The most important review I’ve ever written

Being a dad has meant many things, and one of those has been increased patronage of fast food er, restaurants. Lots of folk are sniffy about such things, “Oh, I don’t go to…” etc. Aye, well wind your neck back in, the lowest common denominator catches us all somewhere, how many folk watch X factor, shop at Asda, buy a newspaper, drink tea, breathe air, I could go on. We’re all human, work with it.

So we have what I would call the Big Three, the most easily and frequently found establishments in the places I go. They all have a captive audience to an extent but where they don’t they’re often up against each other which you would think would sharpen the attack on customer loyalty. Not so, McDonalds, Burger King and KFC are often feet apart geographically but miles apart in every other way.

KFC

No longer Kentucky Fried since the rebranding, but the grimacing face of the Colonel still leers at you at every visit. You’d think it would be hard to do much wrong with chicken, but KFC do try to screw it up as much as they can.
Joycee and I often caught the KFC breakfasts which were actually quite nice. Blueberry pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon and maple syrup with a latte for 3 0r 4 quid. But they got increasingly unreliable, no milk to make coffee some days, the maple syrup went from a wee tub to a thimbleful and then there was the times they ran out of cutlery. I was handed two spoons to cut bacon and pancakes, they were handed over with the grinning mindless sincerity of a job well done too.
Maybe you could deal with that if the place was clean. How can you be the first customer in the morning and find dirty and sticky tables, bins so full the rubbish it’s tumbling back out and last nights crap still left on the seats. I mean what the hell are the doing at night, last customer leaves, they throw their jackets on, flick the light switch and go home?
Back to the chicken. Sometime it’s great, I like chicken, I like the spicy breadcrumb coating, Holly likes the popcorn chicken and they’ve being doing nice 70’s desserts recently, it’s a sauce thing that makes them 70’s, trust me on this.
But, inconsistent quality of chicken, fries that are even more of a gamble from lovely to mummified matchsticks and the constantly dirty tables make a KFC visit a take away thing only, and an increasingly last resort.
The chicken angle makes KFC different in the market, but they seem determined to run down their outlets and make them unusable. I’ve seen great staff, frustrated and embarrassed staff and staff who fit in very well with the current business model. I don’t know if the managers are getting support as the same issues go from branch to branch but if feels like KFC is giving up, visits there can be a very dismal experience. Except for the corn on the cob which is an unfailing delight.

Burger King

BK has upped its game in recent times I think, but. I think their burgers are great, they can taste like a burger cooked fresh for you by someone in no hurry on a barbeque grill out in the sunshine. Sometimes.
While that last statement might be a little overoptimistic I’ve found the hot food very consistent in quality and pretty tasty, even to the point of enjoying it rather than tolerating it as fuel while Holly digs a fistful of chips into ketchup with glee. Holly likes it because the food “is spicy” and also because they often have a soft play corner in BK restaurants. This is a good idea as long as they keep them clean and the watching parents combined IQ’s are greater than the combined ages of the children. There’s never much food trouble in there surprisingly, but like any soft play there’s sometimes issues with older kids being too boisterous and the potential for consequent adult intervention. At the Drumchapel branch there was the memorable unexpected event of one youngster having a shite in the corner. Glad I don’t have to visit their house.
The BK desserts are good, a wee bit of imagination in there but also it’s where the preparation becomes trickier and the counter staff often fudge the issue. We’ve had ice creams handed over several time where the ice cream had been running down the hand of the staff member and your dessert has finger prints in it. No thanks.
One cracker was last week when we nipped into the Renfield Street BK for a coffee before a late movie. A Latte for me,  a ice cream dessert and a diet coke for Joycee: small order, piss easy? I got a cup of hot frothy milk while Joycee got a cup of ice cream so melted it matched the look of my coffeeless coffee, and to eat it, my favourite… a fork and knife because the had no spoons. Money back and the sole survivor was the diet coke which went to see Riddick too.
Front of house is a weak spot, dirty tables are common, but not as bad as KFC and staff often seem under pressure, even at quiet times. Management create the systems and format and these poor bastards have to make the best of it.

McDonalds

The golden arches of doom. Remember when foot and mouth hit back in 2001 and McD’s instantly declared that it was a British Beef free zone? Bastards. But, the food has improved no end in recent years.
McDonalds is well organised, the recent refurbishments of the restaurants has given them a better and more pleasant feel and it’s actually no great hardship to spend time in one of their places. I was in the Balloch branch last night for over an hour with Holly while Joycee was at a meeting and it was that visit which prompted thoughts of this review, such as it is. We had our dinner, on clean tables after being served by friendly staff, and then sat for ages playing the battleship game Holly got in her fish finger happy meal which was followed by some mermaid drawing with the cups of crayons and paper.
McDonalds have increasingly made an environment that is welcoming and relaxing, one where you’ll go back and get a second cuppa. The Fort William branch is an oasis, it’s often the only place open for me to eat and rest on the way home on a winter’s night.
So, well organised, more efficient that most, cleaner than the rest, staff that look slightly less harassed, we have a winner? No, the hot food’s pretty much a sea of blandness for me. The occasional specials are usually the only thing I’ll eat that’ll I’ll enjoy, except in the Ft Bill one, anything I eat in there is the food of the gods. I know, it’s a psychological thing.

Do I have any conclusions? No, not really. Burger King food server in McDonlads restaurants? KFC manned by McDonalds staff? All three chains run by McDonalds management and using a new bunch of menu makers?
My main thoughts are that times are hard and when choosing where to go and spend our money why should we have to compromise? McDonalds seems to be doing the best presentation right now, I like the restaurants, but while the food is improved it’s uninspiring, well, except for the chili chicken wrap maybe, but I digress.
The other two seem to be spinning their wheels, trying to make money while not investing it in themselves which they should be doing, not to just keep us from grumbling but maybe even to give us a positive experience in visiting them. Wouldn’t that make for a better future outlook?

My last point is the most important one. The counter and kitchen staff in all of these places must be among the hardest working and least appreciated people around.
I couldn’t deal with so many of the public and stay civil, I don’t know if I could maintain their peak time pace and I don’t know if I could live on their wages.
What is their effort to reward ratio compared to many of us? Bear that in mind the next time you got back up to an 18 year old kid in a branded polo shirt and give them attitude over a tiny thing on your order that’s easily fixed.

2 thoughts on “The most important review I’ve ever written

  1. As usual, you’re right. McD’s is closest to being decent but I reckon most of those who look down their nose at this stuff don’t have kids. We did something similar last week in Perth and the battleship game went down a storm with the wee ones.

    I have been known to stagger into the Fort William mountain mcdonald’s at an ungodly hour…if only the Real Food cafe could open more branches that stayed open late….

  2. I remember pulling into the car park as they were locking the doors and putting the lights out late one winter’s night.
    I think Joycee could here my wails 96 miles away.

Leave a Reply