Monday, January 29, 2018

Mama, Ohh... I Wanna Burger!

It started with some binge TV and developed over a bad experience at a fast-food joint.

Ever since my family and I dropped our cable-TV service and I was too lazy to install a digital antennae before the snow came, we've been watching a lot of programs on Netflix and through Plex. We finished watching Shameless and The Walking Dead, as far as Netflix would allow, and then caught up on more recent episodes of both through the other streaming feed.

Before we gave up cable TV, DD16 was hooked on the Fox cartoon, Bob's Burgers. For those who haven't seen the show, it centers on a family in a small town on the northeaster American seaboard—possibly, New Jersey—and the burger shop that is less-than successful. Bob and his wife, Linda, have three highly dysfunctional kids, Louise, Gene, and Tina.

The show is well done and can give The Simpson's a run for its money.

When we abandoned cable, DD16 went through a bit of withdrawal from this cartoon, but now that it has made its way to Netflix, all of us will sit and watch the episodes. The problem is that when I watch the show, I develop a craving for a burger.

One night, in December, I had been running errands after work and into the early evening, and I didn't get a chance to come home for dinner. Because everyone at home had eaten, I decided to stop in at a fast-food spot and pick up a burger. Barrhaven doesn't have many burger joints where you can grab and go. There are a couple of MacDonald's restaurants, but I swore off them decades ago. There's DQ, but I've never been a fan of their burgers. I also find that eating their buns is akin to gorging on a thick sponge.

There's an A&W that recently opened near the new Costco, but it's way on the other side of Barrhaven from my home, which defeats the purpose of a quick food run. 

There's Five Guys and Burgers & Shakes, but those aren't particularly fast. At best, from the time you place your order until you're seated with it, you can count on 10 minutes or longer.

And then, there's Wendy's.

I've always liked Wendy's because I find that their beef is pretty hard to beat for a fast-food chain. It's the closest you'll come to a homemade patty that you can pick up at a drive-through.

On this particular night, I decided to skip the drive-through window and went inside. At this hour, the dinner rush had ended at least an hour earlier, and there was no one in line. A cashier was behind the counter, looking at something on the computer monitor, so I waited until I was called.

After about 30 seconds, or so, the cashier turned and walked to the back of the restaurant. She never looked at me, but because I was standing no more than six to eight feet away from her, there was no way that she could not have known I was there.

So I stood, and waited.

About a minute after walking through the front door, another employee came to the counter area and went to the register. As with the first server, this young woman was looking at a display on the register and never made eye contact with me. This time, I sensed that she was extra-focused on the screen, as though to say, "I'm busy. I don't have time for you." After about a minute, she too disappeared.

I wasn't bothered that they were busy, that they were unable to serve me right away. But I was feeling ignored, invisible, like my business didn't matter to them.

I told myself that I would count down from 60 seconds, and that if, by the time I reached zero no one had acknowledged me, I was going to leave. I was hungry but now, I was feeling unwelcome.

In that final minute, I saw several employees moving about, assembling meals for the customers who had opted to stay in their vehicles. I wondered if I should have done so, myself. A young girl moved to fill an order of fries and, as she did so, scanned the restaurant. Her eyes never met mine, even though she looked beyond me.

Five, four, three, two, one, zero. I turned around and walked out the door.

In my car, I was furious. I blamed the manager, who had poorly trained his or her employees, if they were trained at all. I would think that the first rule of customer service, as it was when I worked in retail, all those decades ago, was to treat a customer as though you were glad they stopped by. If someone had merely said to me, "I'll be with you in just a minute," I would have waited longer than the two minutes or so that I stood in front of the counter. Instead, I was ignored, treated like I didn't matter.

I was still hungry, so I thought of where I could go, nearby, and my mind fell to Mexican food. Mucho Burrito was just across the street.

When I walked through the door, the two employees behind the counter immediately looked at me and, in unison, said "Welcome." One of the employees was ringing through a sale and the other was preparing a burrito for another customer.

No sooner had I walked up to where the order line starts, when the young man who was building the burrito said, "I'll be with you in a moment, sir."

"No problem at all," was my response.

I was trying to decide on whether I wanted to have chorizo in my wrap or wait a little longer, and have them prepare some shrimp for me, when the young woman, who had been at the cash register, came to me and said, "Sorry for the wait, sir. What can I get you?"

I had waited less than 30 seconds. Like, maybe 15.

As I finished paying and started for the door, I told both the servers, who helped make my burrito (I was the only one left after the person ahead of me was gone), "Tell your manager that he or she has trained you well. You were awesome."

I swore I wouldn't go back to the Wendy's in Barrhaven again. Not when I had Mucho Burrito so close by. I also ate much healthier that night: no fries, no soft drink, no greasy burger.

But I still love burgers, and every time I watch Bob's Burgers, I want one.

I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions. In fact, more than 20 years ago, I resolved to never make another New Year's resolution, and I've kept that promise. However, as 2017 drew to a close, I promised that I would avoid fast-food burgers at all cost. If a burger is made for me, it should be made well, even if it takes longer and costs more.

This month, I decided that I would try several burger joints around the Ottawa area and seek out the best burger. I already have a few that I love and have gone to for years. But over the next couple of months, I'm going to really focus on why I love those burgers and I'm going to seek out new places where I can enjoy a good burger.

Sometime in March, I'll post my top five burger places in the city.

Do you know of a great burger joint? Let me know and I'll check it out.

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