business news in context, analysis with attitude

Last week, we posted an email from MNB user Bob McMath in which he cited a not-so-terrific experience he had at the Panera Bread Co., a disappointment since Panera is one of the more highly touted foodservice concepts around. In the meantime, we’ve gotten numerous emails responding to his letter, suggesting that Bob’s experience may have been isolated and suggesting that he contact senior management at Panera to express his opinion.

Now, we have Bob’s response to all the responses we’ve been posting:

“In addition to writing to this newsletter with my expressed disappointment, I sent a note back to the (Panera) Web Site address which asked for comments. I am still waiting to hear anything!

“And my point wasn't specifically only about Panera. We have noted poor and sloppy service and food presentations from a number of different food establishments. The young people of today are no longer taking any responsibility or pride in their work, what they present, or how the customer is served, what he or she is served, or how the overall place looks. The cleanest restaurants we note are usually cleaned by older, part time workers, not the kids behind the counter.

“And part of the problem is the management that is supposedly running the restaurants or retail establishments. I will never forget a meal in a Pizza Hut restaurant in Geneva, New York some years ago when my oldest grown son was with me. The kids behind the counter started to cut up a bit, and the manager of the restaurant, also still relatively young, chased them around the restaurant with a carving knife. It was all in fun, but then....

“Or the KFC in Ann Arbor where the person behind the counter groused about every order she had to take, argued with the customers, and generally was about as rude as she could be to the customers. She was apparently, the manager of the restaurant working with short staff. And to top it of, the Chicken Tenders I had were barely warm.

“Or the Jimmy Dean Restaurant on Route 94 coming back to Ann Arbor from Chicago. The Senior Turkey Dinner I was served was one piece of overcooked turkey without gravy, a pile of stuffing underneath it, and a side of vegetables. I complained to the waitress. Nothing was done. My wife and I complained to the cashier -- she looked lost and did nothing but take my name and address. I wrote to the headquarters, and got nothing back from them, either.

“I am not overly critical or cranky -- I just want the people who serve me to take some pride in how they look, what they serve, and how it is served. I don't want obviously staling bread served in a Panera Bakery restaurant. I don't want an unpleasant experience in ordering or hearing other people ordering, and I don't want to see managers chasing around the restaurant with a carving knife, even in jest!

“Many of these people are in their first or second jobs. I shudder to think what they will be doing and how they will be doing it when they grow up!”

While we all can identify with Bob’s experiences, we’d make one suggestion. It’s important, at least in our mind, not to use labels like “the young people of today” when talking about poor service and ill-mannered employees. There’s a guy who works at the local Walgreens as a cashier who may be the most ill tempered, miserable excuse for a human being that we’ve ever encountered in a retail setting…and he’s got to be well into his fifties or sixties.

Bad temper is not a matter of youth.

We’ve had more email about our comments concerning how self-checkout may be reducing the amount of human contact between supermarkets and consumers. MNB user Tom Wozbut wrote:

“While there should be concern about retailer differentiation and the role human interaction plays in that, I don't think the check-out line is the most vital area for that interaction to take place. If personnel could be deployed to other areas within the store to make the shopping experience more enjoyable that would be ideal. Unfortunately, personnel are probably not being deployed within other area of the store.”

We’d have no concerns about self-checkout if we thought personnel were being used elsewhere in the store. Our concern is that most retailers are using it as a cost savings device, which we think is misguided.

On the subject of irradiation, which continues to make news here on MNB almost every day, MNB user Al Kober, of Certified Angus beef, wrote:

“Any and all reports of retailers getting out of the stands and into the game on this issue is great news. I have been promoting irradiation for the last 3-4 years and it is great news to see retailers finally overcoming their fears and giving the consuming public a choice.”

Regarding yesterday’s story about the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reconsidering its role in protecting consumers from manufacturers’ product claims, MNB user Glenn Cantor wrote:

“Although the FDA has the responsibility to safeguard the citizens of the US, they should not have a responsibility to help people reach their own decisions.

“Of great interest is the balance between First Amendment freedoms and how the constitution applies to commercial speech. The courts have often ruled on the side of the public's right/responsibility to make their own judgments about objectionable political content. The same applies to commercial messages; the public has the right and responsibility to listen to messages, and evaluate these messages based on their own values and beliefs. To assume that the government needs to "protect" the public is to assume that the public is not very intelligent. To the contrary, we should give people (and consumers) more credit than that.”

We wrote yesterday about consumer groups charging that the Bush Administration’s attitude toward food safety is responsible for the rash of safety problems and recalls that have taken place recently. MNB user Ronald Cook responded:

“Give it a day. This will be President Bush's fault tomorrow.”

And, needless to say, there were emails reaction to our picking the Anaheim Angels to defeat the San Francisco Giants in six games in this year’s World Series, MNB user Jason Polinsky wrote:

“Angels in 4. Bonds and crew don't have what it takes.”

MNB user Robert Reynolds disagreed:

“Easterners may now realize that baseball is played on the West Coast.
As to your prediction -- for the sake of your family fortune, I hope you are
not a betting man.

“The Giants -- and real baseball -- will prevail.”

We’ll see.
KC's View: