I want to share an experience with you. An experience I had on Thursday morning in the great township of Hatfield, Pennsylvania.
After dropping off my kids at daycare, I swung by the Dunkin Donuts on Forty Foot Road, just to grab a couple of coffees and two donuts. The drive-through line was outrageous, and wrapped around the building, which is understandable. It was snowing and nobody wants to get out of their car and walk inside the place, which is paired with the fact that COVID is still a thing and some folks are trying to avoid up-close interaction.
Since the line was backed up, I decided to get out of my truck and walk into the place instead. No problem. It shouldn’t take very long to get that order and get home, so I can work on high-level journalism at Crossing Broad.
But when I entered the building, there was a piece of paper taped to the plexiglass divider reading “no front counter.” Instead, they now have a couple of kiosks where you have to put in your order and then wait for the employees to make it, just like Wawa or Sheetz or any other place that’s had touch screen ordering for a while now. However, for a place with such a small menu, it seems a little absurd to have to order coffee and donuts off a touch screen. This isn’t like building a sandwich at Wawa, where you’re making specific choices about mayo, oil, lettuce, tomato, avocado, or whatever. Front counter orders at any Dunkin or Starbucks are simple, and typically go something like this:
Customer: “Good morning, how are you?”
Clerk: “Great, can I take your order?”
Customer: “Let me get a small black coffee, a medium coffee with cream and sugar, and two glazed blueberry donuts.”
Clerk: “Sure, that will be three dollars or whatever.”
Clerk: “Here’s your order.”
Customer: “Thanks, have a great day.”
Clerk: “You too.”
It takes two seconds, but now you can’t do that anymore. You can order via app, drive-through, or kiosk, but you can no longer walk into the place and tell a human being your order. It’s like calling Comcast customer service. They will do everything possible to ensure that you can’t talk to an actual person, not until you go through 27 robot prompts first.
All of this made sense at the height of COVID. We were trying to be safe, and distance, and limit face-to-face interaction. But what you’re seeing now is a permanent change, where some places are still drive-through/app only. Some don’t even have the kiosks or let anybody into the building at all, so the dining rooms just sit there, totally empty.
I know everybody says “just order with the app, it’s easy,” but again, we’re talking about two coffees and two donuts. Do I really need to get out my phone for an order that small? I spend enough time dicking around on my phone as it is, and scrolling through nonsense like Instagram, so the last thing I want to do is put in an order via the Dunkin Donuts app when it takes basically the same amount of time to just walk into the store and “git r done,” as Larry the Cable guy once said.
This might sound really corny considering the fact that we’re talking about donuts, but I believe this trend is connected to a larger problem, and that problem is that basic human interaction has taken a big hit over the past five or so years. We’re texting and using apps and working remotely, and so you never actually see anybody outside of your spouse and kids. As a result, we’ve become generally poor communicators, and people are buried in their phones and seem wary of traditional methods of discourse. Folks barely even talk on the phone now, and will sit there sending myriad text messages instead, which is much less efficient. It’s great to have all of this new tech, but we’re slowly becoming anti-social hermits, who avoid human interaction entirely. I’m old enough to remember when you had to actually call a landline and say hello to your friends’ parents, or knock on a door and greet them. We’re more detached in 2022 than we’ve ever been.
At the risk of sounding naive, we’re all aware that there are larger labor issues at play when we talk about automation and technology. The robots are coming for us all, right? Soon they’ll do all the jobs, and the only remaining professions will be robot maintenance person or low-level shitty sports blogger. What you saw during the pandemic was a lot of companies trimming their work forces and blaming it on COVID (like all of the various layoffs that we wrote about on this site). Coronavirus provided fantastic cover for places that wanted to trim the middle manager fat and/or stealthily save on labor costs. I’m not accusing Dunkin of doing that here, so don’t take it the wrong way; they just happened to be the example I used for the story since that’s where I went. And the employees up there in Hatfield were banging out orders left and right, in impressive fashion.
Also consider this:
They do this specifically so you use the app and put money into your DD wallet up front so they can turn around and invest that cash themselves all while keeping their labor costs lower.
— Mike (@MikeyHat) January 20, 2022
Mike may be right. I don’t know anything about this because I don’t have the app, but maybe I’ll download it anyway just to give it a whirl and get a feel for it. Boom! Instant credibility. Now I actually know what I’m talking about instead of sounding like the old man yelling at the cloud from the Simpson’s meme.
And finally, don’t be the person who says “who the fuck drinks Dunkin Donuts coffee anyway?” It’s not an everyday affair; sometimes you’re on the road or you get held up, or your kids slept like shit, and you need a boost. Coffee elitism is passé. Regular Americans drink regular coffee.
Thanks for reading this Pulitzer-worthy column, and have a great day.