Early in the pandemic, I promised not to write about it every week.
When I look back over six months of columns, well, I didn’t write about it every week, but more times than not, if I wasn’t writing specifically about it, I made some reference to it.
It’s almost inevitable. As a weekly columnist coming from an Everyman perspective, current culture informs what I write. And like it or not, current culture is largely informed these days by this blasted coronavirus.
Life has been altered in countless ways, whether it’s working from home, having school from home or wearing masks in grocery stores. (And by the way, the cool acronym for working from home is WFH, which I learned after getting it in a text message and asking the sender to explain).
It has also changed the way we eat. A week ago, my wife and I dined together inside a restaurant for the first time since March. It made me a little nervous.
Many of our favorite places have perfected the takeout system, and I must say, unless there is outdoor seating, it is what I prefer right now.
Some places still have work to do. Believe me when I say I’m not sitting in judgment. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to shift a business model to one where most patrons pick up their food rather than eat in your establishment.
I will be patient and understanding. All I ask for is decent customer service and civility.
A recent experience, unfortunately, was lacking in both.
On a Friday afternoon as we were driving back from Huntsville where we had been with our daughter and family, we had the typical late-in-the-day conversation regarding what we would do for dinner. Having been away for a couple of days, going home to prepare something was not particularly attractive.
Although it was a little early, we decided we would go ahead and order something and pick it up. We could keep it warm until we were ready.
We decided on a place. To protect the guilty, I’ll not disclose names or even the type of food we were getting.
My wife chose the online option for ordering. While It has taken some practice, we have learned to navigate online ordering. We order and pay for it on the phone and many places now have curbside pickup. How convenient is that?
My wife placed our order on her phone. To her surprise, the time that popped up for pickup was 45 minutes from the time she placed the order, and we would be there in 15 minutes. Oh well, we thought, we can sit and wait 30 minutes. We had nowhere else to be and we would still arrive home in time for the first pitch in the Braves’ game.
But to her further surprise, she received an update telling her it would be an additional 45 minutes before our food would be ready. She called to confirm and was told yes, they were quite busy, and it would be that long.
We decided it made no sense for both of us to sit in the car for more than an hour.
I took her home and we unloaded. I returned at the time we were told our order would be ready.
The place was busy, just as they had told my wife, and frankly, I was happy for them. Business was good and it looked like they were surviving these trying times.
All the employees were wearing masks, for which I was appreciative. I was long past any mild annoyance over how long it had taken.
I gave my name to a nice lady handling the cash register. She looked through the orders and could not find ours. To help, I showed her a screenshot of the confirmation on my phone.
Some 15 minutes later, after I had talked to two additional folks and had been asked to sit at the bar and wait (and where no consolation drink was offered), a guy who obviously had some authority came to me and stated the obvious -- they had no record of my order.
He asked what he could do to make it right. Since I did not want to start all over with the order and sit there at least another hour, I told him, without a hint of irritation, I thought the best thing was for him to simply refund my money.
Since I had a screenshot of the order confirmation, I was able to tell him the exact amount, so it seemed easy enough, and I thought by that point he would be fine just to get me out of there.
But that was not the case.
“Yeah, I really can’t do that,” he said.
Now becoming perhaps slightly annoyed, but totally keeping my cool, I told him I didn’t understand. I had ordered food and had paid for it, and I had proof of same (which he did not question). Since he did not have the food I had ordered, it only made sense to me that he would refund my money and I would be on my way.
He went on to explain how online ordering at their place is done through a third party, and any claims for refunds must be done through them.
Seeing the exasperated look on my face, he told me to wait a minute. I saw him a few feet away, telling my story to another guy as he pointed at me.
They both looked over at me, and I smiled and waved at them. Hand to God. I just knew this latest guy was going to do the right thing.
He approached me and I kept smiling. He asked how he could help, and I told him the same thing I had told his colleague: I ordered food from you. I paid for it. You don’t have it. I’ll take a refund and here’s the amount. I understand about the third party, but I ordered food from you.
His next words were, “Man, I’m not going to let you do this in my restaurant.”
At that, I turned around and walked out. As I told my wife, I did not once raise my voice. I’ll never understand what it was I was doing that so annoyed them.
And yes, we later got the refund from the third party, but that’s way beside the point.
This is an isolated instance and most of the fine establishments around here are bending over backwards to serve and retain customers.
One place has lost one permanently, but the percentages are still pretty good.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].