A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.
By Nina Pajak
One summer in high school, I worked at a Baskin-Robbins store which very closely resembled a prison mess hall in its operations philosophy. My boss, Norris, a truly miserable human being, would sit in the back room all day long, chain smoking and watching playbacks of the closed circuit security cameras he had installed in order to watch his employees like a hawk. Occasionally, he would emerge to bark at us for being too slow.
“This is a customer service business!” he would holler, and shove us aside to get the job done right, at which point he’d turn to said customer and snarl, “Now what do you want!”
In the evenings, my friends and I would frequent the Ben & Jerry’s across town where the employees sang as they swept the floors, liberally gave free ice cream to their friends, sold drugs out of the back room (allegedly), joked with one another and the customers and generally had a good old time. Whenever the line would grow unmanageably long, the employees would just grin sheepishly and do their best to keep up at the impossibly slow pace they were comfortable keeping. When a customer complained or yelled at them, they’d just sorta shrug and say, “Sorry or whatever.” I longed to be among them.
Clearly, while polar opposites, both of these fine establishments had a common problem when it came to management. I’m sure Häagen Dazs and Carvel had internal issues of their own. In fact, I know it to be true, because my mother and the guy who ran the Carvel near us were as close to arch enemies as two people with no superpowers can get. All my favorite Tasti-D-Lite stores always featured a revolving door cast of some of the least friendly, most grumpy malcontents I’ve had the pleasure to encounter. These were independently run shops staffed either by idiot teenagers, disgruntled owners who didn’t envision themselves still wearing a paper hat after fifteen years, or both. What else would anyone expect? It’s an ice cream franchise, not a corporate law firm.
Then came the invasion of designer frozen yogurt, and now I can’t get a damn small with sprinkles without having a ten minute exchange with the cashier about how I’m doing today.
When Tasti had it’s big makeover, I was excited to visit their new “flagship” store. I took one step inside and was confronted with a maniacally smiling girl with a booming voice:
“WELCOME TO TASTI-D-LITE HOW MAY I DELIGHT YOU TODAY!”
“Um. What? Chocolate. Thanks.”
“THANK YOU VERY MUCH I HOPE YOU HAVE A DELIGHTFUL DAY!”
“Right, thanks. You too.”
Do you know how long it takes a person to say all that? Way more time than it takes for me to just order what I already know I want. And that poor girl has to say it literally every time a new customer enters the store. Painful. It’s just painful.
Today, I decided to treat myself to a Pinkberry on my way home. After waiting in line while a woman ahead of me appeared to be conducting an interrogation of the girl at the register on the precise number of minutes it would take for her ice cream to melt on the subway ride home, I finally stepped up.
“Hi,” I said. “I’d like a–”
“HELLO WELCOME TO PINKBERRY MY NAME IS TINA IS THIS YOUR FIRST TIME HERE?”
“No,” I smiled. “I’d like–”
“WELCOME BACK! THANK YOU FOR VISITING US AGAIN WHAT CAN I GET YOU?”
I waited a beat this time to make sure she was all done with the introductory portion of her script. I ordered, she read me my total and I handed her my card. I began to thank her and walk away to pick up my order when…
“THANK YOU VERY MUCH YOU CAN PICK YOUR ORDER UP TO THE RIGHT WOULD YOU LIKE A RECEIPT?”
“No, thanks.” I began to inch away again.
“DID YOU SAY YOU WANTED YOUR RECEIPT?”
“No, thank you.”
I won’t even get into the exchange I had with the poor toppings guy.
Honestly, is all this necessary? I don’t need my 17-year-old server to introduce himself and repeat everything I say back to me. I don’t need a girl who is just trying to make it through her summer job and an enormous line filled with hungry customers to read me a monologue like she’s some sort of outsourced customer service representative in Bangalore. This is a simple transaction. I don’t need the sparkle and polish of a slick operation. Give me my ice cream. I will pay you my money. Let’s all get on with our day.
N.B. I should acknowledge that the Baskin-Robbins and Ben & Jerry’s aforementioned have both been out of business for several years now, while Pinkberry appears to be printing money. I refuse to see a correlation.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.