Wendy’s Chili & Spoons: Usability

Yesterday I experienced a great metaphor for software usability testing and user feedback. We ate lunch at Wendy’s, and being the adventurous bloke I am, I decided to forgo the fries in lieu of chili. Eagerly awaiting my lunch-time treat, I peeled the plastic spoon out of it’s wrapper and got ready to dig in, not realizing I was about to go through four different archetypal users of a system.

End-Customer: From the first spoonful of chili, I knew something was wrong! My chili was inadequate! The content of my purchase didn’t meet my standards – it was too runny. Every time I tried to pick up a spoonful of chili, it would run off the edges of the shallow spoon. I couldn’t get a satisfying mouthful. Clearly there was an issue with the way their chili was prepared. The substance of the product just wasn’t up to par.

Sophisticated User: But then I realized, the runniness of the chili is a personal preference – it’s impossible to please everyone. Really, my concern was that I couldn’t use the tools provided to accomplish my goal: to get a decent mouthful of chili. Clearly the issue wasn’t really with the chili, the issue was with the hardware – the spoon was too small. Glad I had overcome my knee-jerk id-10-T problem, I proceeded to use the inadequate tool as best I could.

Demanding Compliance Officer: While I was eating, though, the though struck me: they could have fixed this issue by offering more than one size spoon. In fact, that would have made sense for their business since there were children eating at the restaurant (who would need a smaller spoon) and even elderly people (who may need a thicker handle). The costs of restructuring their cutlery-racks, not to mention any impact on their supply-chain, weren’t a concern – accessibility must be preserved!

Product Developer: Then, finally I realized that none of my concerns were really valid – the issue wasn’t really with the chili or the spoon, it was more an issue that I was trying to put too much food in my mouth at one time. It was user error. We should keep the spoon small to protect the customers from themselves. It’s a matter of public safety. Besides, they were probably already behind schedule and over-budget trying to figure out the best recipe for chili and dealing with so many user complaints 😉

Of course, while I was going through this metamorphosis, Derek just enjoyed his burger.


VP HCM Products at NetSuite and Founder of TribeHR and Lewis Media. Waterloo Region Enthusiast and active volunteer.



  • Ooh that’s deep. I can’t match those insights, but there WAS that time when I donated $1 and they asked me to write my name on the card which they tape up for customers to see. Of course I write “FightTube.tv” (Wendy’s spamming / blog comment spamming). This caused confusion because they had no donation spamming policies.

    Did you also notice how they now hide the chili sauce becuase *someone* kept stealing it?

  • Heh – that’s too funny. I wonder if anyone ended up going to check out your site from it? Great traffic-building strategy. 😉 “I like your burgers, but I posted my complaint up on my website – go find it at [insert URL here]” !

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