"Well, you must have liked it a little bit."

Up until a few weeks ago, I was a retail manager in a large chain bookstore.  The good one, not the one that sucks.  Anyway, this wasn't a career I set out to have.  It wasn't like one day when I was seven and some well-meaning stranger asked me "Sugar, what do you want to be when you grow up?" and after thinking about it I had an epiphany and answered "Why, a retail clerk, of course."  But after I fell into this career, I liked it, and I kept on it and got better at it, up till the point that by the time I quit, I almost knew what I was doing most of the time. How's that for stream-of-consciousness?

Anyway, about eight years ago, I was offered a promotion into my own store as  "The Manager."  I came into it with a ton of ideas, ideals and expectations, including a few that I learned over the next few  years were completely and utterly wrong.  One of my first lessons in this came pretty early on.  My shiny new store had been open for about a minute and everything was going well.  Better than expected.  Clearly I had it all figured out.  Employees are respectful, customers are right, and everything is always by the book.

Until one day, I got THE call.

"Can you come to the cafe ASAP?  A customer wants to talk to you.  And he's MAD."  This was delivered to me in a pseudo-whisper by a cafe server who was clearly shaking in her boots at the moment.

I had dealt with many, many mad customers over the years, and I was pretty good at it.  But this was the first time someone had gotten mad in MY store.  It felt like a personal affront, but also like a chance I had to set the tone for the staff.  The customer is always right, right?

I took a deep breath, marched myself to the cafe, and was pointed in the general direction of a man who was, for lack of a better word, furious.  His face was red, his demeanor was aggressive, and he was spoiling for a fight.  I introduced myself and asked him what I could do for him.

He was so mad he could barely talk.  He sputtered about for a few minutes, all the time wildly gesturing toward my Cafe Lead, let's call him Ray, and demanding that I fire him and/or roast him on a spit.  Or maybe tie him up and let fire ants have him.  Whatever.  The customer was MAD at Ray.  Finally, after much sputtering and spitting, I got part of the story.  The customer had apparently not liked his drink and politely (at least according to him) asked for a replacement.  At this point in the story, every time he tried to tell it, the customer would get upset all over again, and the spitting and ranting was getting out of control.  I had someone make him a new drink, which he accepted, but he demanded that Ray be dealt with RIGHT THEN.

I asked Ray to come with me back to the kitchen, where we could speak privately, but where Mad Customer Guy could see that he was being dealt with forthwith.  A little background on Ray - he's from New York, speaks with a strong Brooklyn accent, and never wastes a word and might knife you if you look at him wrong.   I asked him to tell me what happened.

"Dat guy, he bought a Mocha, and he came back up to da counter and tole me he didn't like it at all.  When I picked da cup up, it was empty.  So I tole him 'Well, you musta liked it a little bit.'"

I put my best Manager face on, and...  burst out laughing.

I laughed until tears streamed down my face and Ray thought he was going to have to call in the men with straightjackets reinforcements.  After I composed myself, I told Ray sternly "Look sorry when you walk back out there, ok?"  Mad Mocha Dude left, vindicated, sure that I had been in the kitchen chastising Ray the whole time.

I thought I had it all figured out, until I didn't.   But I learned some very important lessons that day. The first thing I learned is that the customer isn't always right, and over the years, I made an effort to ensure my staff was protected against those who weren't.  I also learned that people don't always behave the way you expect them to.  Those were words that I never would have expected out of Ray's mouth, but he was doing what he thought was right - protecting his cafe - albeit in a less than diplomatic way.  Although the behavior was unexpected, the sentiment and  intention was correct. It got easier for me to figure out who among my staff had a heart that was in the right place but who maybe just needed a little guidance about how to put good intentions into good practice.  And finally, I learned that it pays to have a sense of humor when you are in a job that has a constant stream of people careening through it.  People are strange, and do strange things, and act in all sorts of weird ways, and it's ok to laugh about it.



  1. I love it!!! And Ray's right - what a sneaky customer!


  2. Seriously, I read this first while hiding in the bathroom (hey, have to capture my moments when I can), and I darn near peed my pants laughing.
    What a hysterical story! You and Ray did the right thing.

  3. Ha! I worked in restaurants for years, and hubby is still a restaurant manager. We have many similar "the customer is often flat out WRONG" stories.

    Good for Ray for not just caving in :)


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