Don't bite the hand that feeds you

Courtesy should be part of every drive-thru order. (Amanda Graham photo)

By Erin Fay
If you’ve ever worked with the general public, then you know that the general public is generally awful. This may sound like a harsh judgment, but it’s true – polite people are a rarity these days. No one knows that better than those who work in the food industry – especially at the drive-thru. 
The drive-thru was invented for the purpose of giving the customers speedy service while allowing them to remain in their cars. Unfortunately, this has allowed customers to forget that there is an actual person behind the speaker. For those who seem to have forgotten, here is a five-part refresher course in drive-thru etiquette:
1. Speak up
The speakers used in drive-thrus are not very sophisticated. In terms of sound quality, they’re somewhere between a walkie-talkie and two cans connected by a string. As a result, it can be very difficult to understand what the customer is saying. When ordering at the speaker, be sure to speak at an audible level and enunciate. This also means not ordering from the passenger side. Unless you have an abnormally loud voice, the employee on the headset will not be able to hear you. If you are in the passenger side, tell the driver what you want and have him order. Don’t scream it when the employee asks you to repeat what you said, and don’t get upset. By simply having the driver order, you will be spared the frustration of having to repeat your order several times.
2. Put on your listening ears
After you order, most drive-thru employee will repeat the order back to you. This is to insure that he or she has heard you correctly. If you do not listen during this important step, then you have no right to get angry if your order is misunderstood. Listening for three extra seconds at the speaker is better than having to wait three minutes at the window for the employee to fix your order.
3. Have patience
Drive-thrus are busy. It’s unavoidable. Complaining about having to wait in line does not make the line move faster. If the car in front of you has ordered five sandwiches and seven coffees, that order is going to take a while to make. When employees are making a large order and hear the signal that someone else is at the speaker, they will typically let you know that someone will be right with you. This does not mean you should spout off your order or sit there and complain about having to wait. What you may not realize is that when the employees answer the signal, they can hear everything you say after that – which means this may not be the best time to hurl insults at said employees. Nor is it a good time to belt out the Mariah Carey song on the radio.
4. Focus on the task at hand
There are few things more irritating than trying to take care of a customer whose ear is glued to a cell phone. Customers who are carrying on phone conversations do not notice what is going on around them. This can spell trouble not just for employees, but for other customers as well. Forgotten food and car accidents are among the problems caused by people distracted by phone calls. Not only that, but it’s simply rude. If a customer pulled up to the window and the employee was talking on a cell phone while serving them, they would be furious. Customers should have the same courtesy for employees.
5. Use the magic words
The words “please” and “thank you” can really make a difference. Unfortunately, these words are not very often used. Instead it’s “give me” this and “I want” that. A woman I used to work with had a different approach. She would correct the customers’ bad manners. For example, if people started their order with, “Give me a medium regular,” she would say back, “You would like a medium regular?” You would be surprised how effective her technique was. Often these same customers would be sure to say “thank you” as they left. There are few things that an employee likes to hear more from a customer than those two syllables.
Each one of these things can be summed up with the golden rule: Treat others the way you would like to be treated. If you were behind the speaker, how would you want people to treat you? Would you want them swearing at you and giving you an attitude because you had run out of glazed donuts at 11:30 at night? The next time you go for a coffee run, keep these lessons in mind.