Stir, Scoop, Tap: Why Don’t Companies Tell Their Real Histories?

This article about the factory-ness of the average Taco Bell drive-thru is brilliant:

Every Taco Bell has two food production lines, one dedicated to the drive-thru and the other to servicing the walk-up counter. Working those lines is no easier than wearing the headset. The back of the restaurant has been engineered so that the Steamers, Stuffers, and Expeditors, the names given to the Food Champions who work the pans, take as few footsteps as possible during a shift.

There are three prep areas: the hot holding area, the cold holding area, and the wrapping expediting area. The Stuffer in the hot holding area stuffs the meat into the tortillas, ladling beef with Taco Bell’s proprietary tool, the BPT, or beef portioning tool. The steps for scooping the beef have been broken down into another acronym, SST, for stir, scoop, and tap. Flour tortillas must be cooked on one side for 15 seconds and the other for five.

Last year when I was in Johannesburg I went to the World of Beer, a kind of Disney World that tells the story — animatronically! — of SAB Miller, Africa’s largest beer company. Like most self-told company histories, it basically follows the lines of ‘our product was invented, it was great, and slowly the world came to agree’.

It’s a shame that company biographies often leave out the technocratic aspects of their success. McDonald’s isn’t the world’s largest fast food brand because Big Macs are the best hamburger available. McDonald’s is the world’s largest fast food brand because the company was better at mass-producing food service and national franchising than their rivals, and could profitably sell burgers for unheard-of prices for the time.

Another company success story, Starbucks, didn’t begin from humble origins in Seattle and expand one cafe at a time. Howard Schultz got  a huge chunk of venture capital from investors, bought an obscure coffee shop and opened hundreds of clones simultaneously throughout the country. Like McDonald’s, Starbucks thrived by offering the exact same experience no matter where it was.

The history of the private sector in the last 100 years is basically this same story over and over again. The guy who devises the product isn’t the one who gets rich. It’s the guy who finds a way to produce it so cheaply that everybody can have one.

And this stuff is actually really interesting! The little sweatshop behind a Taco Bell drive-thru window is totally fascinating, and I’m sure there’s great material from Howard Schultz’s multimillion-dollar caffeinated blitzkreig. Increased productivity through industrialization is the story of how our country came to be here, even if it’s not always the story we want to hear.

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One response to “Stir, Scoop, Tap: Why Don’t Companies Tell Their Real Histories?

  1. Ray Kroc, the man credited with making McDonald’s what it is today, started as a milkshake-machine salesman. When one of his customers, a pair of brothers named McDonald, began to order a surprising number of machines, he looked into it. The rest is history.