2006-02-08

Fast Food Usability - Part 1

I eat a lot of fast food. I wish I ate less, but I must not wish it too badly because I haven't done much to change. Anyway, since I eat out so often, I encounter quite a few things that bother me about fast food. I'm going to note some of those things here over a series of posts. I'll do a lot of complaining. You'll see my pedantic side in full force. However, I will offer some suggestions for improvement as well. You have been warned.

Part 1 - The Receipt

Who decides what goes on a receipt? What is the point of the receipt? Is it to record my purchase for all eternity (at home, in the file, under 'D')? Is it to ensure that I get the proper order when it comes out? Is it to settle disputes when someone says they ordered 12 McFatpads with cheese and only got 11? Is it a legal requirement with some of the details required by the corporate bean counters? They all seem to have differences, so no one really knows.

Let's take a look at a couple of samples, shall we?


Taco Bell. I like the Bell. I eat there quite a bit, usually at least once a week. I enjoy their food. I enjoy their prices. I can't stand their ordering process. I'll save the physical layout for another day. Today we'll just concentrate on the receipt.

Taco Bell uses a "magic number" ordering process. When you order, you get a magic number assigned to you. Don't forget your number. If you lose it, NO SOUP FOR YOU! Thankfully, Taco Bell gives you some paper with your magic number on it, but good luck finding it.


  1. We start with the resturant name. This receipt tells me we are eating at T A C O B E L L. What's with the caps? What happened to all of that corporate branding they spend millions of dollars on each year? This isn't the 70s. There aren't any spinning heads hammering out glyphs on these tickets. Usually, these are modern, thermal printers. I know a thing or two about thermal printers. I know that given the right esc sequences, they can draw some pretty damn good pictures. So why don't the super powers of the fast food world make use of that and draw the Taco Bell logo in its full bell-thunking glory? It probably costs too much to hire someone to figure out the details of that fancy cash register.


  2. In item 2, you can see that they note the store number. It's mentioned twice within one inch, just in case you miss one. Are there times where these might not match? Maybe, but then what use are they to me?


  3. Item 3 is the guy that sparked all of this. Some of the registers at my local Bell used to print the order number in a larger font. That's a giant plus. Too bad they don't do this anymore. Instead, we get the order number positioned way off to the left, far from the identifying text. As I said, I eat there a lot, so I know where the number is, but what about a new customer? Which of these magic numbers are they supposed to figure out as the one? Please remember, these are the same people that wait right by the registers thinking their food is going to come out prior to the nine people waiting behind them. Problem solving skills aren't necessarily their biggest strength. You better find that number. The guy is only going to shout it nicely once.


  4. Register number. Great, I always like to know that. Tell me again why the register is numbered 5 when there are only 3 registers in the whole joint? Hmm, must have come from a bigger store. What does knowing the register number do for me? Is that so they know who to yell at when I call in and complain? Couldn't that be tacked on to the store number to clean it up a bit? 004470:5


  5. The CMBGSB! Crunchy, spicy, CMBGSB! Either tell me what I bought or don't. CMBGSB doesn't tell me jack. BGS-CK means I wanted chicken (ohh crap, he cracked the code). What's wrong with it saying Chicken? Ohh, and PEP must mean Pepsi. Aren't the Bell and Pepsi one in the same? Why not print the whole product name. Say it loud, say it proud!


  6. CASH TEND - I bet they save 12 million dollars a year leaving off that pesky ERED. We don't need to abbreviate anymore guys. The thermal head passes right by. You can let it print more stuff. I guess I can't say for sure, but I highly doubt those extra letters are going to kill their cash register budget. If they want to save letters, how about leaving off the "thanks for being you" crap they put on there. I won't get mad if they don't thank me on the document, trust me.



Ohh, I need a chalupa. Let's direct the hate towards our next victim.




  1. I like Arby's too. They get a lot of business from me and my friends at work. Cleaner, better separation of the restaurant name. That's a good start.

  2. Whoa, useful info. I even have a name to ask for when I'm pissed off. Score. Arby's is looking good.

  3. Questions? Comments? Hmm, I'll have to email them a link to this post. Still not too bad. No, wait, they included the same damn info again at the bottom [3b].

  4. Benjamin, you were great at taking my order, but I don't think you'll remember me, so why do I need to remember you? Also, why is your identity so important to be at the top? I feel left out. This is supposed to be about me! Please note your transeqno. Let go! Nobody listens to transeqno!

  5. Your transeqno may, may, be similar to your Order Number, maybe. Again, we note it twice, just in case one breaks down. It is at this point that we note that Arby's also uses a magic number order system, only there's is built around some sort of subliminal nonsense. You can see your order number on their fancy new flatpanel screens, but then it disappears, never to be seen again. The order number they put onscreen is only a portion of the one noted on the ticket. Great. Ohh, and you don't get to hold your receipt, so you must remember that number. No wait, my bad, they don't call out the number, so I don't know why they bother showing it to you to begin with. Rather than confuse me with a split second display of 195, why not do your "thanks for choosing us" thing on the screen?

  6. The Ckn is almost as good as the CMBGSB at the Bell.

  7. What's this? Did I change my mind on the fries? No, they just default to curly. That's great, but why do I need to know that on the receipt? I didn't order a Jamocha shake either. How come it doesn't say - JamShk?

  8. Why a ':' on some fields and not on the others? Yes, very picky. I blame the "one of these things is not like the other" song!

  9. This one was just weird. I didn't pay cash, I paid Cash $20, and sure enough, it had a value of $20. That Jackson, he's a wacky dude.



Stay tuned for a post unveiling my super-duper-perfect receipt design.

3 comments:

Jason said...

Nice smackdown, it was a longtime coming.

When you design your ideal receipt later, keep in mind it should be invisible, only to be used by underwear gnomes. I really have no use for them.

I do like the Google ads you prompted. Imagine how fat I would be if this one were true:
"Earn $10-90/Hr Eating at Taco Bell, Shopping & Observing Service."

-- I said...

This has been fermenting for a while, hasn't it?

I can't wait to see the Culvers one...

Ben said...

Ever been to a McDonalds where they call out the meal and not the number on the receipt? Now do that at 9:00AM on a Saturday with 20 people waiting for their breakfast to go. That is always fun to watch.