Category Archives: Food

Walmart Neighborhood Market Is The Cable TV of Groceries

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(This is a long one. Don’t attempt to casually read this if you have an actual life. 🙂  )

After work on March 9th, I stopped at the local Neighborhood Market to find a manager. I breathed, “Be nice, be nice” to myself before going in. The managers have a history of inattention to complaints or requests, no matter how professionally presented. I would be unable to manage one of these stores. The Neighborhood Market does a lot right, I’ll be the first to admit. Their worst issue is that they do much to complain about too, and when we come forward, the eye-rolling or stonewalling is epic. I ‘want’ to love Walmart Market.

My wife Dawn had a terrible experience earlier in the day. It was so bad that my phone translated her entire text message to read: “$%#&% $$$%%$ !” She’s very patient and kind in general but after her experience, I thought that Walmart had probably misjudged her building wrath. I decided to go in and see what the manager might say before Dawn opted to recreate a battle scene from The Avengers. Being a patient voice is not a role I often assume. There are times, however, when I approach an issue like I would a hobby just to see how bad it can go awry, even when I’m being polite and patient. (Dawn will tell you that most of these interactions culminate in a resemblance to any major Civil War battle scene.)

During Dawn’s earlier visit there were no checkers up front unless they had recently purchased invisibility cloaks. When Dawn asked for assistance, the girl she asked literally shrugged, said “I dunno,” and went back to ignoring her. Dawn’s cart had $200 of groceries in it. She wanted to just abandon it after piling it on the conveyor belt at the self-checkout, but she’s not wired that way. The person allegedly responsible for keeping an eye on the self-checkout of course magically materialized and intermittently was as minimally helpful as possible but did not do Dawn’s checking for her, as is supposed to happen. It was his job at that point to step up and use the self-checkout lane to cashier and handle the checkout for Dawn. (The managers have told me this more than once – before anyone asks or questions this. If this policy has changed, management needs to tell both the employees and the customers.) Dawn had to unload, scan, bag and reload the massive pile of stuff herself, while the gentleman who was monitoring jumped in and interfered instead of helping. Dawn had to run home to work, as her store trip had morphed into an epic misadventure. What should have taken 30 minutes dragged on to almost an hour.

Had I been there, you can be sure that the entire scenario would have played out differently. I’m sure it would have been entertaining to watch on replay through the security cameras as I creatively made my point. There’s a reason my driver’s license has a picture of a jackass on it.

This store recently upgraded to include many more self-check stations, as well as aligning the store to be an “order ahead” hub. The manager told me that they had asked corporate to put in fewer self-checkouts but were rebuffed, as they were out of touch with their customers and their own stores. (Her words, not mine.) Dawn’s had issues with this store before. The issues affecting it have only worsened. I’ve written about a few of them before, as some of the stories seem unlikely. Human behavior in impersonal organizations is staggeringly strange.

I went to the store and politely asked for a manager. The customer service person wasn’t thrilled with my minimalist request to wait to speak to a manager to voice my concerns. I waited several minutes. Finally, a woman with shoulder-length black hair came out and introduced herself as the manager-on-duty.

The purported manager I spoke with listened to me and I listened to her. She was less than pleased about hearing of the employee who had blown Dawn off, and about the gentleman watching the self-check who didn’t step in to assist. I told her that social media had been brutal to the store in question lately, and not only because of the remodel. She wasn’t as receptive to my criticism of the reliance on self-check, even as I acknowledged that I knew corporate was the villain in that equation. She was also dismissive of people’s complaints on social media. But I did my best to imperfectly express to her how bad the experience my wife had was. She did at least listen to me, regardless of whatever mental gymnastics might have been going on behind her eyes.

The woman I spoke with had trouble getting around the idea that there we no checkers, because “There always is at least one.” She was very adamant about this, despite our observations to the contrary. I told her that if the store advertised that it was ‘cashier-less,’ the negative reaction would be lesser, as we would either adjust or choose the competition. The purported manager also insisted that we should be very aggressive in demanding customer service and about demanding someone to speak with if things weren’t handled correctly. It’s a common expectation for businesses to hope that customers will somehow overcome the natural tendency to just ‘let it go,’ even as the employees of that business become belligerent or fail to do what they are supposed to. I was standing in the store that afternoon talking to her, precisely because the other methods of direct and indirect communication weren’t working.

I’m not “anti-self-checkout,” by the way, not at all. I know the demographics of preferences regarding technology and access. Self-checkout has its place but only as a component, not as a replacement. I love having the option. If Walmart stupidly wants to trust me to scan my groceries, woe unto them.

Of all criticisms regarding my interaction with the manager, I would have to say it might be the blindness toward the level of frustration and bad experiences people collectively have. This manager would have had no idea about how angry my wife was about her experience had I not walked in and waited. It takes a massive and ongoing problem for Dawn to get flustered. Managers focus on issues, day in and day out, but most of the problems that we have as customers never reach their eyes or ears. Part of the problem is that it is too difficult to talk to someone – and if we do, our words tend to slide through ears or onto forgotten paperwork. Everyone is busy and corporations have wrongly reduced labor by taking away people’s available time to engage with other human beings.

One critical issue which businesses seem to share as they grow is that they somehow begin to agree that customers bear most of the responsibility to come forward with complaints or criticism. Most don’t, however, because most of us don’t really want to complain. If we have the chance, we communicate with our feet and find a new way to do business. It’s exceedingly more expensive to find a new customer than it is to retain an old one, yet most businesses fall into the ‘more’ trap, failing to the see the pyramid scheme of available customers as the bottom falls away.

Walmart’s size and prices are responsible for people not walking away forever; they are the cable TV of groceries.

I sent out emails and tweets to Walmart and some of its tentacles, hoping to engage with someone high enough in the byzantine corporate structure to listen to me. They make it easy to ‘shout’ at them, but it is a miracle to find a connection who will respond with interest or in a timely manner. Our irritation is built into their cost of business. Walmart holds us mostly captive within its market share.

Before bed, I noticed that a social media friend had posted about this very topic, except the story she shared was one pushing us all to refuse to use the self-checkout whenever possible. It’s strange how small the world is. I hadn’t realized that so many people agreed with this sentiment. Some of their arguments are powerful and they are experimenting with several creative ways to force businesses like Walmart to take their concerns seriously. I’m curious about the details and can see that I’ll be doing a lot of further reading about it.

On this side of town, we have a Harp’s grocery, one which we wish were at the quality level of the Harp’s on Gutensohn but still has some endearing qualities. They don’t use self-checkout. We’ve had problems with this store too, but someone has always intervened and addressed them. They feel approachable. It’s their most marketable quality, even if they don’t use it appropriately in their marketing. We want to love it and we try. By the way, Harp’s bags your groceries and puts them in the cart. If you ask, they will always find someone to help you to your car and put the groceries in it for you.

Walmart says Harp’s has no self-checkout because they can’t afford to. The manager I spoke with told me this as if it had been repeated as truth. I know that to be untrue, though. Harp’s has a different focus on the customer and it’s a focus that might destabilize Walmart as it tries to compete with the likes of Amazon.

The manager also didn’t know how to address my point of Walmart needing cashiers to assist the disabled, especially those without a visible disability. How does an elderly or disabled person shop unless an employee is present to do their job? Walmart owes it to their customers to advertise the store so that those needing assistance will not go there.

I don’t need to wish any ill will on Walmart because from my point of view, it is its own worst enemy as the economy changes around it. Size creates deafness.

The fact that I stopped to talk to the manager helped diffuse Dawn’s frustration. I pity the fool, however, who ignores Dawn should she choose to give the Neighborhood Market another try.

P.S. I followed up on the twitter and emailed inquiries, but gave up after realizing that the people or bots I was dealing with had no interest in real communication. Anyone who knows me also knows that I enjoy this sort of tedious exchange, so it is a fact that the corporate side of customer interaction is built to protect the hierarchy rather than engage the customer.

P.P.S. For those who wonder, “What good does this sort of thing do?” I would respond by saying that you should imagine if I write this many words to get something out of my head, imagine what I do behind the scenes to get my point across. Saying nothing will guarantee that no one listens. It also tends to invalidate my right to expect change if I don’t ‘waste my time,’ even at ridiculous windmills like this one. I could be watching “The Bachelor,” instead.

Choward’s Violet Delights

 

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For those who want to dip their toes in the Tide Pod culinary waters, Choward’s Violet Mints are for you.

Most people agree that they have a strange soap flavor. It’s hard to believe that everyone isn’t clamoring for more violet-flavored candies in their diets. If ice cream were violet-flavored, most children would stop begging for it as the ice cream truck drives by. And probably hurl themselves under the nearest bed, just to be sure.

I ordered mine from Amazon, 3 packs of alien candies.

Strangely, I couldn’t resist sniffing the package, much like a German Shepherd trained to detect drugs at an airport.

I’m confident that most people would be repulsed by these, just like they might be if they bite into a boiled egg only to find that it has been filled with grape jelly and iguana blood.

These candies were once popular.

I speculate that they might be part of the reason that people once died so young.

I’m glad I tried them, though. I keep impulsively eating them, much like the compulsion to pick at a scab as it hardens.

I can’t decide if I actually like them, or if they somehow fulfill an unstated desire to punish myself for some unidentified crime.

I’m going to eat all 3 packs of mine, though. My breath will smell better than a fresh load of laundry, too.

Skinny Pasta Experience

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I received an email from Weight Watchers. I had long assumed that they were indeed “watching” me, probably in anticipatory amusement, so I wasn’t surprised. Since all emails are opportunities to earn money and learn important things about both finances and anatomy, I paid close attention when a heretofore unknown product called “skinny pasta” was mentioned. I had never seen the word “skinny” in such close proximity to my own name, at least not in the last 30 years.

Dawn ordered a box of 6 packages of it from Amazon. It’s a little pricey, but not terribly so. Compared to the bill for getting one’s arteries cleared of obstructions, it becomes very affordable.

We were both excited to try it, as the pasta itself basically has zero fat and almost no calories. The Amazon brand also was “no odor,” which leads me to believe that there must be some Konjac pasta which smells like blended skunk livers out there on the market. By the way, you should search for “Konjac,” if for no other reason than to get the idea of liquefied skunk livers far away from your mind.

This pasta was ridiculously easy to prepare and almost impossible to screw up, both qualities which scream my name. I made a healthy marinara sauce for it and offered a bowl to Dawn. I forgot to mention that a relatively small pouch of this pasta contains almost 40% of the daily recommended fiber, too. I suspect it would be ideal to feed to one’s unsavory inlaws, especially if any of them were about to embark on a transatlantic flight – or engage in a dance marathon. If anyone you know has recently bought a new leather couch, this product might also be ideal for him or her.

After a few bites, Dawn said, “This reminds me of eating worms. I stepped on a worm this morning and this is exactly like that.” She made a face so contorted and unnatural that I imagined I heard an ominous bell ring somewhere in the distance, one signaling the end of all that is good and holy in the world. I expected her to then make the sign of the cross and throw her fork across the room. If you are wondering, her face was frozen in horror for 5 days as a result of her taste buds deciding that she was eating worms instead of pasta made from an exotic plant. Please note that it wasn’t the flavor she objected to; rather, it was the strange and unfamiliar texture of the pasta noodles. It might as well have been a plate of human hair, in her opinion.

I, of course, found it to be exceedingly delicious, in part because with the right sauce and/or seasoning, even thin cardboard can be exotically tasty. Anyone who has ever eaten at Buffalo Wild Wings, KFC, or Taco Bell should have no problem eating worms. Legal disclaimer: I doubt any of these chains add worms to their ingredients; my point is that their food is comparable to a mouthful of partially-cooked and gelatinous worms, topped with dirt and dead pigeons. I made the point about cardboard because I’ve discovered that the cardboard packaging at most fast-food restaurants is just as flavorful as the contents.

With the votes tallied, our votes zeroed one another. I, however, love this stuff. The texture is exotic. It reminds me a little bit of spongy surgical sutures as it rolls around in my mouth.

Given that we now live in a society which allows an archaic electoral college to override the majority or the will of the people, it is my pleasure to announce that my ecstatic and overwhelmingly positive review of this product declares that Skinny Pasta is delicious.

I recommend that everyone should try it once and decide if they agree that it is well worth the effort. It won’t make you run 3 miles a day, but in combination with a better diet, you will no longer need to.

P.S. If you order this, don’t eat the packaging. If you’re married, don’t attempt to use my logic at home. If you own Buffalo Wild Wings, KFC, or Taco Bell, please don’t add any flavorings to the food packaging – it’s already delicious and high in fiber.

 

Grilled Fingers

Before going to my favorite cabin last weekend, I acquired both a gas grill basket and glove. I’ve mocked both of these tools in the past. I’ve watched as grown men oohed and ahhed over the accessories for cooking – and laughed. While I prefer charcoal to gas, the world has conspired against me, especially in my neighborhood, as the pyros continue to hold their impromptu “Burn The Village” competition at least twice a year. You’ll know when there has been another round because invariably some fool has burned a black outline around several surrounding houses. I have an inexpensive charcoal grill at home and keep hoping that it will be stolen.

Grilling corn on the cob is incredibly better when I don’t burn my fingers like they are roman candles on the 4th of July. I love the taste of burned food and always have but my wife complains when I burn myself and it smells like someone’s arm has been held over a stove until the hair melts.

I’m a terrible cook and have learned most of my tricks by doing everything wrong, repeatedly. Think “Groundhog Day,” the movie, except in the kitchen, and starring Joe Pesci instead of Bill Murray.

I finally used the grill basket and found it to be a great tool. The problem in my case is that I somehow forgot how to use the clasp to hold the top part of the basket in place, mostly to avoid slinging all the expensive and delicious food to be grilled down into the gulley below the cabin. Good for the critters and bad for me.

I told Dawn, “I know this is stupidly easy, but I can’t figure it out!” I studied the handle of the basket like it contained the recipe for free beer. I almost opted to cook like a savage, over an open flame. I simply couldn’t figure it out, so I improvised and used the grill and oven glove each time I flipped the basket, which also was astonishingly great to use. I knew I was going to later laugh at my inability to use simple gadgets.

When we came home, Dawn pulled the grill basket from the supply box and said, “Look, it goes on like this.” She then easily moved the wooden portion of the handle down and away from the clasp, thus immediately being able to lock the basket closed in either direction. The light bulb went off above my head as the flash of obvious and “Duh!!” struck me in the face.

I would take a picture of the grill basket in question, but I’m not sure my reputation would survive the incredulity of anyone seeing it. It is the equivalent of the warning on the bottom of a Coke bottle which reads, “Open other end.”

In my defense, I thought it was odd that a basket constructed of hardened metal would have a wooden handle insert. It literally never crossed my mind that the insert could be moved.

I think I’m going to send my picture to the grill basket company, to let them know that their engineers obviously can’t make everything foolproof. They can use my photo to identify their new target audience and user, the fool they didn’t plan for.

P.S. I am credited with the warning on all grills manufactured in the U.S. which reads, “Heated surfaces may be hot.”

You’re welcome.

Inedible Tongue-In-Cheek

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Worse than hearing about another person’s views is the blathering many men exhibit when boasting about how rare they prefer their meat -as if superiority or bragging rights are somehow conferred based on the observable blood volume of what’s being consumed.

Liking raw or rare meat is a bias based on arbitrary and variable individual human preference and therefore is covered by the “Food Opinion Edict.” (Summarized as, “All food is opinion.”)

 

Note: I’d rather lick the toilet in a bus station bathroom at noon on Saturday than eat under-cooked flesh.

YesOrNo.com

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Note: this is an older post. Seeing Netflix and a few other sites adopt an idea I’ve had forever makes me smile – as I recommended exactly this course of action several years ago in this blog post.

I’m going to start a website called “YesOrNo.” It will cover websites, restaurants, vehicles, tourists spots, movies, music and anything under the sun. It will be a testament to minimalism and focus in a world of too many options. If you are neutral to the website, movie, or restaurant, you don’t vote. No fence-sitting is allowed.

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Instead of being weighed down by too many details, there are only going to be 2 options: “yes” or “no.” No comments. No categories to obfuscate the response. No Yelp-like lawsuits alleging vote-fixing or reviews. Studies have shown that too many options reduces our happiness and satisfaction.

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Users will need to learn to be discerning with their votes. There will be neutral option. Either you vote or you don’t – but you’re going to need to decide between “yes” or “no.”

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There will be technical issues to address governing how to identify participants and/or lessen abuse of voting. That’s true of any website or business idea. Clever, motivated people combined with technology should eliminate all the major hurdles.

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With a social element, users can choose to add “trusted voters” to their logins so that they can refine their trusted opinions over time. This will allow you to ask the website to recommend a new place or experience to you, based on input from you and others who are similarly minded. In my scenario, however, the data will be limited to tallying without superfluous detail.

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Unlike Angie’s List, users won’t be expected to pay – as such services exclude much of the population. It does tend to cause an uptick in the “crazies” noticing your website, but again, technology can overcome most of the stupidity that will ensue.

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It’s so strange to see Tinder doing well. I’ve joked about yesorno.com for a long time, especially after an old-school website called “checkthegrid” died. On my old blog I had this idea designed, with screenshots and graphs. Like most people, though, my enthusiasm usually sputters at the implementation of an idea.

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At it’s heart, the website would be simple categories, with “green” indicating “yes,” and “red” equating to “no.”