Baseline For McDonalds

Video Overview

This baselining video is taken at a McDonalds Restaurant in Manhattan, NYC. It is filmed at lunchtime around one o’clock in the afternoon on a Tuesday.

The video of the area consists of two clips, the first is about the minutes long and is focused on the entrance of the building and the seating area.  The second is three and a half minutes long and is oriented on the ordering area.  The videos were not shot in succession (the one focused on the ordering area was actually recorded first, and the clip of the entrance was recorded a few minutes later) so if you are attempting to track specific people between the two clips, don’t bother.

McDonalds Layout

The clips are recorded from the far right side of this picture, on the “ordering” side of the dividing wall.  This is taken at the entrance, you will see stairs on the right that lead up to a second floor seating area.

Download the Cluster Cards that list all observations that support our assessments.

 Clip #1 – Restaurant Entrance

Clip #2 – Restaurant Ordering Line 

The Daily Assignments

Monday’s Observation Assignment

Overall Task: The first step of establishing the baseline begins by making observations that relate to “The Collective” and “The Environment.”  Make these observations using the cues listed in the cluster cards.  Write out your answers so that you can compare them with what we observed tomorrow.

Step 1: Start by defining the Atmospherics for the area.  They can be either positive or negative.  Classify the area as being one or the other and identify as many reasons as you can for why you chose that.

The purpose of defining this is so that when you first arrive into a new area, you can define the collective behavior so that you can quickly focus on specific people or groups who stand out (for instance being loud when everyone else is quiet, moving through very quickly, not being in the food court for a reason, etc.).  

Here are articles about The Collective

Step 2: Establish the basic layout of the area. Identify the area as being either a habitual area or an anchor point, and then identify the smaller habitual areas or anchor points within that scene.  Identify the pathways that exist and determine if they are established by the area or a result of the path of least resistance.

By defining the general layout of the area, which areas are open to everyone (the habitual areas), which areas are reserved to a set group of people (the anchor points), and how people move through the area, we have the information we need to begin looking at patterns of movement, and the routines that exist inside of the area.

Here are articles about The Environment

Before moving to Tuesday’s observations, scroll to the bottom of the page to compare your observations to what we identified.  Also, watch the video at least one more time and make sure that you search the entire scene. Don’t spend all of your time focused on the people that are closest to you.  Scan at all depths. 

Tuesday’s Observation Assignment

Overall Task: The goal for today’s observations is to establish the patterns and routines that exist inside the area.  This takes us from the macro-observations we made about The Collective and The Environment and begin to focus on the behavior of specific people.

Step 1:  Identify the routines and the process that people go through from the time they enter the area until the time that they leave.  List this out step by step.

Step 2:  Define what cluster of behavior that you observe for the people in the video for each of the steps you identified. For example, “While in Step 1, people exhibit comfortable behavior, with their interest focused on the line ahead of them. In step 2, people exhibit dominant behavior with their interest focused on the cashier.”  When possible, identify the cause of the behavior, “People in line are uncomfortable, likely due to the fact that they are being crowded by strangers.”

Here are articles that elaborate on observing and assessing the clusters

Before moving to Wednesday’s observations, scroll to the bottom of the page to compare your observations to what we identified.  The observations made on Monday and Tuesday should come together to answer the question “What’s going on here?”  If there are any gaps in this answer from the proactive observations we’ve made, identify them before moving on and be as thorough as possible.

Wednesday’s Observation Assignment

Overall Task: The goal for today’s observations is to assess something using the domains not yet covered.  Ask yourself the question, “What am I missing here?” and use the domains of observable behavior to fill those gaps.

Step 1: Complete the baseline by observing and assessing the employees at McDonald’s.  What is the clothing and behavior associated with the employees?

Step 2: What would make someone stand out from the baseline for employee behavior?  List out these reasons.

Thursday’s Observation Assignment

Overall Task: The goal for today’s observations is to identify one person whose behavior causes them to stand out from the baseline.

Step 1: Identify and explicitly communicate the behavior that caused one person to stand out from the baseline and be classified as an anomaly. When possible, elaborate why that behavior is important and why it caused you to focus on them.  Also, identify possible legitimate and illegitimate reasons that could be causing the behavior that you observed.

The reason I want to list out a few legitimate and a few illegitimate reasons is for the purpose of objectivity. If you look at this group and only say that they are harmless friends, then every observation you make will support that decision since you have already made up your mind that they are harmless.  By having at least one legitimate and one illegitimate reason, you allow for objective analysis and observation to get beyond your personal biases and form an honest assessment about the person.

Step 2: Put together a physical description of the person, so that if you need to communicate to someone else what to look for, they have more to go off of then the type of clothing they are wearing.

Step 3: Establish as many facts and assumptions that you can about the person that you could use during a contact with the person.  Take into consideration their behavior, who they are with, why they are in that area, etc.

This is an exercise in communication and completes the process of observing, assessing, and preparing for the contact.  This is an essential part of the practice, to ensure you don’t just observe for the sake of observing, but are able to integrate this into our routines and operations. 

Friday’s Observation Assignment

Overall Task: Move from the computer to the field.

Step 1: To make these lessons and experiences stick and to improve your ability to recall them under stressful circumstances, use them in your life.  Visit a similar place to what we just established a baseline for, and go through the full process of establishing a baseline as quickly and accurately as you can to make this into a habit.  Is it the same or is it different?  What behaviors are constant and which change from situation to situation?

Step 2: Identify one person who stands out from the baseline and create a reason to approach and have a non-intrusive conversation with them to confirm or deny the possible reasons you identified that drew your attention to them.

Step 3: Once you have the baseline, ask yourself how you would attack it.  Where would you conduct surveillance?  How would you approach and exit that area?  Where would you be standing?  Once you do that, go and stand in those areas to get the perspective from there.

Try to get caught conducting surveillance or recording a video of the area and once someone notices you, think about how you naturally reacted to getting caught.  Burn that behavior into your brain so you can realize when someone else might be acting the same way just by getting looked at by an innocent bystander.

Now try to conduct surveillance again, but this time to not get caught.  How does your behavior change? How do you act when you are trying to be subtle.  These experiences combined with your understanding of the baseline are what you can practice to become better at focusing your attention on those people who stand out from the crowd and deserve further observation or action taken upon them in order to create more safe environments.

Don’t get arrested or punched in the face, but looking at the baseline from this perspective will help you recognize criminals attempting


The Observations and Assessments

Observations From Monday’s Task

The Collective

Overall: I assess that there are Positive Atmospherics in this restaurant, meaning there is a general sense of security here.  Here is what leads me to this decision:

  1. The noise level is moderate.  There is noise coming from conversations between members groups talking with each other, people placing their orders, and talking on phones.  It isn’t really loud as there are quite a few people here by themselves and therefore don’t have anyone to talk to, but it also isn’t very quiet either.
  2. The activity level is also fairly high.  As it is around one o’clock, it probably isn’t as busy as it would have been an hour earlier, but it is still fairly busy.
  3. The area is clean.   The floors and tables are clean and you can see an employee cleaning the windows on their glass entrance door.
  4. Groups and people are acting orderly.  No one is pushing their way to the front of the line to order, everyone is more or less following the established social norms for being in a fast food restaurant.

Observer comments: While the atmospherics are positive, but I’ve certainly been in McDonalds, that I would describe as “more positive” then this one.  Even though this is the case, using the cluster cards lets me make classify this as positive based on objective observations, and not solely on the feel a person has in an area.

Why This Assessment Matters: If you’ve already downloaded the cluster cards, you will see that these observations are made using the “Other Indicators” section of positive atmospherics.  Because this assessment is made very quickly, a secondary scan of the area is now possible using the indicators listed for positive atmospherics under the “profiling domains.”  This scan is the first attempt at determining if anyone stands out from the crowd and requires further attention before establishing a more detailed baseline.

The Environment

Overall: The McDonalds restaurant is a habitual area, meaning that anyone is free to come or go from this restaurant at any time.  There are no restrictions on access to this restaurant.

  1. As people leave their anchor point to visit a habitual area, they do so to fill a need.  Because this is McDonalds, just about everyone in the clip has come for the primary purpose ordering food.
  2. There are permanent anchor points within this habitual area.  This is the area behind the ordering counter where only employees are allowed to go.  This is permanent because the qualifications to get behind this counter never change.
  3. The temporary anchor points are the tables where patrons have sat down.  The qualifications to sit down at a table is to know the people who are already sitting there. These are tables are classified as temporary because as soon as the customers sitting at the table stand up and leave, the table becomes a habitual area again.
  4. Natural lines of drift and pathways exist from the front door to the ordering counter.  While many people use the most direct path, from the front door (where the picture above is taken from), people can turn right and approach on the right side of the wall barrier separating the seating area and ordering area

Observations From Tuesday’s Task


1. People enter McDonald’s and get into line.

    1. Observed Behavior: For the most part, people walk directly to the line, with only a slight hesitation upon entering.  They appear to be mostly comfortable and perhaps slightly dominant in their walk.
    2. Possible reason: Many McDonald’s are laid out the same and with a glass front to the store, they can orient themselves to the restaurant before entering, removing the need to do that once walking in.  This degree of familiarity leads to a comfortable perception of the area.  They also came to this habitual area to order food, so for those slightly dominant, they aren’t wasting time in this process and want to get in and out as quickly as possible.
    • Possible Deviations: A person does not order their food and instead chooses to immediately sit down.
    • Possible Reasons: Maybe they are waiting for someone else before ordering or maybe they aren’t there to eat, but instead sit down or use the free wifi.
    • Follow On Analysis: Look for behaviors that confirm or deny these assumptions.  If they are waiting for someone, they should be facing the door, possibly focused on their cell phones and acting like they are trying to find their friend.  If they are there for wifi, they should either be on their computer or actively on their phone.  If neither of these assumptions appear to be the reason for not getting into line, more observation is needed to determine if what their intent is and then determine if it is legitimate or not.

2. People wait to order.

    1. Behavior: Most people are comfortable, or only slightly uncomfortable while waiting in line to order.
    2. Possible reason:
    • For comfortable: There are only minimal stressors present in this clip.  The line isn’t too long, so it matches people’s expectations of coming to a McDonalds’s that they might have to wait just a couple minutes before ordering.  Also, the store isn’t overly crowded so people have an acceptable amount of space around them and don’t have people invading their personal space.
    • For uncomfortable: The people displaying the mild discomfort are mostly just preparing themselves for the ordering, are getting their wallets out or slightly fidgety as they try to figure out which line to get into.  All of this is very subtle though and not an intense display.

3. People order their meal.

    1. Behavior: Dominance.  People are leaning forward (closing the distance to the employee).  They are placing their hands, arms and bags on the counter, taking control/ownership of that area.  Some people are standing up on their tip toes to make themselves appear larger.  Some people are pointing/gesturing to the signs telling the employee what they want.
    2. Possible reason: Ordering is a dominant act.  The customer is telling the employee what they want to eat.

4. People wait for their food.

    1. Behavior: Same behavior is observed for those waiting in line. Comfort or occasionally mild discomfort.
    2. Possible reason: There is an expectation that you have to wait for your food, and as long as the wait isn’t too long, people are not agitated by that.  Some people who perhaps are looking to get in and get out show slightly more discomfort than others.

5. People get their food.

    1. Behavior: They either sit down (establish a temporary anchor point at a table) or leave (return to another anchor point such as their office).
    2. Possible reason: People came to the habitual area to fulfill the need of getting food.  Once that is complete, the need to be there disappears.  Unless people are also looking to kill some time, they wouldn’t hang out very long after they are done eating.  But at that point, this habitual area is now serving a different purpose.
    • Possible Deviations: A person stops at the condiment counter.
    • Possible Reason: A customer needs to get napkins, a straw, ketchup, etc before sitting or leaving.
    • Follow On Analysis: As long as they are actively doing something associated with the condiments and focused on that task, it is a logical deviation.  If they are loitering in that area, only acting like they are getting something while scanning the restaurant, it is an anomaly worth observing.  If a person knows that staying in the ordering area after they get their food would attract attention, they may be looking for an area that lets them appear to be legitimate again.

Observer Comments:  If someone does not execute the steps we identified, it doesn’t mean they are a criminal, but it does mean that they did not come to this habitual area to have the same need fulfilled as everyone else.  It will allow us to focus our attention on specific people and groups of people, but that can’t be done until we can confidently understand what the norm is.

Why This Assessment Matters:  This provides a much greater depth and detail to the baseline observations made in Monday’s task.  Monday’s task allows us to do a quick scan to see if anyone stands out, by establishing a process and assigning behavioral clusters to each step, we can now go through each person in a much more thorough manner to see if any stands out from the baseline.

Observations From Wednesday’s Task

Employee at McDonald’s

  1. Clothing:
    1. Blue or yellow short-sleeved collared shirt
    2. The manager is wearing a pink shirt
    3. Women have some sort of scarf tucked under their collar
    4. Guys have a tie on
    5. Black Visor or Blue Hat
    6. Black pants
  2. Behavior
    1. They are the only people allowed behind the counter.  Working at McDonald’s is the requirement for access to that anchor point.
    2. Focused on fulfilling orders and serving food to customers
    3. Supporting those who are filling orders
    4. Completing the order and taking money
  3. What would make someone stand out
    1. Any person behind the counter, but not wearing the uniform.  There would be the reasonable assumption that they are affiliated with the restaurant because they have access to that anchor point, but are not working at that point.
    2. Anyone who moves towards the entrance to that anchor point, but is not recognized by the employees – any look of confusion, attention, or questioning of a person that wasn’t known to the employees in that area.
    3. Anyone acting unfamiliar with that section of the restaurant. An employee would know the layout intuitively, and know how to work their way from the counter through the back area.  Anyone who doesn’t have that understanding should warrant attention

Why This Assessment Matters: Someone attempting to gain access to an anchor point has two choices, be very overt, such as jumping over the counter and making their intentions clear, or trying to gain access by blending in and appearing to be someone that always has access and disguising their intentions.  By understanding the behavior of the customers that was established in Tuesday’s observations, we can better identify the person who is going to take the bold and direct route, but to identify a person who wants to look like an employee, we need to add this layer of observation and understanding into our baseline.

For an attacker trying this method of concealing their intentions, while their clothing or uniform might fit the baseline, their behavior and the behavior of the other employees will help cause them to stand out.

Observations From Thursday’s Task

McDonald's Anomaly

My anomaly: I chose the woman in the pink shirt and tan khaki pants who enters into clip #2 at the 1:50 mark.

Step 1: The behavior and the cause:

Why An Anomaly  (Facts)

  • Her attention is split between the menu board/the ordering area and something behind her in the seated area
    • She is more uncomfortable than many of the other patrons.  She is standing further away from those in front of her in line, giving herself more separation, her arms are crossed across her chest for almost the entire time she is in the clip and she is continually shifting her weight back and forth from one foot to the other.
    • She is more alert to her surroundings and has a greater degree of situational awareness than the other people in the clip.  She looks at and adjusts to those around her.
    • Because there aren’t clearly marked lines, she shifts back and forth from one line to another, but never really gets/moves any closer to the counter to order.  It shows she wants to get up to the counter to order and find the shortest line, but she doesn’t physically close the distance to the point of ordering which I would expect to see.

Possible Explanations (Assumptions)

  • Legitimate Reason #1: Maybe she is there with kids and she is trying to watch them at the table while she is also ordering lunch. This is later proven as a young boy walks up and talks to her and then returns to the seating area.
  • Legitimate Reason #2: Maybe she is a tourist and not very familiar with the area of NYC she is in and is concerned about keeping her kids safe and doesn’t want to get too close to anyone in line to risk offending them
  • Criminal Reason #1: Maybe she is getting to grab the cash from the register as soon it opens.  She is standing back because she is worried about attracting attention, she looks towards the seating area, but that is also the door to make sure that there aren’t any cops walking in, and she is moving back and forth in line to get a better sense of how the draw opens so she doesn’t mess it  up.

Likely Explanation

  • Her concern is with her children and the group she is with.  The boy that comes up to talk to her has already shown that he likes to get up and move around, so she might be worried about him walking out of the restaurant to look at something that caught his attention.  I also know that she didn’t rob the McDonald’s.

Step 2: Physical description of the person:

Physical Description:

  • Medium height (maybe 5’8’’ or so)
  • Medium build
  • Late 30’s, early 40’s
  • Long dark hair, pulled back in a tight bun
  • At the time wearing a pink short sleeved shirt with khaki pants, carrying a white purse

Step 3: Establish as many facts and assumptions that you can about the person that you could use during a contact with the person.  Take into consideration their behavior, who they are with, why they are in that area, etc.

Background Behavior

  • With (at least) one young boy and a teenage girl
  • Has shopped at least at one other place – unable to read the bag in this clip though

Possible Rapport Topics

  • Not wearing a wedding band – potentially unmarried
  • Because she is there with children, topics that relate to kids, eating, parenting etc. might be a way to start a conversation.

Observer Comment:  I’m not saying she is a criminal, I was just saying that her behavior is different than everyone else’s in this video clip.

Why This Assessment Matters: Identifying people who stand out from the baseline is the goal, but simply recognizing that a person is an anomaly is not enough, you have to be able to communicate why and justify how you came to your decision.  In dynamic situations where you are observing in person, this can be difficult as there is a lot going on at the time, that is why it is so important to make this a habit through video practice.