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My son, Chuck, has a job at a fast food chain restaurant. In the world of fast food, I would have to say that his particular workplace qualifies as the top end of such places., with a strong emphasis on cleanliness, friendliness, efficiency, and a positive attitude. Chuck was very happy to get hired at this particular place because of those very qualities that make it a different kind of place to be. One of the most telling aspects of the difference is that he is always cheerful to go to work and equally cheerful when he gets out. My two older children started their working lives in a different kind of fast food restaurant and it was a completely different experience for them. They pretty much hated everything about it and were never happy to be there. They would come home with tales of being abused by both supervisors and customers, having to frequently deal with nasty people, and smelling like a deep fat fryer. Chuck always comes home happy. He also never smells wretched because they don't fry anything where he works. That is a definite plus.
The only negative observation about his employment that I have ever heard him utter is exclusively connected to the drive-through window. Where he works they have regular customers who come in frequently that they know by name. They are almost always pleasant and cheerful and have developed a nice relationship with the employees. No matter what the age of the customer, they are nice to the young people who work there and always happy to see them behind the counter. Even the customers they don't know that come into the restaurant tend to be friendly and nice. Then there are the drive-through customers. They are not all nasty and mean, but enough of them are so that the employees recognize the difference between them and the ones who actually come into the place. Sometimes they will keep a count of how many mean people go through the drive-through just to see if there is a pattern. Apparently, there is no particular time of day or night when they are better or worse than any other time and no single common item ordered by people who are unpleasant. They just are.
This revelation got me to thinking about why that would be. I attempted to do some research on the question but I really couldn't find anything definitive one way or the other on it. I talked with employees at other restaurants who confirmed that their meanest customers were generally those who used the drive-through, but they didn't have an explanation for it either. I was intrigued.
Why do the meanest, most unpleasant, most impossible to please people seem to use the drive-through? Is it because being inside their cars gives them a sense of power that they don't get by being in the actual restaurant? I suppose this is possible, but it's a mystery to me how anyone would feel more powerful sitting in their mini van than standing inside. Maybe I just don't get the whole philosophy of cars as symbols or tools of power thing. Maybe it just seems too silly for me to understand.
I suppose that it could have something to do with their circumstances at the time that they are going through the drive-through. Perhaps they are under the stress of being late for something or suffering from some kind of anxiety related to lack of caffeine. I suppose that they might get nicer after a cup of coffee or something. If it is raining or very cold it could be that they are suffering from some kind of weather related condition that not only causes them to choose not to get out of their cars, but also makes them really grumpy.
Perhaps the answer is deeper than that. I imagine the nasty drive through customers might have some sort of disorder that causes them to dislike any face to face contact with other human beings and a deep resentment when they have to interact with them so that they are really ugly when they are forced to deal with a real person at the window. Maybe the initial act of talking to a disembodied voice through a box flips some switch in their brains that makes some people feel isolated or rejected and therefore, somewhat defensive and aggressive.
I have come to the conclusion that I am unable to fathom the pathology of the mean drive-through customer no matter how much I ponder the question. I think that someone should do a study on it though, because it truly is a very real thing. On the other hand, perhaps the answer is actually very, very simple and Chuck has gotten far closer to the truth than any study could. He maintains that it is pretty basic. Mean people prefer the drive-through because it is easier to be nasty there. I bow to his greater experience.
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