Friday, August 1, 2008

Fast Food Shop: the shop

Ride along with me on a fast food shop!

Before leaving the house, I review my paperwork (instructions and the company-provided note taking form) to refresh my memory as to what I'll need to notice. I jot down my starting mileage (starting 7/1/08, the government will give me a tax credit of 58.5 cents per mile for business miles, well worth keeping track of) and I'm off!

I keep a digital voice recorder close when doing my shops. I very rarely use it for recording the actual shop because I don't want to become complacent and lazy. Trusting in machinery is dubious: should the machine fail and I haven't exercised my memory and observation skills enough to complete a job survey, I risk losing the payment for that job. But I find it helpful to take verbal "notes" before and after a shop. Before purchasing the recorder, I also checked the laws of my state very carefully to make sure if I use the machine on a shop I was recording legally.

So, I turn on the recorder and take note of: time, date, temperature, cloud cover, time of day (not time so much as light: twilight, sunrise, pitch dark, etc.) and traffic near the shop. I pull into the parking lot and quote into the machine exactly what is written on the illuminated sign out front. I drive around the parking lot once, reading off the posters in the windows, counting the cars in the lot, making note of potholes and if the painted lines are wearing. I also make note of trash in the driveway and on the sidewalk: how many napkins, discarded cups, straw papers, and where are they? Are there bread racks or a delivery truck in the parking lot? What about the dumpsters? Are they overflowing? Tidy? Rusty?

I pull into the drive-in and start my cell phone's stopwatch when I ring for service. I push "snapshot" when the speaker attendant asks to take my order. I jot down initials I've memorized for what he says, and notes for what I don't have initials for. So, for example, if he says, "Hi, thanks for choosing Mega Food, may I take your order, please?" I write, "Hi, TFChMF, MITYO, P?" I place my order, very carefully following the instructions the shopping company has provided me (no special orders, one entree, one side, one drink only, and only those items on the approved list.) I continue jotting notes inconspicuously as the attendant repeats my order and tells me the cost. As he rings off, I hit the stop button on the cellphone stopwatch and simultaneously hit "start" on a regular stopwatch. I make notes about the length of time the order-placing transaction took. And now I have a second watch going to time the food delivery part of the shop. I pay for the order using my business credit card and wait for the food to arrive.

While waiting, I jot down some written notes about the condition of the menu board next to my car, the advertising in the car area, what the waitresses are wearing, if the building is clean and well-lit, etc. There's a flurry of activity while my food is delivered, because in just under 10 seconds I have to notice, remember, then make notes of: exactly what the waitress says, what she is wearing, her name, her physical description, if she smiles, makes eye contact, repeats my order, tells me the cost and thanks me. Whew.

I turn the recorder back on and dictate the condition of the drink cup and lid. I walk step by step through opening the bag (rolled, folded or open?), taking each item out, examining it visually, then tasting each item: hot? fresh? crispy? messy? and setting it aside. I continue doing that with each item in the bag, then make notes about the "other" stuff in the bag: salt? ketchup? napkins? how many of each? If anything is really out of line I'll jot a written note, but if all is as expected, just a voice memo is enough to jog my memory.

Now I can eat at my leisure. I didn't tonight, but I usually bring a child along and this is the time they know they can start talking to Mom again. They are well trained. Be quiet and invisible during "quiet times" while I'm working and you'll get a meal out! They will gladly consume all those nasty calories for me while I sip on some iced tea I've brought from home. I take my time and watch the employees for anything out of the ordinary. Tonight's a strange one. We have a man making deliveries that isn't in the uniform of the shop! He's in another uniform, though: he's a uniformed security guard the shop pays to keep the peace. I guess he is bored or maybe wants to help out, but this is absolutely beyond the scope of "normal" and gets reported.

I've agreed, by accepting the assignment, to stay in the parking lot for a certain period of time after my meal is delivered. When the time is up, I turn on the recorder, note the time and any observations that jump out at me as I leave. Then, I drive home and note the mileage as I pull into the driveway at home.

Now the report. I kick my teenager off my computer and go to the shopping company's website where I am taken question by question through the note-taking form I used on the shop. There are six sections on this particular survey. Each section contains 8-10 questions and one narrative. I fill out the questions, clicking in the radio box for each answer. But I don't fill out the narrative just yet. I save the form online and switch over into my word processing program. I find it much easier to transcribe my notes from the voice recorder and my written notes in a word processor first, get everything in full sentences, check for the "flow" of information, do a spell and grammar check, re-read again, then save it all and cut and paste it into the survey form on the shopping company's website.

I go to my Excel document in which I keep all my shopping information and plug in the amount I spent on the shop and mileage. This generates a form I print out to which I attach the receipt, scan the form and receipt and send them electronically to the shopping company. They will use this information to validate my shop and get my paycheck in the works! Yay, paycheck!

Almost done! Now I put my notes, the receipt, all the information I've collected from this shop back in the file folder holding this and only this job, and file it in the filing cabinet in the section marked, "Completed Shops." This part of the cabinet is sectioned by company first, with the oldest shops in the front of each section. I will check my business email carefully for the next three or four days. Sometimes if I don't make some bit of information clear, I will get a note back from an editor asking to clarify. Editors like immediate responses to these clarifications, and I like to make editors happy.

If there are no clarifications needed, I won't see this paperwork again until payday. Payday, our next installment!

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