Over on Mark Evanier's wonderful website here, he's been running a list that was published about the country's favorite fast-food restaurants, and giving his wildly entertaining play-by-play analysis of each. The other day, he discussed Burger King, which...well, let's say it was not among his favorites.
That reminded me though of when I worked at Burger King as one of my first jobs in high school. (My mother, for some reason, always tended to refer to it as "King Burger.") I always sort of liked the place, though I was just a kid, so my sense of fine cuisine is not what is today, or perhaps the quality has plummeted over the years. But my main memory of Burger King is how I almost revolutionized the company.
Burger King always prided itself on its "char-broiled" burgers. They had (and I assume still have) a couple of conveyer belts -- one went slow through the charbroiler for the meat, and the other zipped through with the buns. The employee manning the conveyers would race around, grab the product, put the burger together, and drop it in an aluminum warmer.
(I think you also put cheese on some of them, and placed them in a special part of the warmer. I'm guessing that special orders were made in the back, though at this point, many decades past, I don't have a clue...)
Anyway, it was exhausting work trying to keep up with the orders, and make sure there were always some prepared burgers in the warmer bin, so that they could be grabbed instantly for fast, immediate service. The trick in trying to keep up was not letting the warmer run out, so as not to be screamed at by the overbearing boss.
One day, however, I came up with a system that turned the store on its ear.
I don't know why it took most people who manned the conveyor belt a long time. I suspect they did it orderly: put down a burger, put down a bun, run around and get them, or something like that. Me, what I came up with for the conveyer belts would have been Henry Ford proud. I just started slapping down burgers on the belt, since they needed a head-start, and only after threw on the buns. I timed it so that by the moment I raced around to the other end, everything was coming out at the right instant. I whipped the burgers and buns together, stacked them quickly in the warmer, had built in a long-enough buffer for me to run back to the front to toss in some more, only to rush around again as they came falling out.
Whereas it was a struggle for most employees to keep burgers in the warmer bin before running out, forcing the servers to wait, mine kept stacking up and up. And up. The burgers were filling the bin to the point where it was almost overflowing. Indeed, I was on the verge of them spilling over. The servers weren't even coming close to keeping up with me.
That's when the over-bearing boss wandered by. He took one look at the warmer bin, and almost burst a blood vessel in his head. "What are you doing??!" he screamed. The problem, you see, was that I was too efficient. There was no way the servers would be able to get through that jammed bin, and as the boss put it the burgers at the bottom would be all soggy and wasted. I was bluntly admonished to go back and slow the bejeepers down. (Hey, was it my fault that they didn't have enough customers to eat through the bin fast enough??)
And so, back I trudged to the front of the conveyer for char-broiling, putting on the brakes, sloooowing way down, and boringly putting on one burger and bun at at time. Oh-so pedestrian. Just one more example of The Man and Corporate America stomping out the true innovators.
If this manager, if all of Burger King could have gotten on the ball, and marketed things so that there were lines out the door of people, all able to get their burger instantly using the RJ Elisberg Method of Fine Fast-Food Preparation, to this day King Burger could have been the #1 fast-food outlet in the world. With their own sign of Billions and Billions and BIllions Sold.
At the very least, they could have had a sign that said, "Billions and Billions and Billions Made."
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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