August 20th, 2004

Diner No More

About two years ago, the McDonald’s nearest our mall here was torn down. in it’s place they put up a McDonald’s Diner. It was just like a regular McDonald’s, but had extra stuff. For instance, you could go up to the counter and order food or you could sit down at a table and use one of the phones at each booth to call in your order. In a little while, someone would bring your food to you.

I always felt weird ordering my food from the in-store phone. “Phone” to me implies distance. When I know I’m talking to someone not very far from me, it weirds me out. Depending on where I was sitting, I could even see the person I was calling. It was just…weird.

The extra food was diner-ish food, as the name might imply. You could get open-faced turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes, fried chicken, and even a steak! All in a decent amount of time, too.

When you were done, you took your receipt up to the counter and paid your bill, ever mindful of the “No Tipping” signs posted everywhere. It’s in our nature as humans to want to tip people who bring us food, unless they go by the name of “Mom,” for some reason.

Earlier this week, I stopped into the ol’ Diner to get lunch (Filet o’ Fish and a regular chocolate shake) and noticed something: it wasn’t a Diner anymore. It was back to being a regular old McDonald’s, albeit one with misshapen gaps in all the signs under the “McDonald’s” where “Diner” used to be. All the booth phones were gone, too.

When I ordered my food, I said to the lady, “So, that whole Diner thing didn’t work out for ya’ll?”

She explained that the Diner was a six-month test that had turned into a two-year test. When I asked if they were going to open more Diners in the future, she said it was more likely they would just incorporate things they had learned into existing stores.

I immediately got a mental image of McDonald’s as a person (let’s call him “Mick”). I pictured Mick playing around with Legos and hamsters, trying different configurations until he found one that both he and the hamsters liked. I picture him (he looks an awful lot like Ronald McDonald, but with half-glasses perched on his nose) taking notes on his clipboard, observing carefully the eating habits and line flows of these hamsters as they belly up to the Lego counters. Every so often, Mick frowns deeply in thought. Occasionally he nods in surprise and acknowledgement as the hamsters do something he wasn’t expecting, but on further review makes perfect sense.

Mick gets so intrigued with his project that he doesn’t realize how quickly the time has gone by. When he finally looks up at the clock and realizes he’s spent four times as long one his project as he meant to, he’s a little embarrassed, but happy to have learned so much from his research.

As he removes his red and yellow lab coat and heads out the door towards home, there’s a little spring in his step as he whistles the Big Mac song. He can’t wait to use what he’s learned!

We’re all a little like Mick. We try things to see how they’ll go. We don’t have the luxury of testing our decisions on hamsters, though, so we have to try them out in real life. Sometimes they work out. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they work for a little while, but then stop. While we’re doing all that, the other people in our lives are trying their own things. Sometimes the projects work well together and end up producing more and better results than either project would have produced on their own. Sometimes the projects completely cancel each other out, and sometimes they leave scorch marks where the projects used to be.

Since there’s no lab for testing and no computer models for predicting, we pretty much have to use the results from one mini-project to make our decisions for the next big project. The thing is, as long as you’re alive, there’s always a next project. Sometimes we get so bummed about the dismal failure we’ve just been witness to that we start thinking it was the only project we were working on. Not so. There’s always another project. Use your research! Apply the results! Learn and grow.

And the next time Mom brings you food, tip her. Don’t use money, though. Be creative!

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