What I learned from becoming a regular at McDonald's 

and it has nothing to do with eating habits

Back in the day when I was working at a bagel shop, I had a whole bunch of “regulars.” I knew their names, where their children went to school, when they were having a bad day. I dreamed of the day that I would become a regular somewhere. Somewhere cool and classy. Somewhere where the employees would know my name, where they’d have my order ready before I walked through the door. I never thought that the first place that would happen would be at a McDonald’s in Zhuhai, China.

Imagine my embarrassment.

But the experience impressed two things on me. One has to do with the effectiveness of good customer service.The other has to do with being a good human being.

I never go to McDonald’s in the US. Regardless of what you want to say about its health benefits or lack thereof, I simply don’t like it, and neither does my stomach (bring on the tums). But when you’re living in China, spectacular as the food is, there’s no avoiding those moments when you just want a flipping cheeseburger. There was a McDonald’s just a ten minute walk from my apartment in Zhuhai, and so it was really easy to give in to these impulses, these moments of pure, unadulterated weakness.

I didn’t go often, maybe once or twice in a two week period (that’s not often, right?). It was always bustling, with easily 15 people waiting in line at any given time. But one day, I came up to the counter, and for once, the kid didn’t pull out a menu for me to point at like a machine. He said something, and at first I was so taken off guard that I just blinked and went, “What?” He seemed embarrassed, which made me embarrassed, and he said, slower, “I think you want the double cheeseburger.”

My cheeks were probably some version of magenta as I laughed and told him, yup. And though there was a part of me that felt ashamed that I had just crossed some kind of horrific line in my self-invented version of myself, I also felt this wave of warmth. I left with a bounce in my step, kept laughing a little to myself throughout the day when I thought of it. The stranger thing was that I found myself wanting to go there MORE. I started going more often—the boys there would laughingly try out some new English phrase when I went in, but they all knew that if I came in before 10 am, I wanted a coffee, and if I came in past 11, I wanted a double cheeseburger.

It had nothing to do with the food, really. Going there always made my day better, made me feel like I was in on an inside joke, like—even if I only knew a few words of Chinese and they only knew a few words of English, I could trust them in some way. And when I left China, I wanted to do something for them, like write them a letter thanking them for all the fine cheeseburgers.

That, my friends, is great customer service right there. If you can make your customers’ days better, and make them want to return the favor in some way, you have Succeeded.

Now, obviously there were other factors in play in this particular instance—when you’re living in a foreign country, human contact tends to hit home runs and explode in your brain a little more than it does in one’s home country. But this brings me to the second lesson I learned, and that is how EASY it is to make someone else feel noticed. It’s easy to show people that you see them, remember them.

And since it’s so easy, why not do it?

Like, all the time?