Monday, June 20, 2005

Doug's drive through law.

This little rant was inspired by this great Taco Bell story found here while doing a little mindless surfing. Enjoy.

I've got a family of six, plus Grandpa. Sadly, this means the drive thru is nearly useless for me because of Doug's Drive Thru Law, namely:

the number of food items ordered multiplies the percent chance for an error in package delivery with an item being defined as a single expression, communicated to the establishment staff that represents a standardized food package; each item brings 5 percent of error; add on expressions that modify an item, or portion of an item, are subject to a 2X multiplier; generic product references add another 1X multiplier as well with out of order expressions adding another 1x to the total. Deduct one base item error percentage for each sane question asked by the order taker to arrive at your total food error percentage.

This means if you have more than one kid, it's simply not practical to get a correct order from the drive-thru without checking your food, ordering in small chunks, getting extra make up items, etc...

Before I go too far, lets explore what is and what isn't an item. As I defined above, an item is a single expression that identifies a food package to be delivered in exchange for money. Now that's a bit more complete than the law above states, but I think you get the idea. Afterall, this is just a quick rant. Remember, lower your expectations and you will be happy more of the time! Ok, lets get started on the item examples!

"#3, medium with Coke" is one item. That's a package that links to the little buttons on the console. None of the kickers apply here, so you will get this right 5 out of 100 times. Not so bad. The expression maps directly to the buttons making parsing as easy as possible. Total: 5 percent chance of error.

"fat burger, no onions, a medium fry, and a cola" happens to be three items. Even though all three items are in the combo package, listing them by themselves requires thought at the register, thus adding significant error. That's 15 percent error right there, but it gets worse because of the generic product reference. You just can't say cola and expect to get Coke, Pepsi or RC cola because there is no button for that. If you are lucky, the person will ask. If not, you will get what you get. Total: 20 percent chance of error.

I have found it's easier to get correct food orders more often at the burger places because the combos group the food together in ways that keep the error rates down. When ordering for more than a coupla people, these combos really start to matter! For my family, I can expect 50 percent on a good day. Not too bad compared to:

Taco Bell

This is where it gets messy. Taco Bell has lots of items and most people want a few of them. Disaster just waiting to happen. Lets see why:

"2 soft tacos with meat and cheeze only, 1 bean burrito, 1 burrito supreme with extra beef and an extra tortilla wrap, an order of mexi nuggets, 3 hard tacos and a medium pepsi."

2 soft tacos is one item (explained below), plus the meat and cheeze only 2x kicker brings us to a 15 percent chance of error without even getting started. The bean burrito is right off the menu, adding it's tame 5 percent bringing it to 20 percent chance total. 1 in 5, not bad though that might just get started feeding one hungry teenager.

That burrito supreme is a monster with 5 percent for being an item, and 10 more percent each for the two modifiers. Now we are at 45 percent or so...

The order of mexi nuggets adds 5 percent as does the three hard tacos. The latter is a tricky one because it seems like three items, but the reality is actually better than that because the words three and hard taco both directly map to the little order taking buttons. Whew, only 5 percent for all that food!

The medium Pepsi is right off the menu, only bringing another 5 percent to the table, leaving us with a total of about 60 percent chance of getting a food error. That's a best case scenario. If you have not properly prepared your order delivery, the numbers go way up. Here is the same order again, only delivered in a less organized manner.

"Medium Pepsi, 1 soft taco, an order of mexi nuggets, 1 bean burrito, another soft taco with both soft tacos being meat and cheeze only (If you don't get questions back at this point, be scared --really scared!), 1 burrito supreme with extra meat and an extra tortilla wrap, and 3 hard tacos".

Now we know the best case scenario was about 60 percent. The out of order items add another 10 percent (never order drinks first, it's just does not work.), breaking the two soft tacos adds another 5 percent because they are two items now instead of one, plus the modifiers go up on each one as well. That's 20 percent for a total of 40 percent additional error.

If you deliver this particular order, at your local Taco Bell, and they don't ask any questions, you are safe to assume your order is going to be wrong!

Now imagine that scaled up for about 5-7 people and you had better be checking your bag before you drive off!

I have found a few tips that can cut your potential losses however. Asking for special items to be placed in their own bag really helps a lot. It's easier to check your food and it makes them think a little about just what they are shoving though the window. For large orders, you just know they put the specials in the bottom in the hopes you won't bother to look until it's too late! The seperate bag cuts way down on that. (I have gotten my specials in their own bag at the bottom of a larger bag though!)

Let your kids order more items, if they are standard ones! The time and hassle savings is more than worth the extra coupla bucks.

Never get drinks at the drive thru! They are expensive and add to your food error potential. Snag those at your local food mart and make the kids go get them. Almost as good as the drive thru and you can snack on the smaller items, like fries, while you wait! It's a win, win scenario as I see it.

Check your food at the window, before driving off. This annoys them to no end, but once they get to know you, your error rates will drop. Of course, you then have no idea just what is in your food. It's a tough call. Cold and wrong food, or correct and hot food with bonus ingredients! You decide.

Have any fast food drive-thru tips to share? Post 'em below.


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