Over the past couple of years, there has been an explosion of "casual dining" restaurants in the United States--fast food that's made after you order. There's a wait of several minutes in between the customer ordering the food and the customer receiving the food. Some of these places make all customers collect their food after it's prepared, while others may carry the food to the table for dine-in customers.
So, there's the requirement to connect a customer to his or her order. Some places give you an order number, while others take your first name. I have no problems with the first method. I absolutely hate the second.
I live in an area that's fairly ethnically diverse. It's not uncommon to run across Indians, Hispanics or Asians with "unusual" names. My name is European (Irish) yet spelled and pronounced differently than the standard American version. (Deirdre: Deer-dria rhymes with Georgia).
So, first there's the "deer in the headlights" reaction when I (or many others) give the cashier my name. Spelling out my name for them takes time that neither I or they want to waste, but the weird corruptions of my name that get entered into the system are rarely pronounceable by the person distributing orders. When things are busy, it can become a real hassle for everyone to get the correct order in a quick and efficient manner. (Names are being entered quickly and inaccurately, and it quickly turns into a very bad game of telephone.)
Second, there's the discomfort of having my name called over a microphone in a fairly small and often crowded storefront. I live in a fairly urban area, with a high crime rate. I've been approached by strange people many times. By connecting a name with a person, these restaurants are allowing anyone currently in that restaurant to pretend that they know me. "Hey Deirdre, remember me? We went to school together . . ." That's information I don't need a weirdo to have.
While I can avoid both problems by giving the cashier a fake, easy-to-spell name, it's something that will drive me to avoid particular restaurant. I work in an area with at least twenty different fast food places within walking distance. I believe the name request to be a scary inconvenience, so I'll go elsewhere. There's a Noodles and Company in my office building that I almost never purchase my lunch from. I love their food, but hate their system.
Today, I went to grab lunch at our local Baja Fresh. Baja will ask for a name for a phone order (because then you go up and ask for the order by name) but has always depended on order numbers for register orders. Apparently they changed their system recently.
The cashier was clearly uncomfortable about asking for my name, and apologized when I wasn't able to hide my confused reaction. Since I have a name that I always use in situations like this I simply gave her that name. I was paying with a credit card, so she noticed the discrepancy between the given name and actual name, and once again apologized. (Poor employee.)
The person distributing the food was an employee who's been around there for a while and recognizes me, so when she called that name and I responded, she asked "Oh, so your name is Joy?" I responded with something a long the lines of "Actually it's not . . . " and when I realized that she was turning to reprimand the cashier, continued with ". . . but it's the name I gave her. I don't make people try to spell or pronounce my real name." She gave me something that seemed like a "you're undermining our system!" look, so I thanked her and left.
But Baja Fresh has been removed from my list of good places to get lunch. It's a case of management implementing a "feel good, feel friendly" policy that can make customers not feel very good or friendly. It's something that management may implement in the name of good service, not understanding how it quickly mutates into bad service.