Retail observationsWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
There are a lot of factors that help people determine whether to patronize a business. Price, of course. Variety and quality of merchandise. As gasoline prices rise, proximity becomes a more prominent determinant.
For many people, none of these elements is as important as customer service. I will go out of my way and pay a little more if I trust and respect the people at a business.
I may be a feet-on-the-desk, Tetris-playing, Internet-surfing, soft-hands, two-hour-lunch-taking, beach-combing, slacker editor now, but for many years, I actually had to work for a living. There was a long stint working for the Bob Evans restaurant chain, plus stints in furniture sales, bookstore stock shelving, UPS box loading and a number of jobs that required various combinations of physical labor and customer service. Having been on the receiving end of abuse from malevolent bosses and parsimonious customers, I know how difficult the working man’s (and woman’s) life is. I maintain great respect for the people who work service and retail jobs, especially in restaurants and places that require a lot of contact with the public. I understand that people who work on their feet catering to egomaniacal customers and unpleasant attitudes can have bad days, and they have to be really offensive to get under my skin.
But I do have a few customer service pet peeves, and I encountered a number of them during a recent day of running and playing. Two college friends and I meet three or four times a year to see a concert or a movie and to inflict major damage upon a number of restaurants’ food supplies. We gathered in Toledo on April 23 for just such a guys’ day out, joking, catching up and reliving some of our college-era camaraderie.
We started in Monroe at Pete’s Garage, a restaurant with as many TV screens as Best Buy, several actual antique cars that serve as seating booths and a Hall of Fame appetizer menu. Our general practice is to order an embarrassing number of appetizers to place on the table, then share and graze. Pete’s Garage is an ideal setting for such indulgences.
We were seated in the center of the restaurant’s east wing. There is a second floor on that side that holds two of the antique cars that kids and families love to eat in. As we waited, one of the jean-shorts-clad young waitresses took some cleaning supplies upstairs. To clean the rear windshield, she had to climb on the trunk on her hands and knees to spray and clean the car’s glass. I assume she was at least old enough to serve alcohol, and while I greatly appreciate being as close as I will ever be to a ZZ Top video shoot, it was disconcerting to see her on display with so many kids and families in the restaurant. As I hurtle through my mid-40s, I am discovering that there is an increasingly thin line between passively appreciating a pretty woman and feeling like a leering, wolf-muzzle drooling dirty old man.
I crisscrossed that line with darting eyes for the few minutes she washed the car, and was grateful I sitting with college buddies and not my kids.
One of our stops in Toledo was a pre-Easter run through the Monroe Street Toys ‘R’ Us. As one of my friends went through the checkout line, he heard a conversation between two store employees. One of them asked when the air conditioning would be turned on in the warm store, and when told it would not be during the current shift, replied, “We’ll be sweating like Hebrews in the summer.”
I did not take the time to research the scientific evidence behind such a statement, but it was shocking enough to hear the account when we were back in the car; I have no idea how I would have reacted had I been standing there when the racist comment was uttered. I am more inclined to confrontation than the friend who heard the comment, but I also understand the “flight” reaction in “fight or flight.”
After an afternoon appetizer binge at Famous Dave’s, where we had a perfect experience, we went to the Huntington Center for the Gregg Allman/Steve Miller concert. It is not often that my two friends and I separate an event from food, but we were so dangerously close to food-aversion therapy levels from our day’s bacchanal that not even beverages offered much appeal.
Not wanting the fun and games to end, we stopped at the Sylvania BW3. It was nearing midnight, but the ghosts of Pete’s Garage and Famous Dave’s lingered. It was too late for caffeine and too late to eat. One of my friends and I were hoping for a small milkshake to neutralize the barbecue fires, but all BW3 offered was a scoop of vanilla ice cream. So our total table order consisted of three glasses of water, two scoops of vanilla ice cream and one order of “Asian Zing” boneless chicken wings for our more ambitious partner.
When the meager order arrived, it was not delivered by our waiter, but by a manager who was trying to be humorous but failed.
“I just had to see who ordered this,” he said. “I’ve never seen this. I expected to see a pregnant woman out here.”
It’s a minor pet peeve on the scale of annoyances, but I hate being made to feel like I need to defend a purchase. I hate it when a grocery store clerk comments on my choices, I hate it when a waiter openly judges my tastes and I especially hate it when a manager makes a freak show about my order. Not only did he get a big chuckle out of our end-of-day surrender to a day of profligacy, he stopped by a second time to bring it up again. None of us said anything; we all know it’s not cool to beat up on people who work as hard as restaurant and service people do. It’s just one more story to tell about awkward customer service and the choices we make when we have dollars to spend.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at email@example.com.