John Henry and the drive-thru queue

The photo below has been sitting in my phone’s memory for a few days – time to get it out with a note explaining why I took it.

Sometimes Chick-Fil-A locations put aside their advanced drive-thru technology and go back to human order taking. This is apparently SOP for the breakfast rush at many locations, but it was new to me when I recently saw it:

Chick-Fil-A long line procedure

It’s just one example of how you really notice lots of little things as a customer that show Chick-Fil-A handles both routine and exception extremely well. You also get the sense that they do a lot of tweaking to processes, and keep an eye out for small, incremental changes that might have a palpable effect on flow and positive customer interactions.

Two things about this I wanted to think a little more on: first, most efficient doesn’t always mean most automated. Sometimes in terms of pacing and smooth throughput, a human being with a clipboard, a brain, a smile, and a microphone still trumps an advanced order read-out screen, speaker, and video camera. I’m curious how this started at CFA – was it something they serendipitously observed at one location and shared the idea across franchisees, or was it something they discovered via testing? Second, adopting a new tool doesn’t make your old ones all useless. This is as true for business processes as it is for gadgets. It’s kind of a corollary to “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Update: A third, related and not fully distinct thought – the need for the human process every once in a while isn’t and shouldn’t be considered a failure of the technology that replaced it. They nicely complement each other.

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