Drive-thru etiquette: the do’s and don’t’s

Picture this scenario: After hours of work and school, your day has finally come to an end. Thinking you deserve “a little treat” after a long day of adulting, you decide you’ll pick up dinner on the way home rather than cook something. 

Your gas tank looks pretty empty, but the sheer intensity of the grumbles reverberating inside your stomach’s walls, like a piano falling down a stairway, is enough to power the car down the street and back home.

 You cut across lane after lane of traffic, mad with hunger, and careen into the closest drive-thru lane, rolling down the window as you pull up to the speaker.

A sense of relief washes over you like a cold wave, and happy tears begin to well in your eyes. An hourly-paid voice greets you, asking you what you’d like to order in the best voice their minimum wage can afford. 

Your heart drops to your gut, as you realize you never actually thought about what it was you were going to order. At least there’s something in your stomach now.

Has this ever happened to you? As a worker at a very popular fast food chain, it’s a lot more likely than one would think. I like to call it drive-thru etiquette: what you should and should not do when ordering your food to-go. 

As mentioned in the anecdote prior, my first rule in drive-thru etiquette is to always know what you want to order before you pull into the parking lot. 

Unless you live next door to the fast-food chain you’re buying from, in which case you’d probably be walking, the car ride to the place offers ample time to decide what meal you will eventually choose to indulge in, if you choose to do so.

Of course, the menus seem to be ever-changing at many fast food places, so confusion can sometimes be inevitable. Luckily for the customers, our menu boards have gone digital, with giant pictures next to each meal detailing its components, eliminating all confusion.

If you do have to take a minute to decide, remember that it’s a drive-thru, not a drive-in. The menus may look tasty, but I can guarantee that a screen is much better viewed than it is eaten.

Now you’ve ordered your food, and you’re on your way to pay at the window. Similar to the first tip, my second rule for drive-thru etiquette is to have your money ready and in your hand before you arrive at the pay window, especially if you’re paying with cash.

It’s one thing to wait a few seconds for a customer to fish a debit card out of their wallet.

  It’s another to stand there awkwardly as the customer digs through their center console, on the hunt for the two dimes and four pennies they could’ve sworn they just had a minute ago (lies.) Save yourself and the window worker the embarrassment and have your money ready beforehand. 

Rule number three, arguably the most important: don’t dig through your bag at the window after they hand you your order. For one, you’re holding up the line for the customers behind you.

 Secondly, the sauce packet you’re probably looking for is more likely than not at the bottom of the bag, along with the time you’ve wasted. And probably a few bottom-of-the-bag fries.

Third, everyone inside is staring at you as you unwrap your sandwich to see if every condiment is inside; and still staring as you awkwardly wrap it back up and drive off. If you need to double-check something, do it in the parking lot.

If you follow these tips and be a good drive-thru customer, the workers will certainly appreciate it, and maybe even slide you an extra sauce cup free of charge.

Write to Joey Erickson at joseph.erickson.2@mnsu.edu

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