Sunday, December 20, 2009

Conforming at the Drive-Thru

Sometimes I surprise myself with my off-the-wall notions and ideas. What surprises me even more, however, is when I read other people whose ideas are similar to mine.

Last week, after buying lunch at a local fast food drive-thru, I wondered if anyone actually gives in to the suggestion of the drive-thru order-taker-person. You know, those people who ask if you would like to try a new value meal or a chicken sandwich or any other deal of the day. How effective do you think their suggestions really are? Personally, I think I am of the habit of turning them down, even if moments later I order exactly what they suggest. Rejecting their sale pitch  is second nature.

Anthropologist Grant McCracken touches on this phenomenon in a post entitled, "Culturematics, Choice, and Identity Construction Now". McCracken states that, "By our choices, consumer, spiritual, political, shall you know us.  It is the way we find, fashion, express and constantly tune selfhood. A good deal of our ideology of selfhood is tied up in the possession of preference and the exercise of choice."

We don't want to accept that someone behind a microphone at a drive-thru might know what we want. We want to come to our own choices independently.

(Interestingly, McCracken makes these comments in response to the business practices of another restaurant. Accordingly to McCracken, there was Japanese cafe that "serves you what the last patron ordered". McCracken analysizes what such randomness does to the idea of choice and identity.)

But what if there was a financial incentive to listen to suggestions? What if you received a significant discount if you said "yes" to the offer of the drive-thru attendant? What if they offered 50% off the meal they suggested? If you only wanted a cup of coffee and they suggested a triple deluxe bacon cheeseburger, of course you might not be interested, but what if your choice was relatively close? Would you sacrifice your choice for theirs?

To make the notion even more interesting, what if the drive-thru attendant asked you if you would like the exact order of the person who drove through prior to you? At what discount would you be willing to conform to the tastes of a total stranger?