McSatisfaction


So, have you read my “day in the life of McDonald’s #5834” blog yet?  If not, read that one first, or this will make absolutely no sense.  Not that there was much sense to start with.

In that email, I mentioned the McDonald’s in Canonsburg with a similar drive-thru setup as an example of how things ought to be run.  Apparently you can’t always assume that people are going to do the right thing when waiting in line or following lines painted on the ground are concerned.  Heh, that is so ridiculous, I need to copy & paste it for effect.

Apparently you can’t always assume that people are going to do the right thing when waiting in line or following lines painted on the ground are concerned.

McDonald's on Urbanspoon Done laughing?  OK, let’s move on.  There is someone who works for McDonald’s that gives a damn.  He is the manager of the McDonald’s that also serves as a memorial to Perry Como, Bobby Vinton, and the Four Coins.  Mr. Scott Kausky not only took the time to write back to me once, but twice… and get this… both replies came in the same day of my email to him!

This man is to be applauded for his efforts.  I’m waiting.  Please.  Clap.

OK, first, my note to him…

From: ERiC AiXeLsyD world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com
Date: Wed, 21 Jul 2010
To: skausky33@verizon.net
Subject: Fwd: A day in the life of McDonald’s #5834 (West Liberty Ave.)

Hello Mr. Kausky,

I would like to thank you for the inclusion of your email address at the top of your McDonald’s receipts.  It is a policy that your brothers-in-franchise at the McDonald’s in Beechview on West Liberty Avenue have recently adopted.  Sadly, though, for them it is useless.  I have written to them over a week ago, to no avail.  I believe that they’re beyond reach via email… or that they just really don’t care about customer satisfaction.  I hope that’s not the case with you!

The reason I’m writing to you is that I mentioned your restaurant in my email to them as an example of how to operate… and wanted to hear your thoughts on the issue.  Pehaps you can review the email below and come up with a few ideas.

Do you have any contact with the managers at that location?  Perhaps you can be the Jedi Master to their Padawan.

Thank you in advance for your time, I can’t wait to hear from you!

-Eric

…which was of course followed by the original email.

His 1st reply…

from Scott Kausky skausky33@verizon.net
reply-to skausky33@verizon.net
to ERiC AiXeLsyD world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com
date Wed, Jul 21, 2010
subject Re: Fwd: A day in the life of McDonald’s #5834 (West Liberty Ave.)
mailed-by srs.bis.na.blackberry.com

Eric

Its unfortunately the store I operate is privately owned. I have pride in the store that I run and this is why I provide my email address. The email get sent directly to my blackberry that I pay for. This is not something that is provided by my operator or McDonald. I care about my customers as they are the ones who pay my check and when I have unsatisfied guests it affects my bottom line as well as my crew.

Mcdonalds.com will also have a guest satisfaction email as well as a 800 number which should get you to someone that is involved with that particular location. Once a complaint or praise is posted it is then emailed to the operator or supervisor of that location and they should respond within 24 hours. This is the policy mcdonalds enforces on the private owner stores. I also copied your email to the owner of my store to see if he can get you in contact with the appropriate person.

I apologize that your having these problems and will assist you to try to fix it.

Thanks for being a loyal mcdonalds customer.

Scott Kausky

His 2nd reply…

from Scott Kausky skausky33@verizon.net
to ERiC AiXeLsyD world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com
date Wed, Jul 21, 2010
subject Re: A day in the life of McDonald’s #5834 (West Liberty Ave.)
mailed-by verizon.net

Eric,

I have to apologize again, when reading your email, my blackberry only showed half of your email  I’m at home now and read the full thing.  I have also copied Linda Cumer, who is my business consultant.  She is paid by McDonald’s Corporation.  She will have better contact then anyone to work on resolving these issues.  In reference to the traffic cones, I appreciate the fact that you like the ideas.  I had a customer a month ago give me an hour lecture on why I should eliminate them.  I made the decision to have them in place to keep the cars lined up.  I would also install a q line like you see at an amusement park to keep the same thing happening on the inside with guests who try to cut lines, but was told I wasn’t allowed.  I hope I have assisted you and us to get these problems corrected.  Please let me know either way if someone does or doesn’t contact you because I want the Arches to shine even if I do only have a small role in it.

Thanks Again,

Scott Kausky
General Manager

Genius.

Mr. Kausky is obviously intelligent, thoughtful, and full of great ideas.  He ought to be working for Chick-fil-A!  I can excuse the somewhat confusing email via Blackberry, and hs ignoring my Star Wars reference.

Why shouldn’t there be lines like in the bank (or Burger King or Wendy’s) so that the actual next person is next, not the a-hole who cut in front of them?

I really can’t express my drive-thru complaints successfully unless you’ve ever been to that type of drive through.  I really need to work on some illustrations to convey the full extent of my frustration.  The customer that wanted the cones removed is an assclown.  The only reason he  (or she) would want them removed is so he (or she) could cut in front of others in line.  What makes him (or her) so special?  Does he (or she) also park in handicapped spaces?  I bet he (or she) does.  I would like to hear just one rational reason for their removal.  I bet it can’t be found.

Of course, these only touch on the host of problems at the West Liberty Avenue McDonald’s.

This guy wants it resolved though, as a true honest-to-goodness hard worker with a correctly aligned set of values where it comes to running a business and how to treat people.  I started this off on a goofy note, but hate to mess with this guy… he really wants an issue resolved.  And now, dammit, so do I.  He explained his point of view, his situation, and told me that he was forwarding the message to two separate individuals to try and see if he can get something resolved that doesn’t affect him in any way whatsoever.  Scott Kausky is a champion among men, I tell you.

Honestly, up until this point I saw it going nowhere.  I mean, did you see the comments on my other post?  No one gets good service there, ever has, or most likely ever will.

We have, however, learned some invaluable and interesting corporate mantras from the big McD.  Did anyone else find these statements to stand out?

  • “Once a complaint or praise is posted it is then emailed to the operator or supervisor of that location and they should respond within 24 hours. This is the policy mcdonalds enforces on the private owner stores.” –  O, RLY? Hmm.  They definitely didn’t meet that.  We’re going on 336 hours pretty soon here.  So that McDonald’s is poorly run on a whole bunch of different levels.
  • “I would also install a q line like you see at an amusement park to keep the same thing happening on the inside with guests who try to cut lines, but was told I wasn’t allowed.” Wasn’t allowed? Ridiculous.  The general manager doesn’t have the power to create order out of chaos in his own restaurant?  McNazis, I tell you.  I’ve been there at lunch time.  This would improve the line situation immensely… especially with multiple entrances.  McCorporate McChaos.  Shame on you, McDonald’s, for keeping this man down.  To me, this says McDonald’s doesn’t care if people cut in line, if you’re aggrivated, or cheated.  You don’t matter.  Just your money does.

So, today we have learned some things.  We already knew that the West Liberty Avenue McDonald’s hates you.  We learned that McDonald’s is overbearing and into micro-management as a general attitude.  We know now that certain stores have a blind eye turned on them, as any semblance of corporate monitoring would have them completely overhauled and/or shut down.

Most importantly, we learned that there is at least one last good man working for the McDonald’s corporation who has a strong identity with the cherished Golden Arches, and wants you to respect that identity.

Now, I really can’t wait to see where this goes form here.

A day in the life of McDonald’s #5834 (West Liberty Ave. – Brookline/Beechview/Dormont)


Typically, when I write a crazy email, I wait for a response before I post… but I’ve had a significant lack of response on this one for over a week now, and I felt the need to post this here and perhaps refer to it in a webform submission to corporate.

McDonald's on UrbanspoonI have a love/hate relationship with McDonald’s, especially this McDonald’s.  It’s close to where I live.  The food is generally horrible for you and looks like it was assembled by Stevie Wonder, but sometimes I’m in the mood for it.  Or, sometimes I’m in a hurry, and McDonald’s still somehow equates to quick service.  It’s the only fast food joint that I pass when going in that direction other than the abysmal nearby Wendy’s.

Apparently, with the complete demolition and re-building of this McDonald’s, they decided to include a contact email address at the top of their receipts.  The email address included at the top of my most recent receipt was Ella.Jones@us.mcd.com,  so that’s where I sent my email.  Over a week has gone by, and I still haven’t received a reply.  I even copied the email to sandra.jaeger@gmail.com, who had contacted me about an earlier incident at this location(Although, she never did ultimately reply about my complaint… I just got an email asking what the situation was, and was given no response thereafter.)

This McDonald’s has a website at McPennsylvania.com and it lists the manager as Rick Sapko.  It doesn’t give his email address, but I did use a “contact the manager”
form
there, also to no avail.  I forget Ms. Jones’ title, but I would think that the manager’s address ought to be at the top of the receipt.  Unless she’s the owner?  Also… this reminds me that Ms. Jaeger isn’t a very good customer service rep if she never got back to me about my original inquiry.

Reading all of this, I can’t see why anything in my letter below shocks or surprises me.

My email that defies all responses:

Hello,

I had sent this message over a week ago, and hadn’t had a reply, or even a “we received your email, we’ll get back to you” message when submitted by webform.  I decided to try again from a different email address…

Hello Ms. Jones,

I would first like to thank you for the new policy of including a contact email address at the top of your receipts!  Email is my communication tool of choice.  I find myself able to converse more effectively if I see the words written out in front of me.  The webform at the McDonald’s website is such an impersonal exchange.  It’s never satisfying to get an email that includes a reference number and a phrase to the effect of “please do not reply to this email”.  I mean, really… what other possible message could that convey besides; “We got your email, we’re ignoring it.  This response is solely an attempt to pacify you from further pursuance of your issue.”  So, to reiterate, I would like to thank you in advance for making communication so easy with the McDonald’s in Beechview.

The new McDonald’s is quite striking.  It looks like a Starbucks or Caribou Coffee from the outside.  The parking lot is absolutely gorgeous.  Although, the abandoned Jiffy Lube next door ought to be knocked down for additional parking… or you could charge people to park there instead of letting them park in your lot to go to the adjacent bar that has a new name every few years.

Inside, I feel like I’m in the Brady Bunch dining room or den though.  Somebody chose those chairs?  Really?  And then there’s the produce all over the walls, while visually appealing, isn’t exactly representative of the food you sell, is it?  I mean, I don’t see any vats of oil or cows on the wall, but there are strawberries and cherries on the wall.  How many menu items contain strawberries and cherries versus beef or chicken?

I’ve seen similar design schemes in Chick-Fil-A, Quiznos, Subway, the Pita Pit, Qdoba, and other food establishments.  I thought that McDonald’s was an innovator, not an imitator.  I’d just like to hope that the designer didn’t charge too much.  The layout and seating are infinitely better than the previous layout.  That ramp outside that led to walking through the drive-through lane was ridiculous, the seating was well, dirty…  beyond mopping & wiping-down dirty.  The bathrooms were… Well, I had written about those in the past to a Sandra Jaeger.

After all this, I still need to get to the point of my email I suppose.

This past Sunday, I had the unique opportunity to dine at the West Liberty Ave. McDonald’s twice in one day.  First, in the morning, my wife & I were on our way out to the suburbs east of the city.  We decided to go through the drive through as she had a craving for an iced coffee.  I ordered the Egg McMuffin extra value meal with a Sweet Tea, and she got a Bacon Egg & Cheese Biscuit and the aforementioned iced coffee.  As we were sitting in the drive through lane, before the split, someone pulled in from the West Liberty Ave entrance without following the clearly marked “↰” arrow and cut directly into the outside ordering lane.  I know the McDonald’s in Canonsburg has solved this problem by using orange reflecting traffic cone type devices so it’s impossible to pull into the extra lane from the outside.  (Perhaps you could look into this solution, as people obviously cannot be trusted to “do the right thing” of their own volition.)  Once we were finally past the ordering process, we sat in the line before the pickup window as the orders in front of us were mixed up and it took seemingly forever for them to be told to move forward until it was all sorted out.

At the pickup window, we had to ask for straws as they weren’t in our bag or handed out to us with our drinks.  The kid in the window looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language after asking for them and handed them to me, one at a time, still looking like a deer in headlights.  After we were finally handed our food, my wife gave a cursory check of the bag as we drove away…  Bacon Egg and Cheese Biscuit?  Check.  Egg McMuffin?  Check.  Hash Brown?  Check.  Drinks?  Check.  Napkins?  No napkins, my friend.  I think we both know the grease content of your fine foods and of the need for napkins after partaking.  It’s also worth noting that there was no ketchup in the bag for my hash brown, nor was I asked if I wanted any.

As we cruised down West Liberty toward the maddening chaos that is the Liberty Tunnels, my wife let out an expletive as she graciously unwrapped my breakfast sandwich.  Apparently someone wrapped my sandwich with the appropriate wrapper, but forgot that an Egg McMuffin contains ham and a fried egg and not bacon and a creepily folded piece of rubbery yet spongy scrambled egg-like substance.  We even checked the receipt just to be sure that I did indeed order an Egg McMuffin.  According to that, I had.  Since we were on our way to a timed function and because (if you’re familiar with the road you’ll know) there was no convenient place to turn around once we were on the road anyway, I declined to go back and have the situation rectified immediately… and ate the dry spongy yellow matter and pretended to not be annoyed.

Much later in the evening, around the dinner hour, we were on our way home and decided to stop at McDonald’s again for in lieu of cooking at home or going out of our way somewhere else to get dinner.  Arguably, Wendy’s would be an option here, but have you ever been there?  They give new meaning to the word “sloth” in its application to a fast food establishment.  After all, there’s no possible way that orders could be screwed up twice in one day at the same McDonald’s with an entirely different crew, right?  Yeah, right.

I tell you, you have a stellar team if you’re competing for the “sloth” title with Wendy’s.  There looked to be nothing but chaos in the kitchen and cash register area.  No one seemed to know what was going on; not in the new counter area that was overly packed with confused waiting customers, and not the crew who were running around like chickens with their heads cut off in slow motion.  Yes.  I’ll let that image sink in.  It’s the only way I can think to describe it.  There was no pattern to the scrambling around in the kitchen, but then again, it wasn’t scrambling because that would imply speed and/or urgency where there simply was none.  I shared glances with several of the other customers, each of us asking each other with facial expressions alone…  “What is going on here?”  “Who’s in charge?”  “Is this really happening?”  I tell you, I have never felt more telepathic in my life.

Upon receiving my meal, it was clear that my chicken nuggets were cooked and cooled well before the batter-turns-to-cardboard point had been reached, even the sweet and sour sauce couldn’t disguise it.  Exasperated and bewildered by the still ridiculous amount of people waiting to order or waiting to receive their orders, I again just ate them without complaining.  Really… there were hardly any patrons sitting down in the dining area compared to the throngs of would-be consumers just waiting and hovering around the order area.

I realize that I am to blame here for not rectifying each situation immediately as it was happening, but you must understand my perplexity regarding the awesome ineptitude of two wholly different shifts at the same restaurant.  From my standpoint, that’s a 100% failure rate in the scope of one day.  I find myself continually questioning why I choose to visit this McDonald’s location, and the answer is always the same; convenience.  Unfortunately, the convenience is slipping away.  The time required to obtain a meal is not convenient.  Eating lukewarm chicken nuggets (“now” with all-white meat?  What the hell was in them before?) is not convenient.  Eating spongy rubbery folded egg stuff is not convenient.

I had hoped that with the literal demolition and rebuilding of your McFranchise, it would have also entailed a symbolic rebuilding of your team and their work ethic with an effort on getting correct orders out in a timely fashion.  Apparently my hopes have gone unrequited thus far.

I’m not asking for a free meal, or for an apology for instances that are clearly not your fault.  I am, however, asking you to please reevaluate your hiring, training, and supervisory processes, and perhaps to look into having someone observing all the time until things run more smoothly.  I’m sure that one lone day of scrutiny will point out several issues that need attention immediately. I would like to thank you for your time, and I look forward to a continued dialog on the progress of getting this McDonald’s location transformed into a well-oiled machine.

Bewildered,
-Eric
world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com

Have you have a similar experience there, or at any other McDonald’s?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Remove your dip from the refrigerator


A while ago, in a fit of goofiness, I noticed that a can of Frito-Lay cheese dip that we had said “REFRIGERATE IMMEDIATELY AFTER OPENING” on several places on the outside of the can.  So, of course I emailed them via webform stating something to the effect of heeding the warnings as accurately as possible, but now I was stuck with a can of Frito-Lay cheese in the refrigerator, and I wasn’t quite sure how to get out any dip if the can had to stay in the ‘fridge.

Sadly, I didn’t think to email myself a copy like I usually do, and their reply didn’t include my original message.

Apparently, they get this question a lot, this seems well-practiced…

from noreply@fritolay.com
to world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com
date Mon, May 17, 2010 at 12:00 PM
subject Here’s our response to your e-mail – RE: Fritos dips, Reference #011027198A

Here’s our response to your e-mail – RE: Fritos dips, Reference #011027198A

Hi Eric,

Thank you for writing to us.

Eric, you can remove your dip from the refrigerator, take out the amount you would like to eat and refrigerate the rest.  If this is unclear, please call us at 1-800-352-4477.

We consider you a valued consumer and hope you will continue to enjoy snacks from Frito-Lay.

Best regards,

Linda
Frito-Lay Consumer Affairs
011027198A

Heh.  Oh well, I’ll have to push some more buttons with them next time.  Question for the next list; Why do they add a reference number to their emails if they come from “noreply@fritolay.com” which to me signifies an end to the conversation?

Taco Bell has purchased my gratitude!


I got a letter in the mail today from Taco Bell.  You may be familiar with my emails to them concerning the death-filled tacos that they were recently peddling.  This is perhaps the best reply I’ve ever received to any of my either serious or goofy letters to any company.

I’ll dispense with the usual long-winded introduction and get right to it…

Letter form Taco Bell about Shrimp Tacos and Taco Bell Bucks!

You can see that along with the letter, I received five $5 Taco Bell Bucks certificates. That’s $25 in death-free Taco Bell food. That’s got to be the coolest thing I’ve ever received besides my T-shirt from Turner’s.  I’m not sure if they’re buying me off, rewarding me, if they make so much profit per item that it really doesn’t matter if they give this much away for free, or what.  This almost makes me want to write back to Pillsbury/Totino’s and make them feel ashamed for sending me three 35¢ coupons.  In fact, I may add that to the list.

The best, and I mean absolute best thing about this letter is that they’re forwarding my request to Pizza Hut.  Wow.  I trust you’ve seen my unanswered letters?  I can’t even express how hilarious and ridiculous and absolutely gratifying that is.


Death Taco


Death Taco. No, that’s not the coolest new metal or grindcore band, although maybe it should be.  It’s what I’m (of course) calling the newest Taco Bell menu item.  I have had some inquires as to why I hadn’t mentioned it yet.

Well, I did make a faint mention via Facebook or Twitter a while ago, but had declined to rant here as I’ve been relentlessly trying to contact Taco Bell.  You know how successful webforms are, so of course I got no answer from that, then I fished around for email addresses to send a full email, bugged them via Twitter for an address, and even posted an Ask Yahoo! question.  Out of nowhere, I finally received a reply, and I have no idea if it was in reply to the webform, my emails to random Yum! Brands and Taco Bell email addresses, or some other forum.

I’d like to share my original messages with you.  First the one via webform:

Hola, mis amigos de Titan Taco! Firstly, this isn’t about an incident at a specific Taco Bell, but the form didn’t allow room for general inquiries. I’d like to express my disappointment with a commercial that I saw advertising new shrimp tacos. Well, I guess my disappointment is not with the commercial, but with the product… and the main ingredient.  I don’t think I can express my thoughts in a box with a mere 500-character limit. Do you have an actual email address where I can contact someone?

…And this was to some email addresses that I found after some Googling.

From: ERiC AiXeLsyD <world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Mar 8, 2010 at 4:11 PM
Subject: Taco Fail
To: webmaster@tacobell.com (and a bunch of other addresses)

Hola, mis amigos de Titan Taco!

I’d like to express my disappointment with a commercial that I saw advertising new shrimp tacos. Well, I guess my disappointment is not with the commercial, but with the product… and the main ingredient.

I have a severe shellfish allergy, and Taco Bell has been a shellfish-free dining safe haven for me for years.  It’s one of the few places where I never had to worry about shrimp, crab, lobster, oysters, etc. ending up in my food, or worse yet… crossing paths in the kitchen somewhere.

I will sadly have to cross Taco Bell off of my list of places to dine… but I’d like you to know that there are many of us out here with severe shellfish allergies who have an increasingly difficult time finding safe places to dine out.  Fast food joints have long been a safe-haven for those of us with a shellfish allergy… as most fine dining and now even chain family style restaurants have several shellfish dishes prepared on multiple kitchen surfaces.  Formerly, as long as I stayed away from Long John Silver’s, I was OK.  Taco Bell, KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, …were all safe places.

I guess I’ll now have to get my quick Mexican fix at Qdoba or Chipotle.

If you’d like to know what it’s like to dine out with a shellfish allergy, please read this blog post.

Here’s an excerpt…

If you know me in person, have dined out with me, or have ready any of my lunacy online… you most likely know what I have a severe shellfish allergy.  What does that mean exactly?  Well, it means that I can’t eat any shellfish, or I go into anaphylactic shock.  Not only can I not eat the shellfish (that’s crustaceans & molluscs including but not limited to ,shrimp, prawns, lobster, crab, crayfish, oysters, mussels, clams, scallops, octopi, squid, snails, and probably even scorpions and pill bugs), but I can’t eat any food that comes into contact with it.  That means, if you cook shrimp on the grill, take it off, and put my steak on  without washing the surface, it’s the same as me eating the shrimp.

I certainly can’t expect the restaurant to clean the grill in between every meal, as that’s certainly not productive on their end… I just usually try to see where the shellfish is prepared, and eat from another cooking surface.  That seems easy enough, right?

I get that it’s my responsibility.  Yes, I’ve had an epi pen.  But I’d really love to not ever have the need to use one.  I’ve even considered getting Allergy Cards, but they seem a little pretentious or something… like my verbal reminder isn’t enough.

Well, getting me in to a place with shellfish is an issue in itself.  Why?  Well in with the aforementioned cooking surface issue…

I hope that this helps explain what people like me go through, and I hope that you re-consider selling death-filled tacos!

Running from the border,

-Eric

And, this is the reply, although I’m not sure if it’s the reply to one of the above messages, or in poking around on Twitter:

From: Poetsch, Rob (Public Relations) <Rob.Poetsch@yum.com>
Date: Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 7:30 PM
Subject: Pacific Shrimp Taco Inquiry
To: “world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com” <world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com>
Cc: “Hunsaker, Brittany (Contractor)” <Brittany.Hunsaker@yum.com>

Dear Eric,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us about Shellfish allergens concerning our new Pacific Shrimp Tacos.  We want you to know that we take these matters very seriously and that the business of our customers is our top priority.  We value loyal customers such as yourself and would like to take the opportunity to win your business back.

To ,  to our customers who might have Shellfish allergens, we have displayed information at multiple locations in our fish.  These include Shrimp allergen signs that are placed on our window and door clings as well as in our ads where orders are taken.  While the Pacific Shrimp Tacos are offered for a limited time only, all Taco Bell employees have been trained and certified to not have any food products come in contact with Fish and Shellfish during cooking and/or serving.

We would like to send you some Taco Bell Bucks as a token of our thanks, so please email me back with your mailing address.  We hope you will continue to “Think Outside the Bun” at Taco Bell, and appreciate you taking the time to write to us.

Sincerely,
Rob Poetsch
Taco Bell Public Relations

Rob Poetsch
Taco Bell Corp.
One Glen Bell Way
Irvine, CA 92618
O: 949-863-3915
F: 949-863-2252
rob.poetsch@tacobell.com

Of course, I needed to reply:

From: ERiC AiXeLsyD <world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Apr 1, 2010 at 5:15 PM
Subject: Re: Pacific Shrimp Taco Inquiry
To: “Poetsch, Rob (Public Relations)” <Rob.Poetsch@yum.com>
Cc: “Hunsaker, Brittany (Contractor)” <Brittany.Hunsaker@yum.com>

Hello Rob,

Thank you for the reply!  I was beginning to wonder if Taco Bell has a stand on the issue.  While I am pleased to hear about the allergen warning signs along with the employee training and certification, I must say that I still have some reservations about safety.  I am relieved to hear that the shrimp tacos are available for a limited time only.

It is great that you take responsibility in posting signs about allergy warnings.  Your fellow Yum! Brands organization, Pizza Hut, ought to take note.  They display allergen information on their website, noting that the pizza sauce may come into contact with shellfish… but there’s no shellfish on the menu.  When I asked where the contamination may occur (e.g. in the processing/canning facility?) they were unable (or I sadly suspect unwilling) to provide a detailed response.

Back to the subject of Taco Bell… the giant window-clings showing what I’m sure to many is a succulent appetizing piece of shrimp spilling out of a lovely soft taco shell looks to me like a giant Mr. Yuck sticker or the old-time skull & cross-bones “poison” logo that you’d see in cartoons.  They serve as an effective if not spine-chilling reminder as to the presence of shellfish allergens on the premises.  They would also kick my survival instincts into gear, not even letting me enter the presence.  Seriously.  I would wager that right now, it would be pretty difficult to physically get me into a Taco Bell restaurant. My Eustachian tubes are starting to itch just thinking about it.  I realize that this is also a highly personal mental health issue, but one that ought not be taken lightly, as it’s grounded in a very real fear.

Recently I read the blog of a man who almost died when he ordered a vegetarian Indian potato curry dish that he was assured was safe.  Apparently the dish was flavored with a shrimp brine… which ought to be disturbing to vegetarians, vegans, kosher folks, and people with shellfish allergies.  This is alarming to say the least.  I realize that simple cross-contamination may not seem as serious as flavoring an entire dish with shrimp-juice, but I can assure you that it is indeed just as deadly.  Our friends with wheat/gluten and peanut allergies seem to get a lot of attention lately, hopefully it will spill over to the rest of us with the “big 8” and those who aren’t even covered by that umbrella.

Have you taken the allergen training, or do you know what’s involved?  I am finding it hard to tactfully express my concerns about the way that the message was conveyed to Taco Bell employees and the actual willingness of the employees to understand and comply.  We’ve all watched training videos on various subjects and rolled our eyes, promptly taken pamphlets and placed them in the trash, or been angered when someone who doesn’t do our job gives us a new or added process that we must adhere to when we’re sure that the person suggesting the changes has never been in our shoes.

While I mean no disrespect to Taco Bell or any fast food restaurant, have you been to a Taco Bell lately?  Sometimes I am concerned about the personal hygiene and motivation of the employees let alone the cleanliness and efficiency of the kitchen.  Sadly, the low quality and poor service of fast food establishments has become a passively accepted facet of 21st Century life in the United States.  For evidence, I give you the term “McJob“.

I have a theory that for so long now, it has been expressed to kids everywhere to get higher education so you don’t end up as a laborer, janitor, or fast food employee… that fast food jobs have garnered such a negative connotation, the only people left willing to take the jobs are the highly unmotivated individuals, people with no other options, or people using the part time jobs for extra cash with no real pride in their work since there’s no real fear of losing the job or striving to move up the chain of command.

I would invite you to imagine that in the Taco Bell kitchen where you are about to dine there are the standard (and innovative!) sour cream and cheese caulking-gun looking dispensers all loaded on the food preparation area… along side a caulking-gun-looking dispenser filled with a highly toxic pest-control chemical that looks interestingly enough like cheese or sour cream.  Would you still feel safe in eating there?  Sure.  The employees can read.  Sure, they know the difference.  Are they ever rushed in a fast food kitchen?  Do mistakes ever happen?  Of course.  I’m guessing you would at least think twice or watch closely before you dine.

I understand that this scenario is preposterous because I would hope that some sort of federal regulations would forbid any toxic chemicals from being stored in a food preparation area.  No such federal regulations exist for people like me, although Massachusetts is moving forward with this type of thing.

While I trust that your training an certification was put forth with the best of intentions, you must understand that I question its implementation, practicality, and how it’s received and practiced by what amounts to be the first line of contact with your customers… the Taco Bell team member.  What exactly does the certification say?  Does each employee have it, or does a certification apply to an entire restaurant or shift?

I challenge you to quiz the workers at Taco Bells in various locations… inner city, suburbs, malls, and the combo units, and see how much the workers really know about cross-contamination and allergy issues and how they’re observed in a Taco Bell kitchen.  (Hopefully, they fare better than Subway employees.)

All that said, I appreciate and applaud the considerable thought and effort that has already gone into allergen awareness.  Spreading knowledge is the first step.  Did you know that May 9th-15th 2002 is the thirteenth annual Food Allergy Awareness Week?  Now is the time to act and inform, my friend!

I would certainly appreciate some Taco Bell Bucks, if you’ll understand that I may hold on to them until well after the current Pacific Shrimp Taco promotion is over. (Pending reviews, it may not last all that long, eh?) Taco Bell had previously been a shellfish-free Mexican-ish fast food haven for me for many many years.  I can’t tell you how many tacos I ate at the mall nearby to where I grew up when I was a teenager.  A dollar went much further at Taco Bell than it did at McDonald’s, Burger King or anywhere else in the food court.

My address is…

Eric Aixelsyd
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Pittsburgh, PA  XXXXX-XXXX

I would like to thank you once again for your time and the thoughtful informative reply.  I look forward to perhaps what may be a continued dialog about allergy awareness issues in the fast food industry, and more specifically relating to Taco Bell and other Yum! Brands.

-Eric

Wow, do I hope they write back.