30 July 2011

To McDonald's (especially Caspers Company): My name is none of your business!

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 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).

Lately I managed to stop at a McDonald’s 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. In my opinion, it’s invasion of privacy.

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 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 (until lately), Burger King, Wendy’s or any other fast food restaurant – asks for your name when you order.

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 do they 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):

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.

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:

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), my name is none of your business.