Working in the drive-thru has its perks. Customers order, pay, and leave immediately at the end of the transaction. Seems pretty low-impact, right? And yet, due to the casual nature of the exchange, there are customers who take it upon themselves to be as abusive and humiliating as possible. Ask anyone who’s worked more than a single shift at the window—some people are borderline inhuman, and they want you to feel that way, too.
I see you, drive-thru workers. And here’s a bit of good news, from someone who spent their college years shilling sliced beef beneath the glow of a red cowboy hat: There are ways to take back your sanity. You don’t have to feel bad about yourself, despite the low wages and that Russian roulette type of feeling that comes with every beep of the headset. In some cases, in fact, you might even find ways of exacting revenge.
Here’s where we hit you with a heavy disclaimer. Just because some of us have done these things in the past doesn’t mean we’re recommending that you, dear reader, put these tactics to use. Make no mistake, a few of these actions have probably made a bad day worse for customers who, under different circumstances, might be genuinely pleasant. And no, we’re absolutely not going to talk about dropping burger patties on the floor on purpose or spitting in anyone’s food. That’s lowbrow, health-hazard stuff, and it’s not advisable in any situation. If a customer pays for their food, they have the right to expect not to get sick.
Instead, there are subtler, more clever ways to win out against the man cursing at you through the loudspeaker above the revving of his diesel pickup. Here are a few instances of sweet revenge, compiled from personal experience.
Be so polite that it’s painful
You know what makes irrational jerks even madder? Being bright, friendly, and direct. Say an SUV screeches into the drive-thru, bearing a woman on a cell phone and her pack of insufferable goblins. Your voice should hold every bit of the spark that’s gone out of her spirit. Speak as though you were addressing an old friend, with all the perkiness of quadruple espresso. More often than not, the customer will hate it.
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And did that creepy old guy just tell you to “smile more”? Flash him the biggest, most demonic grin you can muster. Lean out the window a bit, too, and be sure to hold the eye contact. If you can manage a laugh as he speeds away, well, that’s all the better.
This one can be hard to pull off, given the soul-crushing nature of most food service shifts. But if done right, not only will it infuriate the dastardly customer, but you’ll have an ironclad excuse in the event they complain.
Repeat the order ad nauseam
“Hey! Is this thing on? Hello? Damn it, I’ll have a cheeseburger and a chocolate shake.”
“Hello, thanks for stopping by! That’s a cheeseburger and a chocolate shake?”
“You heard it. Come on, let’s go.”
“We have several kinds of kinds of cheeseburgers. Which one would you like?
“And what size for the shake? How about whipped cream? And would you like any fries? Would you like to donate $1 to our charity for local hungry kids?”
Being overly thorough is a form of weaponized hospitality. You need to be careful you’re not also annoying your coworkers, but when this tactic is properly employed you’ll be able to smell rage fumes through the speaker. Repeat everything the customer orders at least once, and then repeat it again before giving the total. With this method, you take back the pace of the transaction. It puts you in control, not the dillweed that’s trying to rush you.
Add a shot of extra flavor
Did you know that, in addition to their pillowy softness, most burger buns can be injected with an extra measure of sauce? Because they can. Whether you’re using a standard squirt bottle or one of the long-necked steel pumps, by puncturing the surface of the bread and applying just the right amount of pressure, you can create a cavity of excess liquid.
So, imagine you’re an asshole. You’ve just ordered your 2-for-$6 BBQ burgers, complained about the cost, and insulted the cashier’s parentage. The cooks in back can usually hear that. And if they’re on good terms with the window staffers, their protective instincts might kick in. So be careful when you sink that foul mouth into your sandwich. Who knows? You could wind up with a mess on your lap and steering wheel.
“Pull around to the second window”
This was, by far, my personal favorite tactic. And it couldn’t be simpler: You take the offending customer’s order, give them the total, and offer this easy direction: “Please pull around to the second window.”
But see, the restaurant didn’t have a second window. And believe it or not, people would lap the building searching for it. The looks on their faces as they passed in confusion—that’s something I’ll cherish until my dying day, when I’m sent to Food Service Hell to atone for my sins.
If confronted by the customer, the answer was simple: “Oh! Sorry about that. I used to work at [insert alternative restaurant], and I just started here.”
So, there you have it. A few ways to maintain your sanity when faced with the worst of the drive-thru demons. Again, these are reminiscences, not recommendations. These tactics evolved over years of experience and were reserved for the biggest tools you can imagine.
But for the record, I also never got caught. And there’s something to be said for exacting revenge while also covering your ass.