Sunday, October 14, 2007

Good Times...Noodle Salad

[The following column was written four years ago, after spending about five minutes next to a curious, clueless individual at a deli counter.]

There’s an old business maxim that says, “The customer is always right.”

Not a bad rule to promote a successful business. But what if the customer is crazy?

I was waiting in line at the deli counter at an area grocery store the other day, and was lucky enough to observe a girl trying to buy noodle salad who would have tested the sanity of even the most tolerant of those in the customer service business.

First, she wasn’t certain what size container she wanted. The half-pound container was too small, but she didn’t think she wanted the one-pound container completely filled. There’s a fraction in between there somewhere, so she settled on a three-quarter-pound purchase.

The girl even pointed to an imaginary mark exactly where she thought she wanted the noodles in her not-quite-filled one-pound container to reach.

“How much will that cost?” she asked, before the clerk could start scooping.

“It’s a dollar ninety-nine per pound with your savings card,” was the clerk’s reply.

“So that’d be like...Wait, how much was this again?” she asked, grabbing the half-pound container off of the counter.

“That’s the half-pound container that you said was too small,” said the clerk. “That would be a dollar.”

“OK, so this one not quite full would be...a dollar fifty?”

“Is that enough for a meal?” was her next question.

I know customer service people are supposed to have all the answers, but how was she supposed to know the appetite of this girl that was causing her so much grief?

“Umm, I dunno,” was the clerk’s indifferent reply.

After confirming the girl’s request, the clerk disappeared into the back with the empty container to get a mystery salad that wasn’t at the counter.

Miss Picky continued to browse the deli selections, unaware of the people standing near her...namely, me. Soon I felt the awkward closeness of a personal space invader, and tried to lean a bit to make it not quite as obvious.

That just brought her another nudge closer to me. After a few more clicks to the left, I realized that I couldn’t lean at a 45-degree angle without falling over, and I figured one person causing a scene at the deli counter was enough, so I took a small step backwards and out of her way.

That’s all the opening she needed and she moved right in, as she wasn’t going to let a 250-pound roadblock like myself deter her from getting closer to the seafood pasta and mustard potato salad in front of me.

The clerk emerged soon after, and presented a beautifully packed container of noodle salad...not too full, not too empty, and as level on top as you can get without borrowing carpenter’s tools.

“Oh,” was the customer’s first reaction, as she studied her selection. “That looks like a lot. I think...umm...yeah, I think I’m gonna keep looking.”

“So you don’t want it? You want me to put this back in the case?” the clerk asked, as our eyes met briefly and I could tell that we were both sharing the same thought. I only hoped that she knew that I was a single customer at her deli.

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Off went the clerk, back into hiding for as long as it took, I can only assume, for Miss Indecision to move along to Aisle 3.

As I was placing my order, the girl went back to her routine, this time with another clerk who was trying to fill someone else’s order.

“Miss? Miss?” she said, pointing. “Is this any good, this Oriental coleslaw? Is that like Mexican, or what does it taste like?”

“It’s kinda sweet,” said the clerk.

“Ohhh, so it’s like Chinese food,” the girl said with a giggle. Maybe she thought all Chinese food was sweet, or maybe she had just then realized that Oriental coleslaw and Mexican food were on two totally different sides of the plate.

I wasn’t about to crawl inside her brain to try and figure it out. I was having my fun just eavesdropping and taking mental notes. A lot of them! Quickly.

Anyway, that clerk went about her business of filling the order she had originally been working on, and the girl was again left alone to ponder.

I got my order filled...14/37 of a pound of Mexican-flavored Oriental potato salad...and was on my way. I wanted to hang around for the exciting deli conclusion, but that might have made me late for work Monday morning.

And I knew that with what I had witnessed, I had way more than my requisite 600 words for this week’s column.

Another old adage states: “Truth is stranger than fiction.”
Ya think?

“There is only one boss. The customer.
And he can fire everybody in the company
from the chairman on down, simply by
spending his money somewhere else.”
—Sam Walton


  1. Where the hell did Uncle Kracker go..? Gummi bears and noodle salad, blah! I want Uncle Kracker!

  2. Thanks, Nicole.
    I appreciate it. :)

    (and I really hope I'm back to stay for a while.)

    Looks like Brad doesn't share your opinion, however, as he wanted me to leave Uncle Kracker front and center on my blog for all eternity.

    Scroll, buddy. Scroll.
    He's still here.