As fond as I am of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and Entropy, I had never thought to apply it to my experience in the fast food business. Entropy is the measure of disorder in a system, and the Second Law tells us that things become less ordered over time. That reminds me of Arby's.
When I was first hired, a "fresh Tuna" as we were called, I was able to learn the menu in a matter of minutes. Part of my mastery came from my time spent on the other side of the counter, but even if I had arrived as a blank slate, I would have mastered it within the hour. It was simple by design. There were seven sandwiches:Regular, Super, and Junior Roast Beef, Beef 'n' Cheddar, the Turkey and Hamchy, as well as the Ham and Turkey Club. On the side, you could get an order of Potato Cakes, and for dessert there were Apple or Cherry Turnovers. Remembering our soft drink varieties and shake flavors was the only mild challenge. We were a Pepsi franchise with lemonade and orange drink as our non-carbonated alternatives. Jamocha and Black Cow were the exotic shakes in addition to the vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. These held significant enough intrigue that people would cross the Taco Bell parking lot to add a Black Cow to their tostada.
If you could remember to put three ounces of beef on the correct bun, or one and a half on a Junior, you could fly around behind the slicer and appear competent. Every so often you got a special order that asked for tomatoes to be added or subtracted, or cheddar cheese sauce substituted for the slice of Swiss that was microwaved on top of the Hamchy. But if you remembered to fold the wrapper back with that special stripe, even those orders wouldn't upset us. And this was the way it stayed for some time, until the geniuses in marketing came up with the notion of adding sub sandwiches to the menu. Immediately we increased our choices exponentially for the consumer. Good for them? Perhaps, but it played havoc with the speed and order of sandwich making. "Can I get cheddar cheese on my French Dip?" "Could you heat up the Italian sub?" Both at the counter and behind the slicer the expectations of our service, two to three customers in two to three minutes, never changed even though we had cranked up the sandwich entropy. Our "America's Roast Beef, Yes Sir!" buttons became relics of a bygone age.
Meanwhile, across town at our sister store, they had installed fryers. And a salad bar. We satisfied ourselves with the notion that we were still the essential meat and potato operation. Then one day the owners, Mike and Cowboy, appeared in the back room with two small Black and Decker deep fryers. Blessedly, they weren't big enough to make french fries, and we were told to continue to bake our Potato Cakes, but we were told that this was how we were going to be able to add the new Chicken Sandwich to our now overloaded menu.
To make matters worse, the Chicken Sandwich even came on a new bun: a poppy-seed roll. No matter how we swept and cleaned there were always tiny seeds in every crack and on every surface. The frozen chicken breasts were fried in the back room, and so the slicer operator had to trek back there to drop them in and fish them out with the same grace and ease that he or she had previously moved from refrigerator to bun toaster to sandwich board to warming table.
It would make a better story to say that I left Arby's because I had become so confounded by the relative complexity of their menu. I think it had more to do with coming home from a vacation and finding that the new district manager had removed all my cartoons from the bulletin board over the time clock, That and the fact that I had, after rising to the lofty status of Assistant Manager, reached the high end of my career track at Arby's. Unless I was willing to become a whole lot more invested in menu alternatives. I moved on to a job unloading trucks for Target. How that process involved bringing order to chaos will have to wait for another day. Right now I'm hungry for a Regular roast beef sandwich, with just a squirt of Super Sauce, for entropy's sake.