I can’t say that I’ve spent much time wondering about the inner lives of fast-food cooks. It’s just not something that crosses my mind as I queue for my semi-weekly fix (“gee, that enchanting gal behind the counter, perched like a be-apron’d Valkyrie over an as-yet unformed shell of a Cheesy Gordita Crunch - what makes her tick? What are her hopes and dreams?”). I similarly have not invested much thought about the unvoiced longings of DMV functionaries or the emotional prosperity of Nordstrom clerks.
This doesn’t make me a bad person, nor does it make me unique among grease-wheezing slobs. On the other hand, it does render me profoundly disinclined to seek out information about this underpaid category of service-industry drones. Learning more about such individuals isn’t likely to enhance my dining experience or prompt me to assign additional wattage to the ol’ brand halo.
That’s why KFC’s most recent online video push, in which it introduces us to three of its nicest, proudest cooks, is so baffling. It’s the first series in some time that, above all else, poses an existential dilemma: Why is this here? Who is the intended audience? Is there some judgmental subset of fast-food diners that insists on decency and diligence in their restaurant stewards?
Because let’s face it: There is nothing a KFC cook could say or do in a first-person narrative of this sort that would generate more business or bolster the brand (there’s plenty that a cook could do to drive customers away, but that’s another story). People go to KFC because they dig the food and the convenience. While it’s encouraging to learn that its vittles aren’t brought into being by stone-faced felons or chronic nose-pickers, it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of fast-food things.
But the three KFC cooks themselves? Likable! You’d be thrilled to have any one of them as your aisle-mate on a cross-country flight. You might well add them to your holiday-card list on the strength of their “Real KFC Cook” testimonials alone.
Maurice details the who-can-make-the-best-looking-chicken? competition that has thrived between him and his manager, in which the loser washes the winner’s car. Brandon recalls the logistical challenges posed by preparing an order of 400 Extra Crispy Tenders (née Crispy Strips) for a boys’ shelter. Megan preaches the family-values and community-involvement gospel.
Mostly, though, the three cooks yap about the importance of hard work (“the hard way, to me, means doing things the right way,” “a real meal is a meal made the hard way”), which makes minimal sense within the context of a fast-food kitchen. While it’s wonderful that everybody’s trying so hard, it’d be even greater if there were some tangible link between this behind-the-counter effort and the customer experience, whether in the form of enhanced service or tastiness. As presented here, the intensified effort is a moot point.
Also, KFC appears to cheat a bit in the production of the clips. Go to the 38-second mark of Megan’s video, which shows Maurice and Brandon working alongside her in the kitchen. So we’re just looking at a single KFC restaurant here? That doesn’t appear to jibe with the KFC.com blurb, which notes that Brandon works in California. Eh. Whatever. Nobody likes an Internet-debunker.
In the end, KFC doesn’t deserve to be tsk-tsked for the “Real KFC Cook” series, because it’s never a bad thing when an organization highlights the talent and decency of its frontline staff. That said, not every employee is a precious little snowflake, emanating light and warmth towards everyone in his general vicinity. In the absence of a connection between the highlighted traits and the quality of KFC product or service, the videos don’t amount to much more than a parent blindly hyping his kid. Niceness and puritanical work ethic are absolutely valued traits in the real world, but they’re borderline irrelevant in this particular online one.