Creating your own restaurant model is hurting fast food workers

  • Chain restaurants with highly customizable menus have exploded in recent years and remain popular.
  • The rise of mobile ordering has made changing orders much easier.
  • Some workers say these customizations have made customers demanding and unreasonable.

In 2022, diners expect to enter the fast food chain of their choice and customize a dish from start to finish. Chipotle is the poster child for this “build your own” assembly line model, but it’s used across the industry, from Subway to Sweetgreen to Cava.

These customizable dishes, originally prepared in front of you but now often ordered through an app, date back at least to Subway’s beginnings in 1965, but have become more ubiquitous over the past decade.

Chipotle was initially a novelty, an assembly line where customers could point directly at ingredients and watch them go into their ideal burrito. The rise of mobile ordering has made customization much easier, giving customers the ability to clarify exactly how they want to prepare a dish, right down to specifying ‘extra’, ‘light’ or ‘regular’ amounts of each ingredient. .

Chipotle app


Digital orders have made it easier to personalize orders in the fast food world. Chains like Taco Bell have launched mobile-only combos of multiple menu items. Other restaurant concepts, such as Cava and Sweetgreen, have emerged with customizable menus that are mostly ordered online. Customers also tend to place larger and more complicated orders digitally, where they’re less likely to feel judged by servers.

In other chains where personalization was already part of the appeal, mobile ordering has made it easier than ever. Beverage customization at Starbucks is a big part of the overall appeal, but as mobile ordering has exploded in recent years, some baristas say, so have requests for drink modifications.

Starbucks ticket average hit an all-time high in 2021, thanks in part to larger orders and more beverage changes. Some baristas told Insider about orders with a large number of custom requests, like an iced latte with 12 shots of coffee, as well as five shots of hazelnut syrup, drinks with so many modifications they couldn’t fit. in the appropriate cup, and even be asked to mix food into drinks.

These orders aren’t the norm, according to Starbucks, which previously told Insider that 75% of custom drinks have fewer than three edits.

The growth of highly customizable orders in fast food has made jobs much harder for workers, a Taco Bell executive who just left the chain after 20 years told Insider. “Digital ordering is the worst thing that’s ever happened to Taco Bell,” he said, due to the “ridiculously personalized” orders customers place online. He cited the example of the chicken taco sandwich, to which some customers would add all the extras possible. “How are we supposed to fit that over there?” He asked.

Workers at another chain echo veteran Taco Bell. “These orders are driving us crazy because they’re so long, so specific, and it forces you to do a lot more work than you should for a single drink,” said a Starbucks shift manager in New York. at the Guardian.

“Personalised social media drinks like TikTok are also increasing the need for labor,” a Starbucks Pennsylvania supervisor previously told Insider.

This change is partly due to rapid advances in technology used by fast-food chains, such as online ordering, and people getting used to being home and having everything delivered, the worker said. Many customers are “starting to think of fast food as their personal catering service,” the Taco Bell worker said, with extreme edits to every item and no empathy or understanding for overworked workers.

Some other workers feel the same way. “The rights and the anonymity that comes with the internet have made people look horrible,” a former Texas Chipotle employee told Insider.

Do you have a story to share about a chain of stores or restaurants? Email this reporter at [email protected]

About Walter Bartholomew

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