Service of Retail Etiquette: How Does the Message Get So Garbled?

October 23rd, 2017

Categories: Anger, Attitude, Retail, Service, Service Personality



Retail stores are having a heck of a time so when I hear of one that sells a good product but whose owner or employees miss the mark in service, I wonder what’s going on.

There’s a bakery in a charming Litchfield, Conn. town that sells scrumptious delicacies that look as delectable as they taste. Friends surprised me when they served a delicious cake from there at my last birthday, [I didn’t think they knew what day it was], so I know about the quality of the goodies.


The friends who made my birthday dinner—I’ll call them Fred and Paul–had been asked to buy brownies for another birthday person who preferred them over cake. Paul described what happened: “As we walked into the bake shop a man with an unpleasant look on his face stared at us. The brownies were under a glass bell, priced $3.00 each.

“Fred asked for 12. The owner was horrified—actually angry. He gritted his teeth and snapped ‘Why didn’t you call ahead!?’ He feared that there wouldn’t be enough for other customers.”

Paul continued, “Didn’t the owner register that we were giving him business too? He opened a bag—instead of a box–and threw them in, one by one, while continuing to seethe. I was close to telling him to keep them. Fred also controlled his anger. But we were stuck–we’d been asked to contribute these favorites.”


There’s a bakery on First Avenue and 57th Street in NYC—Andres–that sells amazing palmiers, aka elephant ears, which I adore. If for whatever reason they don’t have any when I drop in, I’ll go another time or I’ll remember to call first!

What does it matter who buys what you’ve made as long as you have no leftovers at closing? If a bakery’s logistics are faulty it’s not the customer’s responsibility. If you’d been Fred and Paul, would you also have held your tongue? Good bakeries are few and far between in rural areas. If you had walked out of this bakery without the brownies, what would you have told the hostess and what would you have brought instead?

Photo: pinterest

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16 Responses to “Service of Retail Etiquette: How Does the Message Get So Garbled?”

  1. ASK Said:

    Maybe the proprietor knew he would have regulars come in for those brownies, but in any case, he was rude and I would have said something and also asked for a box. And if he really teed me off I would have left.

    By the way, your Andres isn’t the narrow little shop around the northwest corner, is it?

  2. CG Said:

    Wow, how does someone manage to stay in business when he uses such faulty logic? I would post that experience on Yelp so fast, it would make that bakery owner’s head spin.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Surely you describe what happened and the owner has easy choices: Make extra so he can relax and freeze leftovers for friends and family–brownies freeze well–or go into another line of work.

    Yes, Andres is a teensy shop on the northwest corner of 57th. The only other goody I’ve tried from this bakery are the round cookies with jelly in the middle–also good.

    If you’re in the neighborhood, there is one of the best fish stores in the city across the street and a few stores in on 57th–Midtown Catch. Not only is their fish first class, they make the best tomato sauce around–good soups too–and 100 percent of the staff is lovely and cheery.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Good idea re. Yelp. And the next time someone asked me to buy something from there I’d request another assignment. But that birthday cake was SO GOOD as, I’m sure, were the brownies.

  5. Plotinus Said:

    I have some sympathy with the baker on this one.

    This is an exurban setting. An exceptional baker is a valuable community asset and would be extremely hard to replace were he to leave town. Conversely, market size and potential sales volumes may well be considerably lower than those possible in urban areas. To survive, he must rely on and favor his regulars. To keep the baker going, they help him out by working with him and preordering large orders, etc.

    This doesn’t, of course, forgive rudeness by anybody, but my advice to your friends would be to ignore the baker’s “attitude,” butter him up and become a regular. He’ll become beholden to you, may well mellow, and you’ll still have treats to eat.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I see your point but who wants to enter a door when greeted by a grouchy stare? Or have the order disrespected and mistreated? And share hard-earned money with an ungrateful person?

    So what if they aren’t regulars? By making a person feel unwelcome you are guaranteeing that they will not become regulars and go only when pressed!

    There was a very fancy, expensive grocery store in the Manhattan neighborhood in which I grew up. Only on occasion would my mother place an order there and each and every time the employees were as lovely and gracious to her as though she was a regular. The grouchy baker would find a joyful attitude would also make his day go by in a far happier way than it must now.

  7. EAM Said:

    I recall Uma Thurman describing a similar situation about an UES bakery who only allowed you to order 1 dozen cupcakes ahead of time. She joked, “Should I have my friend then order another dozen so I can get those too?” While these delectible delights may be favorites of regular customers, you won’t win any more loyalty points with customers like Fred and Paul. I probably would’ve twisted the knife a bit and asked for a discount for purchasing twelve. Will they go back to this bakery?

    Let me also add that I had an unpleasant exchange with a husband and wife who owned a pasta shop in NJ. I admit I’m particular how I like things and evidently I pushed it a bit too far with husband and he barked at me. I called up the next day and spoke with his wife and told her that I had gotten five years of great service but was suprised by my recent encouter with her husband (he waited until I was the only one in the shop before his nasty behavior was exhibited). I went back but was very careful about my orders from that point forward.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What a good idea! Though I wouldn’t have had the nerve to ask for a discount. Similarly, they might have asked for samples just to annoy!

    The Seinfeld Soup Nazi comes to mind…you want it, you put up with the nonsense or get out.

    I would have stood there like a stone had I been Fred and Paul, accepting his abuse–though I might have asked for a box as he tossed the brownies in a bag, as CG noted.

    But it would be fun to fantasize saying something like, “What’s wrong? Are you always this grouchy or is it just on Saturday or don’t you feel well? I’m sorry.”

    Another tactic might be to be all smiley and pretend to be deaf and ignore his nasty behavior and be super gracious and charming.

  9. Martha Takayama Said:

    At this point in my life and given our prevalent rude cultural norms, I would have walked out without purchasing anything. My boss when I worked in luxury retail stressed that our job was service, and to make people feel welcome! She went on to be come a first female VP for this elite company. No one wants to be treated rudely or worse have merchandise apparently available for sale witheld. I don’t know who your friends are, but what you describe is obnoxious and really inappropriate. It smacks of ill will, dislike (for whatever reason) of the customer, and without knowing more, perhaps discrimination. We can’t forget all the insane attempts of fanatic twisted merchants who do not understand the concept of separation of church and state, nor the Constitution, choose to not serve or sell to targets of their disaproval. Do we have to be overwhelmed by hissy fits or think about discrimination even with respect to brownies? As for a substitute, if I couldn’t because of logistics whip up any with a mix or from scratch I think I would have bought an alternative, even Hostess cupcakes, and made a joke!

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’ve several times been discriminated against by restaurateurs that have an image of the customer they want that I–or the person or people with me–don’t fit, though Paul didn’t mention this as a possibility. The town in question is sophisticated and far from the Bible Belt and the men are longtime residents and supporters of community events, services and stores.

    I would not have left without the brownies had I promised them and I have a good recipe to make them from scratch. I didn’t ask Paul if time was an issue but usually it is, especially for weekenders who have gardening and other chores hanging over them and little time. Also, the birthday person in question is in his ninth decade and I would not have wanted to disappoint him! If enough people boycott the place, they would not have a good bakery to visit, as Plotinus pointed out, which is an example of cutting off a nose to spite the face….When in the boonies, you must consider this or plan ahead, if a weekender, and import the goodies from elsewhere.

  11. Nancy Farrell Said:

    My favorite coffee stand has set aside treats just for me. I tell the owner ahead of time if I plan on being out. She does it because she knows how to run a business properly. I’ve been going there for 11 years. The baker in your story could have said that a brownie or two were reserved. Honestly, the time he spent being grouchy could have been spent whipping up another batch. They don’t take that long to make, even from scratch. Your story reminded me of a deli I used to frequent upstate. The owner was gruff. At one point I walked by on a Sunday and noticed with surprise that his store was open. The hours posted on the door indicated that the store was closed on Sunday. When I pointed that out to the owner, he shook his head at me and said, “Nobody reads the hours!” When I told a friend how annoyed I was by this encounter, she said, “Oh, but so-and-so is from Queens.” As if that explained rude behavior!

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m laughing because that’s JUST what I heard a Trump supporter/panelist say on MSNBC or CNN recently: “You can’t take seriously how he expresses himself; he’s from Queens!” Another panelist sat up straight with indignation as apparently he was also from Queens and he didn’t see that as an excuse for rudeness.

    Your suggestion that the baker whip up–and maybe even deliver–the brownies to regulars should they come to the store with brownies on their mind was also a good one. Talk about customer service! There’s no traffic up there and a regular would no doubt live pretty close to the store and everyone has cars!

  13. Lucrezia Said:

    I’m not buying the “surly retailer” message, since this has not been my experience. It will pay to remember that retail jobs are among the lowest paying and least gratifying, fraught with enormous pressure and few if any rewards. Even those who scrub floors often command much higher wages, and their own work schedules.

    While grousing over one undeniably bad experience, consider the worker whose greedy employer (often a corporation) robs him of both religious and secular holidays, with the threat of losing a pitiful sustenance if he choses to take a well earned breather with family and friends.

    If I sound like a crusader, I’ve been there, and have seen colleagues on the business end of customers who make the mean spirited baker look like Molly Sunshine! Yes, folks, take one of these jobs and try to live on its pay…..and remember to keep smiling when showered with unwarranted abuse from the fancy jerk on the other side of the counter!

    PS Succulent brownies going for $2.99 per may be bought at Turco’s in Yorktown. Surely, there are other welcoming and fine bakeries in Dutchess. Find them and spread the word!

    PPS Heed Plotinus’s advice. Making friends from human grizzlies, often works to everyone’s advantage.

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Working backwards, this happened in Connecticut–not Dutchess County [not that it matters said the Dutchess County chauvinist….] And in this part of CT., there aren’t a whole lot of bakeries. It truly is the boonies.

    According to their description, my friends had not said a word before getting a beady eye and I doubt that they’d come off rude in any case. And I think the counterman was the owner, not an over stressed, poorly paid worker [which isn’t their fault]. Further, it wasn’t a retail chain but a one-off and while hours are grueling–should the counterman also be the baker–unfortunately being grouchy is not something folks in retail can afford to be [pun intended].

    It stinks but as I’m often told–on this blog and elsewhere–life isn’t fair. I try not to bother retail staff in big boxes unless I’ve looked everywhere and can’t find what they used to carry. Just three or four days running around a client’s craft fair for 8-9 hours on marble floors is enough to give me a taste of what it feels like to be in retail: Exhausting.

  15. Dawn Said:

    As a weekend resident, of Litchfield County, I would love to know where this took place! I would avoid the bakery like the plague! This man’s behavior was totally unacceptable! My boyfriend asked what I was reading so I gave him a quick version. While not condoning this behavior he did point out that the reason for the call ahead was a batch would have been made and sold to your friends. And a batch would have been made to be sold to other customers. Hence, more sold. That I can understand this man’s behavior I cannot. Just, reprehensible business manners! I would probably have done as your friends did. And I would have been thrilled to write a very truthful Yelp review!

  16. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hi Dawn,

    We don’t know where the ovens are vis a vis the store or if there is someone else who can toss in another batch of brownies while he staffs the counter. I saw on Facebook that a friend lets her brownie dough sit in the fridge for a few days before baking so it would seem to me he could have some at the ready…and it wouldn’t spoil.

    In any case, logistics are NOT the customer’s problem. It falls in the same category as “The person is paid poorly so why should they do a good job?” I am also not responsible that this is the case, I’ve been in a similar situation and my clients did not suffer–so I don’t empathize. People are paying hard-earned money for a product or service and they should be treated with respect, if unctuous courtesy.

    Oh, and I don’t identify small businesses that I knock–it’s been the policy of this blog. I do mention brands and big businesses/organizations and over years, have let things slip on occasion. I will find out the name and off blog get it to you if I do. I always mention a brand if I praise it.

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