Service of Untrained Staff and Insufficient Inventory Messing Up Food Orders

March 28th, 2019

Categories: Customer Service, E-Commerce, E-tailing, Food, Retail

When you order food and don’t get what you want it can be hard to tell if it’s due to a lack of staff training or insufficient inventory. This is nothing new even though the millions who order all sorts of food online these days may think it is.

I ran into untrained staff causing stress when buying a bunch of sandwiches for office colleagues at a then novel Au Bon Pain years ago. It was so bad I eventually no longer asked “Can I get someone anything at Au Bon Pain?” when leaving the office to pick up lunch for myself. The takeout offered a choice of bread, meat and cheese for freshly made sandwiches. Inevitably I’d return with ham and brie on a roll when my colleague wanted ham and Swiss on a baguette as one example. Of some five orders three would be wrong. Drove me nuts. It happened because the staff didn’t know the difference between cheeses and breads and clearly the choices weren’t well marked and/or the staff wasn’t trained to ID the options.

Heather Haddon’s Wall Street Journal article rang bells. “Amazon to Whole Foods Online Delivery Customers: We’re Out of Celery, How’s Kale? Companies offering online grocery ordering and delivery struggle with services’ logistics” described customer experience with the online grocery and delivery system for select Amazon Prime members.

She wrote about what happened to Kelly Hills. The Massachusetts-based bioethicist  “ordered a sourdough loaf from Whole Foods recently but was offered a jalapeño cheese bread instead. Her so-called ‘shopper’—either a contract worker employed by Amazon or a Whole Foods staff member tasked with compiling delivery orders—had opted to put decaf coffee in her bag instead of whole roasted coffee beans, celery instead of celery root and a single seltzer flavor rather than a variety. ‘The substitutions are downright bizarre. It’s frustrating,'” Think of all the time wasted to return this stuff or the money lost to accept what you won’t use.

Haddon added that problems “are often amplified because daily operations at the two companies are still largely separate. Whole Foods employees said Amazon workers routinely ask for help finding items on shelves or elsewhere, distracting them from their own duties. Technology that tracks Whole Foods’s inventory is old, and officials have discussed updating it for years.”

Have you been impacted by poorly trained staff, insufficient inventory or other issues when buying food–or anything else–either in person or online? Why do you think the glitches happen? Do you usually accept the mistakes or do you take time to return or report them?

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8 Responses to “Service of Untrained Staff and Insufficient Inventory Messing Up Food Orders”

  1. ASK Said:

    I never order food online; I’ll go to the market first. We do have a few close by so it’s not a big deal. When I do go food shopping, I am always amazed at what the cashiers do NOT know. At different times, I’ve been asked “What is this?” about an artichoke, eggplant, Italian parsley, kiwis, and scallions. This makes we wonder how knowledgeable those clerks who actually fulfill online orders for non-package goods really are. And, of course, how much do said clerks really care what they substitute.

    I sympathize with a close friend who lives on the Upper West Side and also likes to do her own grocery shopping. Where she lives (near Zabar’s), there are no supermarkets left. So she either schlepps up to Fairway on 125th St., or buys at the supermarket near her weekend house and brings it back to the city. With the narrow profit margins in the grocery business, I guess NY rents are unsustainable.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    There is a Gristedes supermarket a block from my apartment that must be a branch of Neiman Marcus or Bergdorf’s. A smallish bottle of laundry detergent costs well over $20. I buy seltzer and milk there and try to get everything else at Trader Joe’s on the weekend–it’s a 10 block walk from my apartment. When I had a weekend home I’d buy lots there, like your friend, for top quality and moderate prices.

    In fact, at the one store, Adams, that has a great range of fresh produce, I can’t remember when I was asked what something was. They aren’t up on their apple varieties and put in any old thing which doesn’t impact the price–just their inventory counts. But in other places an endive or as you said, artichoke, baffles many cashiers.

    I didn’t make the perfect connection you did that if THEY don’t know one thing from another, how will the food picker-uppers? The stores are going to have to do a much better job with signage so if you order online you don’t get Cilantro when you wanted mint or parsley.

  3. ASK Said:

    When I lived on the East Side, I had a choice of 3 stores within a 4-block area — D’Agostino’s, Shopwell, and Gristede’s. Gristede’s was always the most expensive, but now, I believe the only remaining store is Gristede’s.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I bought a small bottle of water at a midtown deli for $1.29. A few days later I bought one the same size on the UES at Gristedes and it was $1.49. Real Estate in NYC and doing business here is crazy. There was a D’agostino’s near my last apartment and it was also priced sky high. The least expensive that was placed conveniently on my walk home before was Morton Williams. They had great sales. But it is too far from my current apartment. Sigh.

  5. Martha Takayama Said:

    I never buy food on line. I haven’t had to place large takeout orders so don’t have much to say. However, in general I find restaurant service often negligent, pretentious or as happened recently at a favorite restaurant cloying, intrusive and annoying. Sophisticated professional staff, polite and appropriately non-intrusive were substituted by 2 employees, one supposedly in training who seemed like she was operating like”consumatrices”. I first mistook them for bar girls. I found out the familiar staff only work on weekends.The food was still delicious and the decor lovely, but the experience so disruptive that I hesitate to return or to recommend the place. Like so many other aspects in the era of Trump, we seem to be spiraling downwards.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I can’t figure out what the problem is. If a company feels that it is too expensive to properly train staff–necessary as with unemployment at all time lows the trained might be unavailable–does it calculate what business it loses when the staff is not trained to treat customers appropriately or to fulfill orders accurately?

    We all seem to be working at warp speed–to be the first to offer a service, to report a story, to sell goods to a foreign country–we don’t always put in the behind-the-scenes work necessary. The result is often one big SPLAT!

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Human error exists, and is rapidly corrected when dealing with reputable outfits. That’s been my experience with very few exceptions so far. The exceptions are because of laziness, so it’s shared blame. A company which is unable to or won’t train its staff can’t be serious and is not likely to last in highly competitive surroundings.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    With time at a premium there’s little worse than wasting a customer’s time that happens when they have to correct a mistake. It’s also a costly waste of the company’s. Nice that a company refunds or rectifies but who wants to go through the process?

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