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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4899/did-i-just-catch-a-niner-with-your-order-of-fries/

Did I just catch a niner with your order of fries?

April 11, 2006 by

The NYT just ran a piece discussing a growing business practice, the outsourcing of fast-food orders. The story discusses a call center in California that acts as a central hub to an experimental project in which patrons give food orders to employees hundreds of miles away. Reportedly, due to the decrease in communication costs (through VoIP), the workers at a McDonald’s store can now focus on other tasks such as cooking food, cleaning and handling money. This boogey man for opponents of free-trade is none other than specialization and the division of labor at work. See also: Outsourcing Orders: Menacing, Thieving and un-American

Via Paul Kedrosky.

{ 15 comments }

Thomas J. Van Wyk April 11, 2006 at 11:28 pm

Can’t believe people are belly-aching about this; just another regurgitation of the same old trite anti-globalist argument.

Individuals, after all, should really not be allowed to trade with anybody, because that would destroy their self-reliance![/sarcasm]

LibertarianTankGrease April 11, 2006 at 11:42 pm

A point I may add is that the people who work at fast food now can barely speak any english anyway so why not?

Christopher Meisenzahl April 12, 2006 at 7:18 am

Seems like a reasonable practice to me.

Christopher Meisenzahl April 12, 2006 at 7:20 am

Oh, and is the title of is story a Tommy Boy reference? ;-)

Thomas J. Van Wyk April 12, 2006 at 5:50 pm

LibertarianTankGrease writes:

A point I may add is that the people who work at fast food now can barely speak any english anyway so why not?

Actually, I would go so far as to speculate that practices like this might actually help in that regard. I am currently in the D.C. area, and one of the things I have had to get used to living in the area, coming as I have from an almost-totally WASP community in Wisconsin, has been getting used to this fact. It seems to me, on the other hand, that you hear a lot about all the people in foreign countries who are almost more fluent in English than people who grow up in the United States are. English is almost a required subject in many foreign countries (or maybe it is literally required?)

Christopher Meisenzahl writes:

Oh, and is the title of [th]is story a Tommy Boy reference? ;-)

I think that’s what the reference was to.

Kristian Joensen April 13, 2006 at 8:47 am

I can tell you that english IS a required subject in the schools here.

tribalecho April 13, 2006 at 3:17 pm

Yo hail and hearty Austrians, long time no see. Since I have to do an incredibly difficult tax return I thought I’d google my moniker for the first time and ended up back here. Missed you guys but have been getting my feet wet in the blogosphere east.

FYI, this little lefty came up with this same idea several weeks ago when thinking about the restaurant I work at. Anyone want to invest in Georgia Food Lines? Or some such.

But that’s not why I post. Has it ever occurred to anyone here that this “cheap” communication was paid for by all the people who went bust in that fake stockmarket frenzy. What if lying analysts and indicted telecom CEO’s weren’t just out for a fast buck. What if Alan”it’s the productivity, stupid” Greenspan’s cheerleading is what got him Andrea Mitchell? OK. That’s a little out there. But I remember when fiber optic nirvana tipped to cries of over-capacity. Snap. Next thing I know some big Chinese firm is buying up Asia Global Crossing after getting approval I believe from the same board that ok’d the Dubai thingy. It’s a small world.

Hunter April 13, 2006 at 7:11 pm

Them Californian folks are stealin’ our jobs! Raise the barriers! Protect us!

Greg Feirman April 14, 2006 at 12:10 am

Arghhhh!!! I think there is actually an interesting issue here but you dogmatic libertarians miss it as usual.

The interesting question isn’t whether this practice of outsourcing fast food orders should be allowed or not. It should.

The interesting question is whether it is good business or not. Something libertarians often forget: just because something is voluntary doesn’t mean its good. There are other interesting, and important, questions to ask about something beyond whether is is voluntary or not.

The bane of fast food restaurants, to my mind, is the screwing up of orders. How many friggin’ times have I ordered an Ultimate Cheeseburger “plain: just the cheese and burger, no mayonaise” at the Jack in the Box right around the corner and gotten one with mayonaise? Close to a million actually.

At least now, when they screw it up, I can tell the guy at the window, who I just spoke to, that I ordered it plain. He knows he screwed up since he just talked to me and he probably feels some obligation to get it right. But imagine if the guy who took my order is 1000 miles away, at his home in North Dakota, say, as mentioned in the article. Now the guy at the window tells me he didn’t take the order, its not his fault. He has to do more work and it feels unjustified to him since he wasn’t the one that made the mistake. Possibly some guy in Florida is getting my plain Ultimate Cheeseburger because the guy in North Dakota took his order right after mine.

The article says: “Often customers’ voices are faint, forcing the workers to ask for things to be repeated. During recent rainstorms in Hawaii, it was particularly hard to hear orders from there over the din.”

The point is that there is some benefit in terms of communication and human relations to localism, to keeping certain things done in one place. This is by no means a socialistic point. This kind of localism is meant to be taken up voluntarily, because it makes sense, and not coerced.

The rationale to these calls centers seems to be EFFICIENCY. Since the order takers can take orders one after another from different locations, they can really pound out alot. The article talks about measuring their performance, taking 95 orders per hour, a little red box that pops up on their screens which they have to respond to in 1.75 seconds or else, etc…. The article does say that another goal is IMPROVED CUSTOMER SERVICE: freeing up the attention of the workers at the restaurant so they can focus better and therefore make less mistakes; getting good english speakers at the call center.

We’ll have to see if I am right but my guess is that this kind of outsourcing is more trouble than its worth. It makes something pretty simple more complicated than it has to be in the pursuit of an illusory efficiency. In other words, I think this is going to turn out to be a bad idea, from a business standpoing.

Roy W. Wright April 14, 2006 at 12:13 am

How many friggin’ times have I ordered an Ultimate Cheeseburger “plain: just the cheese and burger, no mayonaise” at the Jack in the Box right around the corner and gotten one with mayonaise? Close to a million actually.

Ew. Jack in the Box. Speaking of bad business. :)

Paul Edwards April 14, 2006 at 12:47 am

Greg Feirman,

That was a hilarious post! I laughed hard about the part where they keep getting your order wrong.

In seriousness, the libertarian usually recognizes that businesses can go wrong, mess up, and even fail. We applaud a system that allows poor business to fail and good business to succeed. Some people really should fail in business.

What we consistently are in favor of is the entrepreneur’s right to try his luck and skill at satisfying the customer, and the customer’s right to choose to buy or abstain from buying from this fellow, be he a joker or for real.

runreason April 14, 2006 at 2:00 am

Greg, it’s a good point you make there questioning whether or not such outsourcing is good business practice. But has such outsourcing actually resulted in more order screwups etc? I don’t know . . maybe. And if this is offputting to customers then business will presumably suffer and perhaps sales will be lost to competitors who don’t engage in such practices. So what’s the problem?

Maybe the pratice will turn out to be more trouble than it’s worth but the market will have to bear it out before we know for sure. As somebody already mentioned, this is simply an increase in division of labor. If the result is indeed greater efficiency then everybody wins. Any losses in terms of communication can likely be overcome by improved technology. The losses in terms of “human relations to localism” argument is not compelling for me. Who really cares if a fast-food order-taker is physically close-by or even a robot for that matter. As long as there is adequate recourse for order screwups or no screwups at all, I certainly don’t care and I would speculate that most fast-food eaters would agree with me.

Thomas J. Van Wyk April 14, 2006 at 2:16 pm

Greg writes, interestingly:
“The interesting question isn’t whether this practice of outsourcing fast food orders should be allowed or not. It should.

The interesting question is whether it is good business or not. Something libertarians often forget: just because something is voluntary doesn’t mean its good. There are other interesting, and important, questions to ask about something beyond whether is is voluntary or not.”

Agreed. But, and this may have been said before, libertarianism is a political philosophy. It is primarily – some would say exclusively – a philosophy about what should and should not be legal. So I find this comment to be a bit… odd.

Greg Feirman April 14, 2006 at 3:13 pm

Mr. Run Reason: I agree with you that if its more trouble than its worth businesses will give it up. But it seems to me like we have pretty good reason, right now, without knowing how it will turn out exactly, that it will be.

The best way to take an order at a fast food restaurant is to have somebody right there, who knows the menu, who knows what the store has that day, who speaks clearly and communicates well. If employees are making mistakes in taking orders because they have too many tasks, as the CKE Restaurants tech guy says in the article, then increase the specialization within the restaurant.

Why? Because having the order takers somewhere else creates all kinds of potential problems. If the technoloogy breaks down, for instance, like when there were storms in Hawaii, where the call center was, and they couldn’t hear the orders, it is a problem. If you have that problem at the restaurant, you can just pull up to the window or the person can come out like they do when it is busy at In n’ Out. If the order takers are taking orders from all over the country, one after another, it places increasing cognitive demands on them, which, ceteris paribus, compared to order takers in the restaurants, will likely lead to more mistakes. If there is a mistake there is a sense of “disconnect” when you find out that the person at the window didn’t take your order. Probably a feeling of “alienation”, like you are living in the Brave New World, powerless in the face of all this technology, with your friggin’ cheeseburger order being taken by some dude in North Dakota.

Those are three pretty good reasons, to my mind, why I am right about the best way to take a fast food order and why we should know this already. The reason we don’t is that Technology is the new religion. People nowadays assume that technology always makes things better.

In addition, there are considerations beyond efficiency. One of the concerns I have when eating fast food is that the person making the food didn’t spit in it or drop it on the ground. Or that he washed his hands after going to the bathroom. These kinds of problems are very real and anybody who has worked in a restaurant is familiar with this kind of thing. I feel better about things when I am able to look the person giving me the food in the eye, say “Hi, how are you?” to him. Maybe see the same person, or few people, time and again. This creates a sense of TRUST in the people preparing your food who can, after all, do some damage to your health if they are not good people or are incompetent. This is the appeal of the LOCALISM and HUMAN RELATIONS that you could care less about.

This might seem kind of touchy-feely and intangible to someone who places such an emphasis on reason as your moniker would suggest you do. But if you knew more about economics you would know that the intangibles having to do with trust and quality are enormously important economically.

Perhaps the most important asset any company has is its brand. Its brand is the perception people have of it based on long experience of its quality, integrity, peformance, consistency, etc…. If you build a solid brand you can charge higher prices because people are willing to pay for the quality they associate with the brand. Consider, for instance, the brands of McDonalds versus In and Out (a high quality fast food joint out here in California) or Safeway versus Whole Foods (run by libertarian John Mackey). In other words, it pays quite well to have a good brand.

And my contention is that when it comes to something as intimate as food this kind of outsourcing can only hurt a restaurant’s brand, because it weakens the bonds of trust and connection that are important in this kind of business, which therefore hurt the quality of the product which hurts the customer but also the bottom line. The Austrian who understands this best, though I am only now becoming familiar with him, is Wilhelm Ropke, author of the Humane Economy.

Greg Feirman April 14, 2006 at 3:31 pm

Thomas Van Wyck:

You say that Libertarianism is only concerned with what should and should not be legal – and therefore that my comments are not directly relevant to Libertarianism.

But how does Libertarianism decide what should and shouldn’t be legal? Presumably, it has some theory about how things work, about what outcomes are desirable, and then picks its laws and the basic structure of society to reflect these.

To be concrete, Libertarians rightly argue that a free market is conducive to the production of goods and services and therefore the satisfaction of the material needs and wants of human beings. In addition, political freedom allows for the free development of a person’s interests and capacities and the full flourishing of his personality – as argued, for instance, by JS Mill in “On Liberty”.

It is on this foundation that Libertarianism stands. On what other basis could you be a Libertarian other than that it is good and right because it sets up society in a way that provides the possibilities for human well being and happiness?

I know that some Libertarians argue that freedom is an INTRINSIC value. That is, freedom is good just because, not because it reflects human nature and conduces to well being and happiness. Unfortunately this doesn’t ground freedom anymore than saying that equality is an intrinsic value and that therefore we should have a totally egalitarian society.

The real reason for being a Libertarian is because you think that freedom is a good thing becuase of its intimate connection with human happiness. And that is why most of us become libertarians. Similarly, people become socialists because they believe that redistribution and equality lead to tight human communities, a sense of brotherhood and concern for others. They believe that equality is good because of its intimate connection with human well being. It then becomes an empirical question of who is right.

Congratulations on George Mason basketball. I was rooting for you guys all the way. Like Walter Williams said: the basketball team is starting to act like the economics department.

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