May 5, 2011


Go into the kitchen of a Taco Bell today, and you’ll find a strong counterargument to any notion that the U.S. has lost its manufacturing edge. Every Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King is a little factory, with a manager who oversees three dozen workers, devises schedules and shifts, keeps track of inventory and the supply chain, supervises an assembly line churning out a quality-controlled, high-volume product, and takes in revenue of $1 million to $3 million a year, all with customers who show up at the front end of the factory at all hours of the day to buy the product. Taco Bell Chief Executive Officer Greg Creed, a veteran of the detergents and personal products division of Unilever, puts it this way: “I think at Unilever, we had five factories. Well, at Taco Bell today I’ve got 6,000 factories, many of them running 24 hours a day.”

It’s as if the great advances of human civilization, in everything from animal husbandry to mathematics to architecture to manufacturing to information technology, have all crescendoed with the Crunchwrap Supreme, delivered via the pick-up window.

Via Businessweek.


  1. Kelsey Parker on May 5th, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    I just threw up a little in my mouth.

  2. Kelsey Parker on May 5th, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    Also, WALL-E.

  3. Joel Bernstein on May 5th, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    It’s kind of inspiring.

  4. Mike Dresser on May 5th, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    The factory bit struck a chord with me. We bemoan the lost heavy industries, coal and cars and such, yet those jobs were repetitive, too. If fast food jobs paid a living wage, with adequate sick time and a sense of employee pride, then couldn’t we recapture a bit of what was lost in the globalization of the past 30 years?

    Of course, there’s an entirely different nutritional and social argument to be made against fast food. But until all of America returns to local markets, eating seasonal produce and reconnecting with the cycles of nature, perhaps incremental improvements to fast food are the best we can hope for. Nate Appleman, celebrated chef of San Francisco’s A16 restaurant and a noted nose-to-tail dining advocate, is now at the Chipotle corporate R&D kitchen, allegedly working on ways to make the finished product mesh better with the realities of sustainable farming.

    On an unrelated note, Glen Bell apparently referred to his signature product as tay-cos.

  5. Frank Patrick on May 6th, 2011 at 5:21 am

    Agree with Joel B…Kind of inspiring. The ability to synchronize all the moving parts is impressive. The ultimate example of Taylorism, allowing otherwise an unskilled, often multi-lingual workforce to be amazingly productive.

    The only weak links in the system seem to be the people at the customer-facing position. Especially when requesting something other than the standard fare. While usually successful at BK and Wendy’s, trying to get my wife’s “egg and cheese only, no meat, no margarine” egg McMuffin turns into a “failure to communicate”.

    Maybe if I dusted off my High School Spanish, it would be easier, but I shouldn’t have to.

  6. Frank Patrick on May 6th, 2011 at 5:24 am

    Oh yeah…Don’t complain about the product.

    It’s like that all over in our trivial world. 40 some years ago, we used our technological prowess (for what it was) to get to the moon. Today, when we walk around with more tech power in our pockets than all of NASA back then, what do we get?

    Angry Birds.

  7. Carole Corlew on May 6th, 2011 at 6:42 am

    I figure the order takers can’t understand my north Alabama accent, either. Except at the Hazel Green McDonalds, where the accents are the same as mine and small town southern friendliness as thick as the special sauces. The problem is those dang drive-in intercoms. They are stressful on both sides. When the store sends a person out to stand at the menu sign and collect the order there is never a problem. I once was absolutely impressed with a teenage boy who took orders with great speed and skill using some sort of handheld while texting like a fiend with his other hand. I sat and stared too long and had to be (nicely) waved on to the window to pay.

    I’m happy Mr. B. can drive himself to get his own Big Macs now. Not really happy, but, you know.

  8. Sheila Ryan on May 6th, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    On our way to Texas last weekend I told Rick, Danny and Andrew about the “retarded McDonald’s” near Webster University in St. Louis. (Andrew had heard of it, he thought, but never stopped in.)

    Retarded McDonald’s was staffed by people with Down Syndrome, and that place was the best-run, most pleasant franchise joint I’ve ever encountered. Too bad about the food, but apart from that, the place was brilliant. Everything worked, and the customer service was the best.

  9. Sheila Ryan on May 8th, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Take-O’s. Take-out.

    Repeating myself here, but . . .

    A favorite sign:

    Milwaukee. Korean joint featuring both dine-in and carry-out.