Monday, October 11, 2010

Fast food in Paris: an oxymoron

One might say only a dumb American would go to Paris and eat fast food, but sometimes you have no choice. For example, you might have underestimated how long it takes to get from one place to another, and you really want to get into the Arc de Triomphe before it closes for the night, and realize there's not enough time for a leisurely dinner. So, you find yourself on Champs Elysees (a street that ends at Arc de Triomphe), looking for a fast food restaurant. There's a McDonald's. But you think you should stay true to the local flavor. You see a chain called Quick, that sells sandwiches and salads. You don't have them in the U.S., so it will count as local flavor.

Bad decision. Quick turned out to be anything but. There are 3-4 people working at the counter, and the lines are 2-3 people deep. At any U.S. fast food place you'd be able to order and probably get your order in 5 minutes. Here you notice that in 10 minutes they've served just one customer in your line. Now there's still another customer ahead of you, a young woman. She proceeds to chat with the guy behind the counter for maybe 5 minutes. It doesn't look like flirty banter, or old friends catching up. Their facial expressions are intense and businesslike. What could they be talking about? Is she questioning him about the place of origin of the meat Quick uses, how ethically the animals are treated, or if the farmers were paid a fair wage? Without knowing French, you'll never know. But yes, it takes another 10 minutes until she is finally served. No, this isn't an exceptionally slow line. The situation is the same at other lines. And it's not because the employees are sluggish. They seem to be busy and moving around at all times, just like at any U.S. fast food place. So there are no outward clues for slowness. But you start thinking that maybe you should have tried to go to a restaurant with waiter service -- the result might have been the same.

And the restrooms might have been nicer too. The ones at Quick were dirty. There were shreds of toilet paper all over the floor, and no toilet paper in some stalls. Not only that, you had to pay to enter women's restroom (only 20 euro cents, but still). But men's restroom was free! Go figure.

We ate in time to make it to Arc de Triomphe, but we were cutting it close. So much for "quick" food. Maybe we should have gone to McDonald's, assuming McDonald's is able to maintain consistent customer service standards across different countries, even in high pedestrian traffic places.

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