Incident At Big Bowl

Am I the only one who has weird  encounters  every single time I travel? That can’t be. (Can it?)

This week, I had a quick trip to Boston (where my heart resides, so I have to visit it) to present a legal ethics program to recently minted lawyers. On the way, I tried to grab a meal at Reagan airport. The flight was at 6:30, and I wanted to eat before I had to get on the plane. I chose an allegedly fast food outpost near my gate, Big Bowl. It was not busy: maybe two people ahead of me, one behind. The order was simple: a “big bowl” of kung pao chicken with white rice, no drink. I paid, and got my slip with the number 555.

When they called 555, it wasn’t my order. They called 549 before that, and it wasn’t right either. All the numbers on all the orders were wrong, and the confusion added about 10 minutes to everyone’s wait, notably mine. Finally, they skipped the numbers entirely, and shouted out the contents of each order. My big bowl had been mislabeled 550, and for a while I had to argue with the customer who had the 550 ticket, until she realized she had ordered fried rice, not white rice.

Meanwhile the employees were just shrugging, giggling and smiling away. “You had the wrong number,” one said to me. “No, you had the wrong number on my order. Why?” She shrugged and smiled.

“That’s no answer, ” I said. “Do you have a system, or not?  Can’t you tell me what happened? I was inconvenienced. Part of what I’m paying for is service. Why did this happen?”

Another shrug. No acceptance of responsibility. No apology or anything remotely sounding like one.  At this point, a superannuated hippy who looked like she was ready to do a Joan Baez set intervened with a condescending, “They made a mistake. Mistakes happen.”

Yes, Sunflower, and when I make mistakes, I apologize to the people my mistakes harm. I also make sure I know what caused the mistake. “Mistakes happen” is the attitude that embeds this unethical service attitude in the culture. The young women who made this  mistake weren’t paying attention, and they literally didn’t care that I had to engage in negotiations to get what I ordered, or that the ten minutes lost due to their screw-up made the difference between my having time to eat their overpriced faux Chinese food  at  something approaching a civilized pace, and having to shovel it into my mouth like I was stoking a furnace.

Hippy woman’s 12-year-old clone then risked strangulation by interjecting, “Nobody’s perfect,” the Rationalization List’s alternative title for the same rationalization her mother invoked, 19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes!”  I’m not demanding perfection: when someone makes an honest mistake and owns and apologizes for it, I always (well, almost always) am gracious and accepting. Owning and apologizing for mistakes is how we all should handle them while doing our jobs and meeting our obligations. This is an important societal norm that has to be enforced by all of us. Mama Sunflower and Clone’s “Hey, chill out, man!”  approach is why we have the deteriorating culture we do, especially after eight years of a President who refused to admit any mistakes or accountability when fiascos occurred under his lax and inept management.

Laast week, when I pointed out on Facebook that the Price Waterhouse Coopers botch at the Oscars was a serious professional breech, several “friends” admonished me for making a “mountain out of a molehill,” pre-quoting the Big Bowl apologist: “Everybody makes mistakes.” Yes, but you hire a Big Four accounting firm because it will not make a mistake.

Imagine, after the race-bullying that followed last year’s awards, if “Moonlight” had been wrongly announced as the Best Picture, and “La La Land’s” all white contingent had swept the all black “Moonlight” crew off the stage, instead of the reverse. The Academy’s embarrassment would have been multiplied ten-fold, and that it was not is just moral luck. Then we learned that the reason the SWJ representatives were so slow to fix the problem was that the accountant responsible was sending a text when he should have been paying attention.

“Hey, chill out, man!”

Wrong response.

Unethical response.

27 thoughts on “Incident At Big Bowl

  1. I know a deli that does a heavy lunch trade, and they give out numbers during that time. But they don’t buy their own tickets – every once in a while they go to a supermarket, tear a hundred tickets off their machine, and then they put these in a basket on their counter and recycle them till they all disappear or get torn. So the numbers aren’t in any kind of order as they hand them out. The fun is watching befuddled new customers staring at tickets and furrowing brows as the people behind the counter call, “Number 16…84…51…32…76…”

  2. I bet the owner of that concession AND the airport concessions management folks would be interested in your story. They do NOT like bad press, and have a vested interest in keeping customers happy.

    The girl has no skin in the game, in fact, you are a bother to her (Facebook is calling) because she get paid by the hour, and customers are such a bother. My experience is that, lacking oversite, this type of worker would rather no customers interrupted their shiftss.

    Cultural rot.

    • For the youngsters, Facebook is considered lame, an app for old folks (anyone over 18 years of age). Snapchat and Instagram are the rage, especially because the images/posts disappear within milliseconds after you view them. Those apps seem to encourage short attention spams. To anyone under the age of 18, this morning’s news cycle is ancient history. “So, chill, bra. What’s the big deal.” Yep.

      As an aside, you are not alone in your weird experiences. I am an expert in weird experiences. I think it is because I make eye contact with lots of people, which mostly leads to odd conversations or encounters, such as the runner-fellow this morning at the local caffe: while engaging in pleasantries, said runner-fellow was ingesting packets (too numerous to count) of sugar. The wild look in his eyes led me to believe that there was something else going on inside his cranium than negative splits from his latest dashes up and down the hill. I should have kept looking at my shoes (“Wow. Those are some nice Hush Puppies.”) but, alas, once engaged, it took a few hours to extricate myself from the growing mound of sugar packets on the table, which was listing from the weight.


      • Am I the only one who has weird encounters every single time I travel? That can’t be. (Can it?)

        Not quite travelling, but every time I make a major purchase at Walmart, I have had to return it within a few days. Every time. Without fail.

        This happens less now, because I do not make major purchases at Walmart anymore. Just consumables.

  3. Sunflower needs to rethink her parenting. If I’d tried to “pile on” a complete stranger with an interjection, even if one of my parents had said something, I’d have gotten a rap in the mouth and a sharp reminder that the adults were talking, kids keep quiet. The “hey, chill” attitude is annoying, but what’s really at the root of it is the can’t-be-bothered attitude that goes with being always distracted by one’s phone or friends. Yes, maybe the latest gossip on who’s slamming who IS more interesting than keeping some guy’s order straight, but that wasn’t why you were hired.

  4. “… approach is why we have the deteriorating culture we do, especially after eight years of a President who refused to admit any mistakes or accountability when fiascos occurred under his lax and inept management.”

    I don’t think your expectations were too high, although I don’t see it as a sign of cultural rot that they weren’t met. Like it or not, it wasn’t only fast food, but AIRPORT — the absolute worst of the industry — fast food. You’re talking about a class of workers who make a daily commute to an airport for purposes of working basic retail and food service. I don’t know that people at this level of employment have EVER cared or are ever going to. This isn’t part of society’s ethical decline, you were just dealing with the bottom rung of it.

    As many things as Barack Obama’s presidency has wrought on our great nation, I don’t know that we can lay the steady decline of American fast-food service on his doorstep — especially when we have a president NOW who won’t admit mistakes either.

    It does beg the question, though: Why fast food “Chinese”? Fast service restaurants already have a tenuous connection with the word “food” to begin with, so throwing cultural misappropriation on top of all that is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Rarely, if ever, have I seen fast cultural cuisine that was worth eating. If you don’t believe me, just go down to that Greek places you love and order a couple of “guy-rohs.”

  5. Thank you, this was timely. I used your article as an example of poor service at weekly staff meeting this morning. We are dealing with the glitches of a new software system. Apologize and give the “customer” the benefit of the doubt. Waive fees and extend use. Minimize inconvenience.

  6. Why is all of the blame on the employees? While they certainly deserve some of the blame, there is also blame that should be placed upon the owners of the establishment. Where is the concern about customer satisfaction and, hence, repeat business? It is not to be found because most business owners are worried only about profit maximization today rather than profit stream maximization over a long period. When one pays minimum wages, he can expect minimum effort from minimally skilled employees.

    I went to a school (Indiana University School of Business) in a long, long ago time (the 1980s) where we were taught to think strategically and long-term. By the time I had been in industry long enough for the ink to dry on my diploma, I realized that there were virtually no strategic and long-term thinking at all in this country. I was a stranger in a strange land.

    • Another favorite issue of mine. If you’re the representative of the company I deal with, you are responsible. Don’t tell me “I just work here.” If you can’t get your supervisor to take the heat, you’re elected.

      • Ultimately, who is responsible for the poor service? It’s the owner who doesn’t think good service is important enough to hire a general manager who thinks good service is important enough to hire and train employees who make good service a priority.

        • Better title: “The Big Bowl Incident.”

          Tom, can basic desire to do your job well be taught? How do you teach taking pride in your work? Beats me.

          • I never actually said these things can be taught to everyone. What I said, is that the owner has to take care to hire a general manager who cares about customer service… and so on. Some degree of customer care can be taught but the desire to learn has to be inherent in the person hired.

            The situation may be different where you reside, but I can tell a difference between the customer care in my are at McDonald’s and some of the other fast food places in my area. I assume that begins by the McDonald’s managers requiring a little more from the applicants than that they are able to ‘fog’ a mirror.

          • “Incident at Big Bowl” has that good old American frontier courageous last-stand effort about it. It was an heroic effort, one that should be rewarded with a strong title on its tombstone.

  7. Oh for God’s sake. Everything can’t always go your way — though it seems you think you deserve it. In Cher’s immortal line in ‘Moonstruck,” SNAP OUT OF IT!

  8. Go to an In and Out burger and see that fast food can have the most professional and customer service anywhere.

    They are trained that way, it’s a corporate value that extends from how they are treated to how they are trained (or hired) to treat others.

    You’d think you just walked into a Morton’s or something when you walk in or drive up. ALWAYS polite, clear and helpful. If they get the order wrong you are compensated accordingly.

    I once arrived home after getting an order to go, the next day called the company, was sent gift cards and asked specifics on my receipt so that “they could speak to the person in charge and find the breakdown so it can be corrected.”

    I usually complain to managers when I have an issue like you, and each time I am fairly compensated.

    The one time I wasn’t it was obvious the owner didn’t care, manager didn’t care and basically said “go someplace else if you aren’t happy.” Was at an airport!!!

  9. I believe this is an issue that goes much deeper than it appears on the surface and Son of M and Tom M in their analyses have identified some of the issues at the root of the problem. Son of M said, “I don’t know that people at this level of employment have EVER cared or are ever going to.” There are some who care, and they can be identified when you are served by them, but I agree that most them appear not to. I think this is because our culture overall is not respectful of the people who do those jobs and so they have no reason to respect themselves as a person who performs that work. I had the opportunity to live in Japan for about two years. That was over 40 years ago, and I still remember the complete professionalism of just about every service worker I encountered. Of course, it is a cultural thing. I wish people who provide services here could develop the attitude that it is not demeaning to be a service worker.

    Tom asks, “Why is all of the blame on the employees?” I agree. The culture of any organization starts at the top. Is the boss showing by his own actions that the job and how it is performed are important? Does the boss respect the employees? Are they provided appropriate training and examples? Are they being held to standards? One of my first jobs was as a dishwasher in a fairly upscale restaurant. The owner was back in the dishwashing area at least one or two times every night, he made a point of having at least some handicapped workers he paid the same and treated the same as everyone else, and he was willing to promote people who appeared to have potential. I was offered assistant manager job in one of his other restaurants. Everyone else was treated equally well. It was a very popular place, great repeat business, and extremely low employee turnover.

    Tom says, “When one pays minimum wages, he can expect minimum effort from minimally skilled employees.” I don’t agree. The employee knows what the wages will be and has agree to work for that. I advised my daughter who started in a food service job that she was paid what she was worth, to make sure she earned it, and that if she wanted to earn more she needed to demonstrate that she was worth more by her performance. If the employer expects minimum effort for the most part he will get it. As I stated above, there are people who do care about performing a good job and take pride in their work and if expected to perform to an appropriate level they will. Some will exceed that and be promoted or qualify for better jobs. Those who don’t meet expectations need to be fired.

    I agree with Tom that someone who just flat doesn’t care about customer care cannot be taught it and if accidentally hired their career in that field should be brief. Most people do not have an inherently bad attitude and can be taught to at least fake it and act appropriately including taking responsibility and trying to make the customer happy. I don’t need everyone who serves me to be smiling all the time, I find forced bonhomie off putting, but I do need them to be polite, do their job competently and if they make a mistake to do what they can to make it right. Contrary to what E2 says, I do think I deserve everything to go my way when that is what I am paying for. It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t if there is some genuine attempt to make things right.

    • Another Comment of the Day, John.

      Tom says, “When one pays minimum wages, he can expect minimum effort from minimally skilled employees.” I don’t agree.

      Boy, you got that right. That’s an offensive attitude. I have had to deal with volunteers in many enterprises, and when they screw up, inevitably someone says, “You can’t blame them. After all, they are volunteers.” This is the cue for a lecture from me.

      NO. It doesn’t matter if you are being paid millions or in bottle caps and peanuts: if you accept a responsibility to do a task, you have committed to do it to the best of your ability, and nothing less. This is a key culture wars battle ground, and yet another one where the progressives are so wrong, so culturally clueless, that they forfeit any credibility on anything else they say. The world and the workplace just doesn’t function that way, and won’t. Bernie says you have a right to a job with a living wage. If that’s an entitlement regardless of how well and hard you work, then it isn’t a job, but a handout with window dressing.

        • There are two almost contradictory meanings of expect and I expect (yet another meaning) I took the opposite one from your intent. I see now you meant it as to regard something as likely to happen or anticipated vs. the meaning I took of rightfully due or requisite, fulfill an obligation, demand. I have to agree, that taking your meaning, that is unfortunately how things often are today. My thought process was along the line of “If the employer expects [demands, requires] minimum effort for the most part he will get it.”

          To add one thing in reply to Other Bill, I believe that having a desire to work is to some degree inborn and to a larger degree a reflection of what is demonstrated in the family and the expectations of society (which I think is a problem now in that our society doesn’t seem to have many expectations in this area). Taking pride in work can be taught to those willing to learn but it is taught by example and it seems that systems that taught pride in work like the apprentice, journeyman, craftsmen system where high standards are demanded are becoming rare.

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