Thursday, June 01, 2006

Taking the fast out of fast food

It's official. The Burger King in the American Airlines terminal at LAX is the world's slowest "fast" food restaurant. 25 minutes to get a burger? As John McEnroe used to say, you can't be serious! The staff were the most addled, idle, pathetic looking bunch I've ever seen. Yes it was busy, but the cashier was operating at about a third of the speed of your typical fast food register jockey.

But it isn't ultimately the fault of the staff - the big money honchos at Burger King HQ are the ones to blame for letting this happen. Their whole business model is supposed to be based on repeatable processes and constant monitoring so that you can take minimum wage labour and still produce a consistent product and level of service. It's not like this is a branch in some far flung backwater that they forgot about managing.

But ultimately it isn't even their fault. It's a symptom and result of the bigger problems with domestic aviation in the US and the final link in a long chain of the legacy airlines crapping on their customers.

Firstly, US airlines have stopped serving meals on domestic flights. That's OK if I'm paying $200 to fly from Denver to Dallas with Southwest. But when United charge me $900 for a last minute ticket on a 3.5 hour, 6 pm flight from Denver to Washington and then tell me they can't give me a meal and still make money it's obvious that these guys must struggle to put their shoes on the right feet every morning.

Secondly, the "meals" they have available for purchase are barely worthy of the name. A snack box with some crackers and cheese, crisps and a muffin? Yes, that's what I always eat for dinner. Not! To see how it can be done right, check out the Virgin Blue buy on board menu.

Thirdly, the choice of restaurants in most US airports is basically limited to fast food (Pour Le France in Concourse B at Denver International Airport being for me a very fortunate exception). That's because to generate alternative sources of revenue the airlines overcharge on rentals in their terminals. So the likes of Burger King and McDonalds, who can manage to deliver consistent service in thousands of outlets around the world including in really challenging environments, can't manage to do it in US airports.

It's a wonder the US legacy airlines don't come to their customers' homes to crap on them.

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