Just outside the city of Chicago, in a town called Elmwood Park, lives a Chicagoland legend. Johnnie's Italian Beef is a little sandwich stand that is home to some fantastic Italian Beef sandwiches, tasty Italian Ices and the most efficient fast-food service known to man. I haven't been to the Original Johnnie's in years, so forgive me if I mess up the exact details. What I have in my memory is a bit of a blur between what I actually remember and stories I have heard from my parents.
Johnnie's is remniscent of an old car-hop, only without service to your car. If you were one of the lucky few, you could park on either side of the building. There was a door on either side of the building, but you entered from the east and exited to the west. There was just enough room upon entrance for about 10 people to move along the counter as they placed their order and then scooted down to wait for it. A line usually formed outside well past the door. Under NO circumstances were you allowed to wait in the doorway with the door propped open. If space did not allow for you to stand inside Johnnie's, you patiently waited outside the closed door until someone exited at the other end and made room for you.
On many occasions, the man taking orders was a very large, extremely agitated man whom my parents referred to as "Johnnie." I don't know if they knew that for a fact, or if they just assumed it to be true. Johnnie was not only in charge of getting your order, but also making sure it was processed and packaged correctly, and, additionally, making sure that the door was not being held open. Johnnie had no patience for indecision. If you did not know what you wanted by the time you reached Johnnie, you shouldn't have gotten in line in the first place. Akin to Seinfeld's Soup Nazi, Johnnie held the key to your success or failure at buying lunch.
Johnnie would take your order and then shout it down to the next person in the assembly line, including--get this--the type of packaging they were to use for it. Let's say you ordered an italian beef, dipped in juice, with hot peppers, an order of fries and a medium coke, to go. Johnnie would yell over to a person standing all of two feet from him, "Wet Italian Beef Hot! Fries! Small Bag! Medium Coke! Cap it to travel! HEY, KEEP THAT DAMN DOOR CLOSED!" Absolutely nothing was left up to the discretion of Johnnie's employees.
I was reminded of Johnnie's overkill on efficiency because of recent dealings I've had with Wendy's. Much like the Walgreens of a previous post, Wendy's has absolutely nothing going for it except it's location three blocks from my home. After my I've-had-it-up-to-here experience with them on Friday night, I'm thinking of contacting the manager and suggesting he track down Johnnie and see if he does consulting.
Chris and I go to Wendy's once every one to two weeks. We always order the same thing, consisting of two chicken sandwiches, two orders of fries and one small order of Chili. Here's the thing--much to the dismay of the Wendy's employees, it just doens't fit in one bag. They try their damndest to make it fit--they really do. And they get pissy with me when they try to hand me a bag where my fries (which are always cold and chewy, by the way) are hanging out the top, and I nicely request that they separate my order into two bags. "[Insert exasperated sigh here] Fine." Surely I can't be the only person in the land who doesn't want to drive around with a bag of fast food that is hanging out of the top of the bag and a) getting cold and b) likely to topple and end up all over the floor. What's worse than cold, chewy fries? Oh yeah, that's right, cold, chewy fries strewn about the passenger side floorboard.
So, here's my question: do I start ordering my food the way Johnnie would shout it out to his workers? "Two number 7s in a large bag! One small chili in a small bag! One Dr. Pepper and one Lemonade--cap 'em to travel!"