The Customer is Always Right?


It was only my fourth day training at Panera and already I was used to the smell of the pastries and the brewed coffees as if it were home. The fast paced environment was new to me, my first job ever. In those long shifts I was having a really good time getting to know my coworkers. Devon was hired around the same time as me. She was a pretty blond who was great with customers, a couple years older than me and seemingly unattainable, but she’d always make time during her break to joke around with me. We’d talk about our trainers or managers and exchange funny customer stories laughing so loud we’d get glares from the people working behind the counter. There was one manager that we never had anything bad to say about: Doug. He was the biggest human being I’d ever seen and the toughest. So far I’d seen him ream out three of my coworkers for slacking and escort a belligerent customer from the cafe. He was known as Hardass Doug and one thing was for sure, you did not want to see his name on your schedule.

On one of those lucky days without Doug, Devon and I were restacking the bagel wall. While she was telling me a story about some cute guy that had come in earlier I was taking some extra time to make the bagels look organized. I hated it when the bakers just spilled the bagels into the basket. It looked so messy. My trainer, Jose, had just come back from his break and was glancing around the cafe with a faraway look in his eyes.

“Yo,” He whispered to Devon and me, “I smoked wayyy too much on my break.”

I was a little taken aback,but not terribly surprised at this new bit of information. Jose was notorious for being slow and had a constant look of confusion on his face. Devon and I shared a look and rolled our eyes simultaneously, then it was back to bagels and boy talk.

We heard the door open and I turned around, automatically greeting this new customer with a smile.

“Hi, Welcome to Panera!” I called out.

There was a slightly disheveled man accompanied by a very pretty girl that I assumed was his girlfriend. I turned back to fixing the wall.

Jose said to me, “Rosy, why don’t you take this one? It’ll be good practice.”

I couldn’t tell if he actually believed I was ready, or if he thought he was just too high to handle it. I had spent the last three shifts watching Jose at the register. There were countless combinations of choices with different sides to be ordered and a specific list of questions to be asked. It was complicated, but I had to start somewhere right?

I took my place behind the register and looked at the man again, “I can help you whenever you’re ready.” I said with that smile again.

“I’ll have the ch-chicken broth bowl, but I also would like an egg.”

“Ok sir, let me see if we can do that for you.” I looked at Jose in a slight panic. I still didn’t quite understand how to customize orders. He leaned over and fiddled with the many buttons and then said, “We can definitely do that for you, but it’ll be 75 cents for the egg.” and then walked back toward Devon and the bagels.

The man was swaying with his mouth open slightly thinking very hard. I looked at him a little more closely, putting together his glassy eyes and stained shirt. This man was very clearly drunk at 6 P.M. Yikes.

“But…. Why would it be 75 cents for the egg if the egg broth bowl is only 50 cents more than the chicken one. That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Well,” I calmly began, used by now to customers confused by pricing, “you’re getting both the egg and the chicken so it will be a bit extra than just having one or the other.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” The man repeated, his jaw set.

I started to try to explain it again but the man raised his voice and waved his arms at me all the while insisting that it didn’t make sense. He was clearly very upset about this twenty-five cent difference.

My manager must’ve seen the commotion on the camera in her office. She emerged and tried to calm the drunken man down. She was the most timid manager we had, and suddenly I found myself wishing for our Hardass Doug, he would’ve known how to handle this.

“She’s a fucking idiot!!” I heard the man yelling and pointing at me while my manager Sara tried to keep him down. I had never had someone be so rude to me in my entire life, but suddenly, since I was wearing this known uniform and had simply a counter and a computer between this man and me, I was lesser than he was, and he didn’t even know who I was. The amount of respect that was lost between us because of some alcohol and a quarter threw me. In my little bubble of southwest Portland I had never had to deal with something like this before. I assumed that if someone was treating me like that in any setting, they would have to leave. Sadly that’s not what happens when working for a company like this.

We finally got him and his girlfriend who stood by quietly during this entire exchange their food. Their charges waived of course.

Words by Rosy Quinn