I gave up eating the food at McDonald's long ago, after noticing that I got intense stomach aches within minutes of eating their products. But my body does not rebel at their coffee, and it was my need for a jolt of joe that had me sitting in the McDonald's a few blocks away on N. Main Street, sipping coffee and considering what it would take for me to be "highly satisfied" with my customer experience.
The franchise here is offering a "buy one cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin, get one free" promotion if you fill out an online customer survey. The website was printed on my receipt.
They had me at "free food," even food I wouldn't eat. I'll give it to Mark. He eats everything. I sat down at a table near the front of the restaurant and fired up my iPad.
I quickly saw I'd really have to earn this free food. I had to enter a code identifying the store, and a code for my transaction, the amount of my transaction, whether it was sit-down or to-go, and what time I was there. Then came the questions. Was I highly dissatisfied, dissatisfied, neither satisfied or dissatisfied, satisfied or highly satisfied with:
- the cleanliness of the restaurant
- the friendliness of the staff
- the speed with which my order was taken
- the speed with which I got my order
- the taste of my food/drink
- my overall experience
All this talk of satisfaction and dissatisfaction made me feel like I was talking to God, not some data-crunching web server in the cloud. Unless the cloud IS God. In which case, we're in big trouble. God knows our passwords.
I answered "highly satisfied" to most of the questions, but when it got to my overall experience, I downshifted to just "satisfied." This got the Server/God's attention.
"Please tell us why you were not highly satisfied with your overall experience of McDonald's," the survey said, and offered a blank box to type in my response. There were no more multiple choice checkoffs. Now I had to get personal. I stared at my iPad.
Why was I just "satisfied"? What bugs me about McDonald's? Well, the obvious: its global reach, its Super Size-ness, its shiny, machine-tooled, mass produced hamburgers, French fries and dairy products. Its sameness, whether you're in Times Square or Memphis or Tucson. It's so slick, so corporate, so impersonal, despite the best efforts of its smiling employees. Certainly, in Ada, they smiled. In New York City, smiling took too much effort.
In too many little towns like Ada, there's a tension between the big chains and smaller, independently-owned stores. The chains promise a certain slick, tool-died experience as compared to frequently-shabby and tired little family-owned places. They offer legitimacy, a We've Made It-ness: "Yay, we're finally getting a Starbucks!" They're franchised, which means, behind the molded plastic signs and the uniforms there's a real live person whose own ability to feed his or her family is riding on the success of this store. The big chains employ people. My very first job, at the age of 15, was at the McDonald's in Strongsville, Ohio. I was fired for stealing. The manager caught me eating the cookies that I was supposed to be putting into Happy Meals.
My zeal for free food goes back a long way. But that's another story.
Yes, the work is at minimum wage, and yes, it typically comes without health care and retirement benefits, but the same holds true for most mom-and-pops. So, why can't I be satisfied at McDonald's?
Because I prefer the specific to the generic, the run-down and well-used to the clean and spiffy and unloved. Because I miss the uniqueness of Gardner's, a drug store on N. Main that closed once RiteAid came in, buying out the proprietor. I'm told by someone who would know that he was close to retirement anyway, but RiteAid's power of persuasion included a not-too-subtle hint that they'd run him out of business, anyway. Because I don't like bullies, and multinational corporations can be bullies.
I started to type this into the survey's little square. An error message popped up. "Your session has timed out. You must re-enter your information. We apologize for the inconvenience."
So much for the free Egg McMuffin.