Misadventure At Jason’s
Having a horrible experience at a restaurant is a first-world problem; that, I acknowledge. Covid doesn’t factor into my latest mess. Few people working or visiting the eatery in question wore masks yesterday. That’s okay by me. Having survived attempted strangulation by my bowels makes it hard for me to throw stones at external threats beyond my control.
Yes, Tammy, I should have opted for Sam’s rotisserie chicken. : ) Now that I’m out of the hospital, I wanted to enjoy a calorie and flavor-rich simple meal prepared by a restaurant that c-a-n make delicious food. It was to be my first post-surgery restaurant experience. It was late enough past the post-lunch crowd that the most significant impediment would be circumvented. Or so I thought. After realizing that Renzo’s was closed on Sunday, my friend and I immediately agreed on Jason’s Deli. We used the app to simplify the process and paid online. I took a large cash tip with me to reward the employees involved. Curbside pickup would make it easy for me to avoid unnecessary strain and bypass any covid issues. (Not that I’m worried, as so many vaccinated people are getting breath-through cases.) I wasn’t in a hurry, and I left to go pick up the order.
Calling the number on the Curbside pickup sign, I immediately knew that I might have a bad experience. The employee answering the phone lashed out. My response was both surprise and a little laughter. I tried to picture what Hell she’d already experienced by 1 p.m. to motivate her to practice that degree of insult. Avoiding any humorous snark, I answered her as best as I could. The details don’t matter. I called my friend, laughing, telling her what the Jason’s employee had said. Since I work in an environment where customer service often morphs into malicious compliance when an employee gets angry, I easily recognized that the employee in question would have gladly jumped off a building to get out of there. I lowered my expectations and waited.
After 30+ minutes past the initial “order-ready” time, I went inside to the to-go area. I wasn’t upset, just confused. At this point, I was still laughing a little at the unlikely outcome I’d got myself into by choosing Jason’s. I called my friend who was going to share the meal with me. I apologized for laughing. It was so ridiculous I didn’t know how else to respond. I sent a picture of the lop-sided layout; 99% of employees on the dine-in side and one lone guy attempting to keep up with the to-go/curbside/driver end that comprised at least 50% of the business.
People were waiting, frustrated. A lone male employee was manning the entire ‘out’ portion of the long prep bar. He was hustling against piles of half-prepared sandwiches, missing items, and dozens of order tickets thrown and stuck everywhere. A dozen employees were helping dine-in customers get their food quickly.
A couple of food delivery drivers expressed their frustration and walked out. One announced, “Okay. I don’t want any of these orders. I don’t care about the money or the food.” And he left.
Twenty minutes later, I finally got to the to-go register. “Can I speak to a manager?” She looked at me, angry. “No. She’s working the line for dine-in.” And she answered the phone, ignoring me. I stayed in my spot. The woman looked back up to see me and walked off, leaving her spot. Another employee came up a minute later, and I said, “I’d like a refund, no harm and no foul, and thank you.” She rolled her eyes. “We don’t have time to issue refunds. You get what you get.” I’m paraphrasing. “Wait, ma’am, I’m sorry it’s so busy, but I’m tired and stressed. I need a refund.” She walked off.
Customers and delivery drivers watched and listened. For the second time, I thought maybe I was on an episode of “What Would You Do.”
When the first woman came back to the register, she didn’t make eye contact. “Move. I can’t help you. The manager is working the line and can’t come up here.” Stunned, I stepped slightly to the side as the employee helped someone else. I’m omitting things that would make this encounter worse. You can imagine the other words said to me and around me. Each time the phone rang, the workers recoiled and had an epithet to utter.
I waited a few more minutes. Order tickets, half-prepared food, and boxes continued to pile up as the single male to-go person fought against a tide of orders. Another driver said, “Hey, you’re supposed to treat this like a drive-through and process us out. I’ve been here an hour and have orders sitting in my car getting cold/hot/old.” No one listened.
I was sorry for everyone, workers and customers alike.
All the energy and enthusiasm I’d had evaporated. My body just wanted to sit down, even if I had to eat slices of bread for a meal.
I cut through and walked around to the dine-in register, now empty. The lunch rush was well over by then. No one wanted to come to the register. An employee walked up, exasperated. “Can I take your order?” I said, “No, I’m sorry. Look, I need a refund. I’m sorry.” I’m editing this portion, too. The employee, a young female, didn’t quite know how to do it.The long to-go order person walked up, answered the phone, and said, “#$#@ I’m working on it!” before I said anything. He threw a piece of paper at me. It said “$0” on it. It wasn’t a canceled receipt. “Sir, I’m sorry, I need a receipt cancellation, something indicating my order was voided.” Angry stare, followed by angry words. He waved me off, telling me to leave and shut up. Incredulous, I repeated, “Sir, I apologize it’s so hard here, but I need just a second…” He said something bizarre to the caller, held the phone against his chest, and screamed down at the manager working on the prep line, “Come take care of this asshole! He won’t shut up.” He shook his fist in the air in front of me. It was not a polite gesture. I took a breath. I remained standing there, waiting to give it one more try.
The to-go order employee screamed at the manager again. I won’t cite words here, either. Whether you believe me or not, I felt sorry for him. Work shouldn’t push anyone to that point. I’m pretty sure a few people in my position would have thrown a punch.
The manager walked up and said, “It’s always this way.” I said, “The details don’t matter. I just want a refund. I know it’s busy, but your employees have been rude, cursed at me, and treated me and others like we’re not human. I wasn’t in a hurry. I feel bad for everyone. Is this a receipt?” She looked at it. She gave me another explanation.
And I tried to make a human connection: “You know how you never know what someone else is going through? I’ve been respectful, calm, and patient. I waited 30 minutes outside and well over an hour here inside. I apologize that everything is impossible in here, I truly do. Let me show you that we have our own issues.” I lifted my red t-shirt and showed her my long, jagged metal staple wound. “I don’t think I’ll follow-up about this visit, but if I do, please remember that I was polite, didn’t raise my voice, and my only crime was trying to get food and celebrate. I’m so sorry for all of us.” I meant it.
She apologized. I felt terrible for her, the workers, and everyone else who found themselves in an unexpected retail Hell.
I left, feeling like I’d been at Jason’s for the equivalent of an entire afternoon, even though it had been at most two hours. Another Uber driver spoke to me outside. I told him a ten-second recap and wished him well, knowing his afternoon had already crashed. “I’ve got orders in the car, ones I’ve had over an hour.” I smiled. “I’m so sorry. There’s no fix for this.” And there’s not. The corporation won’t staff adequately, and the employees don’t know how to go from incredible anger to communicate the mess effectively.
I drove back to the apartment.
Within a little over 30 minutes later, a local Chinese restaurant delivered a mountain of dishes. I ate like a king. But the mess and melee of Jason’s stayed in my head all afternoon. More than anything, the most significant realization is how a retail encounter put so many people in the position of being lesser than any of us should ever be with one another.
I treated everyone I came into contact with kindness and regard. It was supposed to be a simple meal, one to celebrate being out of the hospital.
Instead, it was a reminder that staffing is too low everywhere – and that it’s easy to use stress as a lever to be hateful.
I’m not sure I can indict Jason’s Deli too harshly. But it now holds the title of worst retail restaurant experience of my life – and that’s quite the feat at my age.
Did I go too far showing the manager my surgery incision? Maybe. But we always hear that we don’t know what’s going on in another person’s life. I put myself into the shoes of every Jason’s Deli employee during and after the mess of yesterday. Except for the manager, none of them imagined why the soft-spoken guy in the red shirt looked so forlorn about humans being unable to stop the madness and reset.
I haven’t processed some of these same lessons from being in the hospital last week. People are stressed, understaffed, and unmanaged. Many of us don’t have adequate coping mechanisms to respond to situations that force us to forget that we’re just momentary flashes of life and need to do better.