Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Christmas Spirit Is Alive and Well

Will someone please remind me never to go into any grocery store 2 days before Christmas? It took me 15 minutes just to park in the Whole Foods Arlington parking lot. There was hardly a cart left out front. I knew I was in trouble as I went to do a rather light shopping.

I elbowed my way through aisles crowded with people reading ingredients off recipes printed from If they had had horns on their shopping carts, there would have been a lot of honking. These Christmas shoppers were serious!

Never have I seen the store so packed with food. It was rather like being pregnant with food. There were larger quantities and fancier displays. It was hard to imagine the shelves would be depleted by Christmas eve as they closed for their once-a-year day off.

I had decided on a special but simple dinner tonight – a rack of lamb with some sort of potatoes and a big salad. As I got to the pastry counter, I spotted the perfect dessert – a little chocolate tart that would be perfect split between two people. But there was a problem: It came as a package of 3 tarts for $16.99. I politely asked if they could sell me just one, to be told that it was impossible to repackage the tarts, despite the fact that most other small desserts were being sold singly.

Consistent with my recent stubbornness at work, I took the triple-tart package to Customer Service, where their first response was “What would we charge you?” I suggested 1/3 of $16.99 would be appropriate. The young girl told me to go get in line while she found something to package my singleton in.

As I was finally putting my groceries onto the check-out counter, the Customer Service girl appeared and handed me the box, now marked SAMPLE, and said “Merry Christmas!” In the middle of a rather chaotic store, this kind gesture reminded me of the spirit of the season.


Blogger Richard said...

Good for you! Nice to see some stores are still interested in customer service.

It took me over two hours yesterday to do my Christmas food shopping (not to mention ringing up my largest food bill ever).

8:23 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Having worked at Whole Foods during the holidays, let me tell you that customers who ask to have packages opened and re-packaged on the busiest day of the year (after the Wed before Thanksgiving) were the very people who made me learn how to say "Kill them all" in all those languages. No offense, Barbara, but I'm sure those people were so fried they couldn't think straight, let alone try to deal with a special request.

It's fitting that they decided to donate the tart to you. Whole Foods is a great company.

See you manana

8:58 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Richard -- What is on your Christmas dinner menu? I'm sure you will be a big part of the cooking!

Reya -- Whole Foods had hired a legion of extra help, who were mostly standing around trying to look like they had something to do. The problem was that they didn't know they were allowed to do things like sell just one tart. I didn't hear them saying "Kill them all" about me in any language, and I know a bunch of languages. The Customer Service girl who befriended me actually seemed quite pleased that she had served her public well!

We will see you tomorrow chopsticks in hand. You and my husband can negotiate our choice of movie. That's not my specialty!

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe you started a trend.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I'm glad that the shopping ended with a bit of happiness and a showing of goodwill. I hope you enjoy the rest of the long weekend!

1:35 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I have not done any of the meal this year (just supplied ingredients).

Things that added to the bill:

pate-fois-gras ($30 for 200g)
pork rack
beef roast
chicken for soup

All are very nice pieces.

Tonight we are having the pork. Tomorrow my mother will likely prepare turkey. (Yesterday we had the lamb - or, as Sofia put it to me, "If you prepare lamb on my birthday, it will be grounds for divorce").

6:26 PM  
Anonymous John said...

As someone who's first job was in a grocery store, and who spent most of his college years working retail in the mall, I admit that my first reaction wasn't too far off from Reya's.

The holidays are hellish, people can be astonishingly badly behaved, and "customer" can easily become your new favorite curse word. As a regular employee, the extra holiday help, who likely have had little or no training, are just an extra helping on your plate of troubles. And while managers and owners can expect nice holiday bonuses and some extra vacation time, those "in the trenches" of the mess likely won't see any extra pay or perks from the holiday profits.

Does that make it wrong to expect the same quality of service as you do any other time of year? Of course not. Particularly at a place like Whole Foods, where you're paying a premium for what you're buying. But I know, around this time of year, if someone in a retail or similar position does a great job in the inevitably nasty circumstances, I always try and write a letter to the store manager or owner to compliment them. Sure, they were just doing their job. But often their job is particularly unpleasant and tough this time of year. And I remember when customers did the same thing for me, and it made a world of difference.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

John -- I will take you up on your suggestion. The Customer Service girl was not even unpleasant about dealing with my request. She just quickly came up with a solution that allowed both of us to go on about our business. She deserves some recognition for this.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

So uplifting and encouraging! She felt good too, I bet.
(Thought I left a comment on this but it escaped!)

10:50 AM  

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