Not so fast

Perhaps to make up for the shortcuts they have taken in order to make their food fast, fast food outlets have made ordering food a long and winding road. It’s like needing to get married – quick — and applying for a license without the benefit of a fixer.

That is not entirely true. At least, when you apply for a marriage license, the guy over at civil registry doesn’t ask you: “Would you like some fries with that?” They ask for the usual credentials, sure, but they don’t ask you if you’d like to “super size” your fiancée, for a few pesos more.

Not the chatty type, I have avoided fast food outlets for precisely this reason. (And just so my friends don’t bother with the punch line: It is along this line of reasoning that I have not been avoiding the civil registry.) I actually have a fear of fast food outlets: the noisy welcomes, the perky sales “crew”, the sales pitches, the cross-selling and the up-selling, the loud exchange between counter and kitchen that management feels it is our privilege to hear.

The other night, I tried to get over that fear by confronting it. Surely, I thought, another offer of French fries won’t kill you, if the fries actually will.

I can, I felt, stand my ground. “No, I don’t want fries with my French fries.”

If nature abhors a vacuum, fast food outlets abhor silence. There is this inordinate need to fill every silence – every space in conversation — with something they feel needs to be said. You cannot, for instance, pay for your order in silence. They assume you are either an idiot, or a sleight of hand magician: “I received P500, Sir.”

And if you so much as made the mistake of handing over a P1,000 bill, a whole production number is laid out for you. “I received P1,000, Sir.” You nod when deep inside you want to tell her “That’s amazing, because that’s exactly what I gave you.”

But that, apparently, is not enough. The “crew” member shouts, at the top of her lungs, “Large Bill!” You look to your left and to your right, wondering whether “Large Bill” isn’t the name of a bouncer who throws out insensitive customers who gobble up all the change. The manager marches in, solemnly, holding a key, holds the large bill against the light, opens the cash register, and walks away, leaving you wondering what that whole drill was all about.

I was prepared for all that when I walked in the other night. I ordered a burger, “not the meal, no drinks, no fries, and no upsizing,” and that sort of perplexed the girl at the counter, who appeared ready with her array of offers. Before she could ring up the register, I gave her the exact amount, to the last centavo, wondering what else she could possibly say, under the circumstances.

Fast food outlets abhor silence. “Thank you for giving me the exact change, Sir!” the girl chirpily cried out. “Enjoy your take-out!”

And just when I was about to walk away in defeat, she called out, for good measure: “Be happy!”

SunStar Cebu
Thursday, 15 September 2005

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