Fast Food and Church

[NOTE: The following is a missive intended specifically for one of the ministry teams at the church where I serve. But feel free to eavesdrop.]

I recently found some guidance for IBC’s Hospitality Ministry in a fast food line.  

Last month, I had a terrible customer service experience at Dairy Queen. On the way back from vacation, my family stopped to get a round of our favorite frozen treats in Wellington, Texas. There was a line stretching to the curb that didn’t seem to be moving. When we finally inched forward to the signboard to order, it wasn't working. I glanced toward the drive through window and saw a haggard teen waving me forward. No problem. We pulled up and ordered at the window. After a bit of confusion over the order, the DQ employee engaged me in the following conversation: 
DQ: That’ll be $9.23 and our credit card machine is broken. 
Me: So cash only then? 
DQ: Yep. 
Me: (Scrambling to find cash, which I never carry.) Here ya go. 
DQ: Here’s your change. Just pull around and it should be ready when you get back.  
Me: Pull around to where? 
DQ: Just around back to here. 
Me: You want me to circle the building and get back in this line? 
DQ: Yes.  

As far as I could tell, this lone teen was the only employee outside the DQ kitchen. There were considerably more flies than associates at this location. And both the teen and her employer were content to let a line form in front of their store and then ask people to sit in it twice.  

A few weekends ago, I had a radically different experience at Chick-Fil-A. Saturday lunch is peak season for suburban Chick-Fil-As — prime time for errand-runners and families with their young sports stars. As soon as I pulled into the drive-through line I thought I would regret this stop. The line of cars stretched in a circle around the building. But then, before I could get to the signboard to place my order, a smiling CFA employee approached my car, iPad in hand, and asked if she could take my order. After doing so, she asked me to stay in the line and ignore the signboard. A few minutes later, another outdoor employee, this one wearing a neon green safety vest, trotted out to my car with my order. I pulled out of line and on my way without ever visiting the drive through window.  

I’d like to suggest that there are at least three lessons our hospitality team can learn from these disparate experiences.  

First, the CFA manager planned ahead. He knew that Saturday lunches are busy. He wasn’t surprised by the line around his building. The DQ manager was neither expecting nor concerned with the line around his.  

Second, the CFA manager created new systems to handle increased demand. This is important. The manager could have simply staffed the existing systems with more workers, or asked the workers to go faster. He could have tried to make the traditional signboard-window-window system more efficient, or shouted pep talks to his teenaged employees about working faster. But instead, he built entirely new systems — invested in iPads and safety vests and additional training — to provide a better customer experience. He was willing to think past the way drive-thrus have always done it and extend his service outside his building.  

Third, the CFA employees communicated. The DQ employees, too, had created a new system. Since the signboard speaker wasn’t working, they had created a system by which customers ordered and picked up at different visits to the same window. This probably wasn’t the best system, but it was even more frustrating because it was poorly communicated. I would have liked to know that the credit card machine was broken before I placed my order, indeed before I got in line. It would have been good to know about the broken signboard. I would have liked the downtrodden cashier to say something like “Sorry about that. We’re having some equipment trouble so we’re trying something new…”  

At Chick-Fil-A, people planned ahead, created helpful systems, and communicated clearly. We should do the same.  

Next weekend, our church will face its own peak season. Easter Sunday is the biggest and busiest day on our calendar. We’ve created a new, shortened version of Explore IBC that day. We’re recruiting more people to serve. We’re doing our best to be Chick-Fil-A and not Dairy Queen. Will you help? Let’s make sure we’ve planned ahead, that we’re ready for the increased traffic, and that we communicate clearly and cheerfully with our guests.  

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a craving for a chicken sandwich.