08 April 2012

To McDonald's, Taco Bell and other quick service restaurants: My name is none of your business!

Back in July 2011 I featured a blog entry on McDonald's getting your name for your order. Now more and more quick service restaurants are getting into the act, saying that it is some kind of an accountability thing; Taco Bell is the next restaurant that badgers you for your name or you are subjected to substandard treatment. As such, I am reposting this blog entry with updated information so that you, the privacy conscious customer, can make an informed decision as to whether you should patronize that restaurant or not.

UPDATE: Recently Burger King has gotten into the act of asking for your name when you order inside. If you don't give your name you are subjected to substandard treatment by counter staff. Just what is going on here?

Let’s face it: You are out and about one fine sunny afternoon, and you want a midday meal without the major expense of going to a full service restaurant (where you have to wait while the waitress takes your order, and then you have to leave a tip in addition to your bill). So, you spot the nearest sign of the Golden Arches (or The Bell or whatever) and go inside rather than the drive thru.

Once you go inside you decide on what you want. Then you tell the clerk (who may be either friendly or surly with you) what you want. You pay for your meal and get what you want. Hopefully.

OK. We know that McDonald’s is known for the poor customer service that we have read about: Orders not being correct, rude and belligerent staff who do not care about customer service, quality of food being poor, and so on. (Believe me? Go to RipOffReport.com and do a search for McDonald’s! You’ll see!) While McDonald’s – after getting a lot of negative press on customer service – was repairing its image as a world known fast food chain, I have seen another fast food chain I feel is on the way down due to their customer service: Wendy’s. (Believe me, Wendy’s has good food but they need to improve their customer service; I can go on forever but I’ll save it for another topic).

I stopped at a McDonald’s one Sunday afternoon a few months back at their location on the corner of Martin Luther King Blvd. and Parsons Avenue in Brandon while I was taking a ride on Martin Luther King Blvd. paralleling the CSX A Line (this is the line that Amtrak's Silver Star runs on daily) to grab me a quick afternoon snack. When I went inside to order right after I paid for what I wanted I noticed something different: McDonald’s asking for your name!

I asked McDonald’s why they solicit names. They say that it is needed to correctly get your order to you, some kind of an accountability thing. As such, I was subjected to substandard treatment by their counter staff.

More recently I happened to stop by a Taco Bell on a Sunday afternoon, located in the same vicinity where the McDonald's is located on the corner of Martin Luther King Blvd. and Parsons Avenue in Brandon for a quick afternoon snack, then continue east to do some railfanning. I stopped by this Taco Bell a few times without any complaint but this time I noticed something different: Taco Bell asking for your name!

I asked the manager on duty why Taco Bell is soliciting names; he stated to me that it was some sort of accountability thing. Then came the substandard treatment from their counter staff.

In my opinion, it’s invasion of privacy by a quick service restaurant designed to get you in and out the door. Why?

If you want to know why I believe it is in invasion of your privacy, let’s go back several years to a pharmacy chain that was based right here in our backyard in Largo, FL: That pharmacy chain was Eckerd Drugs, with so many stores there was one near where you live. An article in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel in April 2002 sums up what was going on at Eckerd Drugs when you went to pick up your prescription: You were being asked to sign for your prescriptions as Eckerd claimed that it was an accountability thing; in reality Eckerd was using your signature as an authorization to invade your privacy by bombarding you with junk mail based on your prescription history.

To me, this is a potential violation of the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Privacy Act (the HIPAA Act) which mandates that privacy be maintained when it comes to dealing with personally identifiable medical information. According to the Sun-Sentinel article, Eckerd defends that their practices are fully compliant with the HIPAA Act.

Today, Eckerd Drugs is no more in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. When Eckerd Drugs was sold to another company, at the same time its Florida locations were sold to CVS, which is what we know today.

In theory, McDonald’s (any any other quick service restaurant like Taco Bell for that matter) could use your name, especially if you pay for your meal using a credit card. Your credit card has a billing address attached to it (this is where you receive your statements every month) and there is the potential for your name to be matched up to the credit card you used to pay for your meal. Your name and address could be mined somewhere down the road and sold so that your name ends up – eventually – on a junk mailer’s mailing list.

Fortunately, it has not happened – yet. In the many restaurants I have visited, this is what I have noticed:

No fast food restaurant – McDonald’s and Taco Bell (until lately), Burger King, Wendy’s or any other fast food restaurant – asks for your name when you order. Those restaurants are self service, designed to get you in and out the door as quick as possible.

In the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, a substantial number of McDonald’s restaurants are franchised. The biggest franchise operator of McDonald’s restaurants in the Tampa Bay metropolitan area is a company called Caspers Company. It seems that the Caspers franchised McDonald’s locations of lately demand your name when you order; if you don't give your name you are subjected to belligerent treatment by McDonald's counter staff.

You know what a franchise is: The entity, called the franchisee (in this case, a McDonald’s restaurant), is independently owned and operated; the entity in exchange for a license and franchising fee gets the right to use the McDonald’s name and likeness. After all, McDonald’s – being the franchisor – is trademarked and their corporate attorneys at their Oak Brook, Illinois world headquarters go to great lengths to protect their trademark.

If you go to a full service restaurant, such as Denny’s or Village Inn, ordinarily you are not asked for your name. The only time you are asked is for the purpose of seating in case of a capacity crowd and you are waiting for a seat. The good news, however, is that once you are seated your name is crossed off.

Asking for your name in a fast food restaurant environment is not new. There are two restaurants which fall in between fast food and full service – Starbucks and Panera Bread – that ask for your name when you place an order. (On the Panera Bread side, when you go to the cafĂ© side the server gives you a pager that buzzes when your order is ready but why does Panera Bread and Starbucks still ask for your name?)

OK. Now here’s my take on these fast food restaurants wanting your name, such as McDonald’s (especially the McDonald's restaurants in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area that are owned by Caspers Company) and Taco Bell:

You do not have an account relationship with a fast food restaurant – instead, a fast food restaurant exists for the sole purpose of quick food service to get you in and out. The only exception is a pizza restaurant that offers carryout and delivery, as your name (and address) are crucial.

An account relationship with a business is like if you were opening a bank or credit union account, obtaining a mortgage for the house or condo you want, applying for a credit card or an auto loan, purchasing an airline or train ticket, renting a car, renting a hotel room, or leaving your own car at the shop for service. After all, these businesses have to know who has what.

Your name exists on your passport, as well as your driver license.

If in the event you are pulled over by a law enforcement officer, the law obligates you to identify yourself. If you are driving a motor vehicle, you must have your driver license in your possession – it’s the law.

Which leads to my opinion:

If I am pulled over by a law enforcement officer, I have to identify myself because it is Florida law. If I am driving a motor vehicle I have to produce my driver's license, as it is Florida law too. (Besides, the Florida Driver's Handbook tells you the same thing).

These quick service restaurant counter clerks - like those of McDonald's, Taco Bell or any other quick service restaurant - are not law enforcement officers nor school teachers. As such, I should not be obligated to give my name for a food and drink order. You, the restaurant counter clerk making probably minimum wage and probably got very minimal customer service training from your restaurant, will not get any piece of my personal information except if I decide to pay for my order with a credit card.

To law enforcement as well as businesses where names have to be kept for accurate recordkeeping as I mentioned earlier, that’s one thing. To fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s (especially Caspers Company, the major McDonald’s franchisee in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area) and Taco Bell, my name is none of your business!

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