The Boy, my family and I have gone out to get a late lunch. We’re at our favorite local burger place because they’ll have things my nephew will eat, and in addition to the fun specialty burgers, you can design your own and get all the toppings you want. I’ve checked off the boxes on the form (I’m getting bacon, cheddar and avocado – yum!), and given that form to the boy who pays for it before coming to sit down and wait for it to be delivered. Everyone gets their food, and then our trays are delivered…and I have a cheeseburger. It is the saddest, most pitiful and childish burger anyone could possibly have special order, and it most definitely is NOT what I ordered. I look up at the Boy with sad eyes.
“They got my order wrong,” I say, hoping he sees it too.
“They just gave me a plain cheeseburger. I had avocado and bacon on it too.” At this point, I’m trying not to cry because I cry when I’m stressed out, and not getting what I want is very upsetting.
“Oh, the guy at the register and I thought your order was weird, but we just went with it because there was nothing else checked on the form.”
I take a deep breath, astonished. “But…I did. I definitely checked avocado and bacon.” I pause, and look at him expectantly. Help me out, I’m thinking. There’s another beat.
“Go up and tell them it’s wrong, they’ll fix it.”
And this is where my insides are turning into a puddle of melted marshmallow. I’m not good at confrontation. Even one where I am the consumer and my order has not been read correctly. I take my tray and my wallet to the front counter, prepared to pay the extra $1.50 or so it will take to put those toppings on, because I don’t want to be the lady who gets sad eating her sad burger and wishing she had a better one, but I also don’t expect it to be free. I could be some weirdo who gets her kicks from ordering a plain burger and going back and saying all my toppings were left off.
There is a line now. It’s awkward. I skip the line, go to the cashier and try not to mumble the words, “There were some toppings left off my burger.” The boy stares at me. He is a teenager. There is a stack of used custom burger forms speared next to the register. Mine is in there somewhere. “I am pretty sure I marked on my form that I wanted avocado and bacon, and all I got was the cheese.”
The head line cook looks up at this point. “Is something wrong with your burger?”
I’m again trying not to get flustered, and especially not to cry. This man wants to help me. I take a deep breath. “I marked on the form that I wanted cheese, bacon and avocado, and all I got was cheese.”
He looks at me for a breath of a moment, and yells at one of his guys, “Hey – can you fix this lady’s burger?” and then nods his head for me to move over towards the other line cook. “He’ll take care of you.”
I tell the line cook what I wanted, turn back to the head line cook and start to open my wallet. I look at him and the boy at the register as I begin to ask “How much do…” and am cut off by the line cook.
“Don’t worry about it.”
I feel my face flush. When the burger is properly topped, I thank the cook for it, and scramble back to the table where we’re sitting. “Did they fix it?” the Boy asks. I nod. “And you didn’t have to pay for it, right?” he prompts. I nod again. All I want to do now is eat my burger, and then crawl into a hole and die of shame at having demanded free toppings.
Ok – I get it now. I didn’t demand free toppings. I definitely checked the boxes. Someone definitely didn’t read it the right way. I was in the right. I shouldn’t be ashamed to stand up for proper service. Why then, do I feel this guilt? Like I’m taking something for free? Is it the fact that I have to go up and ask for something? To tell someone that they did their job wrong? I think it’s perhaps the feeling that someone might think I’m trying to con them to get a free deal. And maybe as we become more of a culture where you can get your food customized, we’re going to encounter this problem more and more.
Wednesday night, the Boy and I are getting a quick pre-theater meal at a custom-salad place downtown. I’m going total DIY and have put together what I think is going to be a fun take on a Mexican Caesar salad, except it only has the things I do want. I tell the guy at the start of the line what I want. He puts it all in a bowl, and then checks off a list and hands it to me. I don’t give it a second glance because – why would I? The guy starts chopping and mixing my salad, and I look over at another station and go, “Dang – I wanted avocado too, but it’s too late. Whatever. Next time!”
At this point, I turn back, and the cook has left my salad in a bowl to the side and is heating up a tortilla. Wait….what? I look at my ticket. At the top on the right, the box for “Sandwich” is checked off. I didn’t do that. I wanted a salad. “Excuse me?” I say – the four guys in the prep line all look at me, since no one else is getting a salad made right now. “I…I didn’t want a sandwich.” They all stare. I hold up my ticket, “This says sandwich, but I didn’t ask for one.”
The line manager comes over. “We can fix this in just a minute,” and turns back to her guys, about to tell them to start over.
“No – it’s fine, I’ll have the wrap, I just…I didn’t ask for the sandwich.”
“Are you sure? We can fix it really fast.”
“Yeah – it’s fine. I’ll take the wrap.” In my head, all I want to do is get my meal and sit down to eat with my boyfriend. I don’t want to be having a discussion about it all, and I don’t want to wait, even if it would only be another minute.
The tortilla is warm, the cook comes back and wraps up my salad. When he puts it in paper, he is about to hand it to me, but the line manager comes over. “Can I see your ticket?” I give it to her, thinking she is going to either scold me or the first cook in line, which I don’t want to happen. He must have misheard me. She hands back the ticket, which now says “Wrong item – half off”. I know my eyes have widened. I take the ticket and my wrap to the front, and since I know now that they’ve lost money on half my custom salad/wrap, I ask for a drink as well. Something I can actually pay for.
I give my money to the lady at the cashier. The manager comes back and points out that she gave me half off, and apologizes again. I thank her…and tell her once more that it’s ok. I wasn’t expecting it, but it’s not a problem. I thank her again. I go to sit with the Boy, who asks me why I got a burrito, and I relive the story for him.
Maybe it’s the speaking up for myself part that’s hard. I’m a shy person, and I’m not particularly assertive, especially not in a customer service setting. I used to cry when my parents asked me to call in pizza orders. “What do you think will happen?” they would ask. It’s hard to explain, but it ties into these experiences too. What if they reject me? What if they just tell me I am wrong, I got what I ordered, suck it up? Maybe I’m too concerned about being seen as a whiny bitch. No one wants to be the whiny bitch. Whatever it is, I hate it.
I hate for my order to be wrong, and to have to tell someone to fix it. But it’s something I’m going to have to do for the rest of my life. And it’s a good lesson, a good thing to practice. If I can’t stand up for myself and what I want as a customer, how will I ever do that in my professional life? In my personal life? For every small consumer interaction that is wrong that I let go because I don’t want to be a bother to anyone, I’m giving up a small part of my autonomy, and my authority as an adult. I may never have to demand restitution for a great wrong done to me, but if it ever comes to that, I have practiced. And I’ll be ready.
Does anyone else hate these types of situations – telling someone that they did their job the wrong way? Have you ever been on the other side? I remember working in retail where the customer is always right, but how often is that abused? How can you tell when a mistake has been made, and when a person is trying to nickel-and-dime “The Man”? Are you good at standing up for yourself – small things and big things? Have you had a great customer service interaction like mine? Does anyone else still feel a little guilty afterwards? I can’t possibly be the only one…