Working fast food over the holidays can be a big challenge. First all the employees want the time off and second all the customers, who have days off from their own job’s, come in. This can make things very busy for the night crew. The majority of the time we are short staffed around 9 o’clock at night when the “after dinner” rush comes through.

On this particular night, which happened to be the night before Christmas Eve, I was upfront working the counter by myself. There was one person running front drive-through by herself. One person making the sandwiches, one person putting meat down in the grill area, and lastly one order taker in back drive.

I had several customers to take care of at once. I would take 2 to 3 orders at a time, gathering their food, and moving onto the next group. A women came in with her two daughters and waited at my register. I had seen this woman before, although I wouldn’t exactly call her regular. They each ordered three identical chicken sandwiches, fries, and a drink. At the same time that they ordered on counter, a large 12 sandwich order went through drive-through. This 12 sandwich order was placed before the customer on counter. Which unfortunately meant she had to wait.

Well, I was waiting for the 12 sandwiches to be made so that they can move onto my order. The women called me back to the counter. She asked for the drink cups for her and her daughters. I retrieved them and handed them to her. Then I was informed that we had to wait on the chicken to be cooked for her sandwiches. So I went and told her it was going to be about a three minute wait. She said “okay” looking slightly annoyed.

I could feel her eyes staring down the back of my neck as I watched the grill team prepare drive-through’s order. I would be waiting on the chicken for three minutes no matter what. I heard the counter lady call me once more, this time she wanted me to put extra ketchup packets on her tray. I obliged and put a handful of ketchup on her tray next to her cups. I then walked back and waited for her sandwiches to be finished. I heard her call for me again, this time she asked if she could have a pen. She looked more than slightly annoyed by this point. I looked all over upfront and could not find a pen. So I went and found my manager who is working in the grill area and asked her to borrow her pen.

I returned upfront and handed the pen to the woman. By this time she looked extremely annoyed that her food was taking so long. I figured she was going to write a complaint down on a piece of paper. I started to imagine what it was going to say. That our service sucked, that we were very slow, that we should have more people to handle the amount of customers… She called me back to the counter and handed me the note she had written on her receipt. She commented that she wanted the manager to read it and that I could read it as well. She still had an annoyed look in her eyes.

I turned and walked back to my manager quickly so that I can get her judgmental eyes off my back. Once I was out of the customer’s sight I looked at the note. What I read almost made me stop in my tracks. The note said:

“I hope you have a great holiday season and thank you for all that you do.”

After I handed it to my manager and returned back upfront her sandwiches are ready almost immediately. So I put her sandwiches on her tray and finally finished her order for her. We both smiled at each other and her annoyance seemed to melt away as we thanked one another.

At that moment I felt slightly guilty because I judged the reaction of this woman wrongly. She may have been annoyed by her slow service because we were shorthanded, and she may have wanted to write something terrible on that receipt, but the fact is she didn’t. She chose to give us words of encouragement and thanks. Sometimes I wonder if that is what the Christmas season is really supposed to be about.

My challenge for everyone reading this is to find a subtle way to surprise someone who is expecting a totally different reaction from you. Like the woman did with the note for me, and how people in drive-through pay for each others orders asking others to pay if forward. The Christmas season is the best time to pay it forward. Make sure you take advantage of making someone else’s day better. When it comes to those of us who work fast food, it makes my day watching you make someone else’s day. Pay it forward.

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