- Workers in fast food and full-service dining say to-go orders are making their jobs harder.
- Drive-thru and to-go orders exploded during the pandemic as dining rooms closed.
- Some workers say they can’t keep up normal standards with multiple orders coming in each minute.
The COVID-19 pandemic closed dining rooms and led to a boom in to-go orders across the restaurant industry – but they’re making things unbearable for workers.
The chief complaint among workers is that mobile to-go orders overload their kitchen’s capacity and lead to overworked, burnt out employees and angry customers.
Mobile orders have been key for Starbucks, for example: They drove the coffee chain’s recovery and exploded to an “all-time high” in 2021, making up over 25% of all orders. For workers, though, this comes at a cost.
“The whole mobile order system is really bad,” Nat El-Hai, a former barista, previously told Insider’s Grace Dean. Dozens of workers told Insider that mobile orders stack up and lead to delays and long lines, angering customers. A New York barista said that her store could get as many as seven mobile orders per minute during busy times.
Some Starbucks workers complain that they are not allowed to turn off mobile ordering, despite being “chronically understaffed,” while others told Insider that managers would sometimes turn off mobile ordering and say the system was down. The combination of drive-thru, in-store, and mobile orders made it “impossible” to stick to the standards set by corporate, an employee in Texas previously told Insider.
The onslaught of digital orders isn’t limited to Starbucks. At Chipotle, which has increased digital orders to nearly half of all sales, workers report many of the same issues. The app allows orders to come in at a much faster rate than they can realistically be made, creating a constant backlog, a Chipotle employee in Ohio told Insider. For example, during the chain’s Halloween “Boorito” promotion, the store “instantly” got 20 orders at 5 p.m. scheduled for pickup just 10 minutes later, with that pace continuing throughout the night.
Digital orders can just keep stacking up, a Chipotle employee in California explained to Insider, leading to prep lines falling 30 minutes to an hour or more behind. Getting behind on digital orders also keeps workers there longer. Another Ohio employee said she didn’t get to leave until 1:30 a.m., over three hours after closing. Some customers opt to leave rather than wait for their food, sometimes leading to orders left behind and wasted food.
For workers at full-service restaurants, the prominence of to-go orders has changed much of the nature of their jobs. Cheesecake Factory doubled its to-go sales this year, averaging $US3 ($AU4) million per restaurant this year.
“The sheer volume of what you are expected to churn out is unsustainable,” Sophia Um, a bakery worker at a California Cheesecake Factory location told The Wall Street Journal. “I have had co-workers run to the breakroom for a mental breakdown.”
Workers told WSJ that they struggle to maintain high standards while serving dining room customers and keeping up with an unprecedented flow of to-go orders, though Cheesecake Factory managers now have the ability to temporarily close digital orders if needed.
To-go orders can hurt full-service restaurant workers through tips, too. According to restaurant workers surveyed by Lightspeed, 60% say that guests are ordering more food, but tipping the same or less than before the pandemic. Loss of tips is especially impacting workers at full-service restaurants, who can make as little as $US2.13 ($AU3) per hour before tips. As those businesses continue to grow takeout orders, workers lose out on potential tips.
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