Service of Out to Lunch

June 8th, 2017

Categories: Food, Restaurant

Photo: activepbx.com

Two headlines touting Wall Street Journal reporter Julie Jargon’s recent articles make a point: We’re being more careful with our time and money.

They were:

Going Out for Lunch Is a Dying Tradition: Restaurants suffer as people eat at their desks; no more three-martini sit-down meals” and

Diners Are Finding $13 Burgers Hard to Swallow: Number of outlets peddling gourmet toppings has nearly quadrupled since 2005, but sticker-shocked consumers opt for home grilling instead.”

I’ve always been statistically insignificant but both headlines ring true to me, with some adjustments.

The three-martini lunch may have lasted longer in some industries than in others but it hasn’t been in evidence for eons in my experience for health, budgetary and reasons of time constraints, to name a few in no particular order. And speaking of time, with deadlines that relentlessly hit a person’s handheld so as to spoil digestion as well as conversation, who can afford to make it a habit to leave their desk at midday?

Photo: bbc.com

In any case, a sit-down luncheon meal rarely includes time for three of any kind of drink, soft or hard.

I rarely even order out for lunch when once I did daily. The 11 under-30 tech people whose office is where I too roost do far less frequently. Instead our refrigerator is full of containers from home ready to be warmed in microwave or toaster oven and homemade sandwiches on rustic bread. On occasion they’ll order pizza as a group. Two years ago there was a constant stream of food deliveries from breakfast through afternoon snack.

Photo: baconhound.com

As for the deluxe burger’s fall from grace, in addition to people cutting down on lunches out it could be that the concept is past its prime given that it’s been around for a dozen years which is a stretch for any food trend in these parts. Perhaps the cool and hip have moved on leaving the smart to make delicious burgers at home for a fraction of the price.

Have your luncheon habits changed? Are we missing something by giving up business lunches? Do corporate cafeterias take a bite out of the restaurant business? Have you cut down on your burger consumption in general? Do you think you’re getting good value for $13+ burgers?

Photo: bloomberg.com

Service of Being Stuck in Traffic

June 5th, 2017

Categories: Driving, Traffic, Travel

George Washington Bridge midday traffic. Photo archive.northjersey.com

Manhattan doubles its population to 3.1 million people daily according to a 2013 census estimate. No surprise that as long as I can remember I’ve heard morning traffic reports. When my uncle commuted by car to the city from Westchester, and for years after, I thought of him when there was an accident holding up traffic on the Hutchinson River Parkway.

I feel for drivers who almost every day are faced with one hour waits to cross bridges and tunnels from NJ. According to citylab.com, “New Jersey workers…..seem to prefer cars more than most other areas.”

Long Island isn’t an easy place to commute from either and it may soon be getting worse. After 70 minutes waiting my turn in less than a mile outside the Midtown Tunnel one recent Saturday evening, I wondered aloud, “How do commuters do it?” I have to hand it to them.

Waiting so long to return to Manhattan from Long Island wasn’t bad enough: I had to fight off predator drivers who jumped the line which further slowed the process. Imagine a daily diet of such stress. This particular Saturday the bottleneck was caused by elimination of all but one lane in the tunnel giving Long Islanders access to the city due to ongoing repairs. I wondered why there were no traffic police to keep things civil and moving. And by the way: There were traffic slowdowns on various highways to and from our destination and it wasn’t weekday rush hour.

Queens Midtown Tunnel traffic. Photo: nbcnewyork.com

What happens to the citizens of Long Island who take the railroad to the beleaguered Penn Station that will be closing countless gates this summer to repair long-neglected tracks? How will they get to work? The exorbitant cost of parking aside, driving is clearly not an option unless you travel to the city at 4:00 a.m. and return home by 2:00 p.m.

What do people do to calm their nerves when faced with such daily drives that eke the energy they should apply to their jobs? When will politicians stop playing “hot potato” passing disaster on to the next administration and learn to routinely maintain their bridges, roads and tunnels? Citizens will pay the piper in time and money whenever it happens so it might as well be for quick patches rather than years-long major repairs.

Photo: atlantic.com

Service of Miserly Tips

June 1st, 2017

Categories: Etiquette, Restaurant, Tips

Washington Post columnist Carolyn Hax reprimanded a couple who complained about their daughter and son-in-law. They meet for a meal once a month at a restaurant halfway between them and their son-in-law embarrassed them when they caught him giving an additional tip to their waiter and apologizing for the table.

The incident resonated when Erica Martell sent me the column because I’ve been there, though I was never caught; I didn’t apologize to the waiter and it didn’t involve my parents. Either my husband or I would slip our waiter extra money to adjust miserly tips left by a generations-old family friend.

Back to the mother who described to Hax her conversation with her daughter the next day: “She told me….[that] our restaurant habits are not very thoughtful. I demanded specifics, and she told me that we split an entree and order water only, so the bill is really low. She also said we are demanding of the wait staff, which is especially bad because we aren’t giving the establishment much money to make up for it.”

The mother said they normally tip 10 percent, 15 if the service is good “maybe 20 percent” [the amount her daughter recommended] “if they washed our car while we were eating or something.” She concluded that she didn’t feel like she was “dining incorrectly,” thought it was rude to “correct our behavior behind our backs” and no longer wanted to meet her kids for dinner.

Hax told the complainants that they were “bad restaurant guests,” noting that a 10 percent tip was decades outdated. “And, hereafter: Always be mindful of the price point and service level of a restaurant before making demands of the staff. You can send back an order that was somehow botched at any level, from Mickey D’s on up, but you don’t fuss over the garnish on a $7.99 entree.”

About the daughter and son-in-law, Hax also suggested that the mother “take a moment to appreciate their sensitivity both to the staff and to your feelings.”

Have you dined with others who leave stingy tips or in other ways embarrass you either by drilling waitstaff or by being far too picky and demanding, making the life of restaurant workers a misery? Do you side with the parents or the adult kids in this instance?

Service of When Technology Lets You Down—Or Is It The People Running It?

May 30th, 2017

Categories: Manners, Technology, Transportation, Travel

Playing Bus Catch

I was depending on a bus to get me inches from our apartment one Saturday morning. The stops for the so-called First Avenue and 42nd Street Limited aka express bus and the local are almost a block apart and neither are on 42nd. An electronic sign reporting the whereabouts of upcoming busses [photo above] stands between them.

I ran away from the local stop to read the sign. Great: The local bus I’d hoped for was two stops away. When I turned around to walk back, the local was just pulling out of the stop. I whirled around and just then the sign changed from “2” to “0” stops. I’d missed the bus. So what was the point of the electronic sign?

Guessing at Travel Schedules

A day later I was upstate heading into the Metro North Dover Plains station’s parking area half an hour early. Two busses were leaving and I waved at one of the drivers who didn’t stop. Without advance notice [the day before there was nothing online about busses replacing trains on Sunday], the RR line substituted a bus for the first lap of the trip to NYC.

So what, you say? This switch makes a big difference to riders: when the 12:37 train changes to a bus, departure is at 12:03. The next bus? Two hours later at 2:03 according to an MTA employee who saw me and my car and the busses and sat like a lump in a white sedan with MTA logo.

I jumped out of my car where I’d stopped it to wave down the bus driver and rushed over to him asking if he could stop the bus. He shrugged. He didn’t even say “I’m sorry.”

[One of the other passengers noted that the online info on Sunday, when the MTA got around to posting the change, reported a 2:06 bus departure. If you’re on the wrong side of the 2:03, three minutes matter.]

Missing Adult & Information

In the course of that weekend, I was driving through Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester counties, the Bronx and Manhattan as well as around Long Island. I saw the same electronic sign on all the highways asking drivers to look for a “missing adult in a black Honda.” On Saturday the license plate number given was longer than any I’d ever seen: Clearly a mistake. By Sunday this was fixed. What didn’t change was the “adult” reference. Were they looking for a man or woman?

Can you share examples of where technology—or the person operating it–has let you or someone else down?

Service of Stationery That’s Not

May 25th, 2017

Categories: Gift Cards, Graphic Design, Retail, Stationery, Writers

Card by Jesse Levison, Gold Teeth Brooklyn

My visit to the National Stationery Show at the Javits Center is always a treat as I love fine paper, eye-catching graphics, fancy giftwrap and embellishments and there was plenty this week to satisfy from wrapping paper stunning enough to frame, magnificent ribbon displays especially by May Arts Ribbon and Ampelco Ribbon, paper party plates, favors, banners and accessories, books, candles, portfolios, boxes, balloons, and a riches of note cards for birthdays, holidays—you name it.

Jesse Levison of Gold Teeth Brooklyn’s whimsical, well rendered motifs in saturated colors screen printed on superior paper [photo above] appealed to me. She wasn’t alone: Talented artists abound at this show. I worry that there may be too many of them, but then I could say the same for gifted writers and musicians, journalists, filmmakers and so many others with training and talent that may go unrewarded in a financial sense.

Neon flamingo by Sunnylife

I play a game with myself when I cover such a trade show. Would I order this or that for my imaginary stationery store? That’s when I noticed exhibitors who were selling items that didn’t fit my idea of stationery. Examples: Barware; bath and body creams; fragrances; tea pots and tea; neckties; leather luggage; backpacks; baby clothes; jewelry; sunglasses; Sunnylife’s pool toys, neon birds, lobsters and cactus [that I loved] and decorative pillows.

And then I remembered that supermarkets and drugstores sell stationery as well.

In addition to art, music, journalism, filmmaking and writing, what other industries are overcrowded with talent? How and where will these gifted people find a way to be paid? What items have you been surprised to see in any store that you’ve traditionally visited to buy something else?

Ampelco ribbon

Service of Discomfort to Correct a Situation or Person

May 22nd, 2017

Categories: Correction, Name, Tips

In a recent “Social Q’s” column in the Sunday Style section of The New York Times, reader D.H. shared a problem with Philip Galanes: She’d given a longtime manicurist a $50 instead of a $20 by mistake. She didn’t “want her to think I want the money back,” D.H. wrote, “But I also don’t want her to think the huge tips will continue (almost twice the cost of the manicure). What should I do?”

Galanes’ advice was sage: “Say: ‘Doris, I realize I gave you a $50 tip last time. I hadn’t intended to, but I’m delighted I did in light of your many years of excellent manicures.’ Otherwise, you will be on pins and needles every time you get your nails done, afraid that your ordinary (but still generous) tip is signifying some unspoken complaint.”

I agree.

This situation is a first cousin to someone calling you by the wrong name and how the situation exacerbates when you let the misnomer continue especially if they introduce you to others. I’ve heard it happen quite often to my husband Homer. Some people call him Horace. And although I don’t recall what name folks have given me, the discomfort in correcting them when what they’ve said is nowhere near Jeanne makes me squirm the longer I let it go.

I find it hard to speak up even when I know that not doing so will make things worse in future. Does correcting people under these circumstances bother you? It’s not like advising a client, which I don’t find nearly as hard to do. How do you push yourself to do the smart thing?

Service of Essential Answers: The Christopher Award Winners Have Some

May 18th, 2017

Categories: Awards, Books, Hope

From Left Katie Sullivan, Patti Ann McDonald, Conor McDonald

I’ve asked the question in many posts over the last nine years of this blog: How do people get over feelings of adversity, anger, frustration, helplessness and loss? Some of the answers were peppered throughout the room this Tuesday at the 68th annual Christopher Awards by the authors, writers, producers, directors, illustrators and special award winners honored.

Was it a gloomy occasion? No. Joy, hope, support and love stared pain, disappointment and loss in the face. It truly was a stunning affair.

Nell & Matt Weber with baby Rose

One of the winners for his book “Operating on Faith,” Matt Weber, brought newborn Rose and wife Nell from Boston to celebrate while Patti Ann McDonald, widow of NYPD Detective Steven McDonald who died in January, brought her son Conor. She was given the Christopher Leadership Award. Matt’s book tells with humor how Nell helped him through a life-threatening illness months into their marriage. Conor and his girlfriend Katie Sullivan are supporting Patti Ann who is suffering with the loss of her husband. From the time he was shot and paralyzed in 1986, Detective McDonald credited Patti Ann with giving him the will to live.

Caron Levis’s book for children, “Ida, Always,” helps young ones deal with loss through a story about two polar bears who lived in the Central Park zoo. The HBO documentary “Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing,” provided an intimate look at the lives of those who lost limbs in the Boston terror attack, the physical and emotional battles they faced in the recovery process, and their unyielding efforts to reclaim their lives.

From left authors Joan Bauer, Kobi Yamada, Mike Massimino, Susan Hood, Susan Wern Comport & Caron Levis

Kathy Izard’s book, “The Hundred Story Home,” shares her journey from award-winning graphic designer to soup kitchen volunteer to developer of housing for chronically homeless men and women.

Dr. Chuck Dietzen

Mary Ellen Robinson, The Christophers and Dr. Chuck Dietzen

won two awards: The James Keller Award, named after The Christophers’ founder, recognizes individuals who are positively shaping the lives of children. He also won for his book “Pint Sized Prophets: Inspirational Moments that Taught Me We Are All Born to be Healers.” Dr. Chuck, as he likes to be called, is a pediatric rehabilitation doctor. He founded Timmy Global Health, which enlists students and medical volunteers in its mission to bring healthcare to those in need around the world. “We weren’t all born to be doctors and nurses, but we were all born to be healers,” he said. He arrived at the awards fresh from a trip to China.

This is just a sample. There were 22 winning feature films, TV/Cable programs, and books for adults and young people honored this year.

The ancient Chinese proverb—“It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”— guides The Christophers’ publishing, radio and awards programs. The 72 year old organization has lived through plenty of periods of extraordinary rancor and divisiveness and it never loses hope. Have you read books or seen films or TV/Cable programs that fit this saying?

Marathon HBO producers, writers from Left Jameka Autry, Jake Abraham, a guest, Nancy Abraham and the Christophers’ Tony Rossi

Service of Being Blind to Poverty

May 14th, 2017

Categories: Authors, Poor, Poverty, Unaware

Photo: locerdome.com

Photo: locerdome.com

I consider myself observant, empathetic and sensitive but unintentionally I’ve been at fault when it comes to being blind to poverty. Here’s just one of many instances that still haunt me. I was planning a visit to a city for business before Yelp and Google existed and asked a couple what their favorite restaurant was as I wanted to invite them for dinner. They said diets prevented them from going out to eat which is why they didn’t have a favorite. I later learned that they didn’t go out because they were in dire financial straits.

Photo: boston.com

Photo: boston.com

I had a college roommate whose family was affluent. She stood on every picket line and joined any and all protests and I felt she had real compassion for the less fortunate. Yet she didn’t realize that the reason one of our dorm members didn’t eat on Sunday night when the dining room was closed was because she didn’t have the money for even a hotdog.

Ivanka Trump is only the latest wealthy high profile person to pontificate and share advice in a book “Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success.” The subject is life/work balance. Apart from the reviews that trashed the book, I’m not rushing out to buy copies for friends who are stretched to the limit juggling jobs, kids and board positions who don’t work for their fathers and whose excellent salaries don’t reach the ankles of Ms. Trump’s income and the support it affords. In addition to paying for the best nanny care, should she want cooks and social secretaries to keep track of play dates and after school activities, all would be available at the snap of her smartphone. My friends and colleagues could teach Ms. Trump a thing or three. She would have done better interviewing them for her book.

FuneralSheryl Sandberg’s second book, “Option B,” is about dealing with loss. The Facebook COO’s husband died suddenly leaving her to raise young children alone. Her grief is poignant and her advice heartfelt and well meant, I’m sure, and writing about her pain was no doubt therapeutic. I saw a snippet of an interview with her on “60 Minutes.” Nevertheless as I heard her speak this jumped to mind: Can she fathom the circumstance of a poor widow with an hourly part-time job faced with losing her home, with no access to childcare and with insufficient resources to think past cobbling together something for the kids to eat tonight? Would a high powered technology executive’s thoughts resonate with those caught up in survival mode with little if any time to grieve, console the children or even think?

Have you been inadvertently poverty blind? Have you observed instances of such blindness?

 

Photo: keywordsuggests.com

Photo: keywordsuggests.com

 

Service of Pass the Buck: Shoddy, Defective Sales Support at Home Depot

May 11th, 2017

Categories: Customer Care, Customer Service, Retail, Sales

Photo: littleonline.com

Photo: littleonline.com

CC, a friend, was bursting with understandable frustration when she wrote this guest post. The incident she described happened at a NJ Home Depot.

The day she submitted the story the company was in the news. It’s “among the biggest gainers” wrote Ryan Dezember and Corrie Driebusch in “A Rare Bright Light in Retailing.” The Wall Street Journal reporters attributed the rise in stock prices of big boxes in the home improvement sector to booming US house prices and construction. After reading about this transaction, you wonder how this happened: Untrained, unmotivated staff wasted the customers’ time and their own.

CC wrote: “On Sunday we went to Home Depot to order a rug for our kitchen, which meant picking out an office or indoor/outdoor carpet to be bound in a custom size.  Simple, right?  I’ve done it before. This time Home Depot dropped the ball repeatedly.

Mistake 1:  There were two sales people in the carpet department, seated at the desk.  One was busy with a customer. The other was playing with her tape measure. I approached and explained what I wanted and why. She barely looked at me and told me I needed to go to the garden department. I explained that I’d placed a similar order in this department before and that I knew what I wanted was here. She grudgingly got up and gestured toward a rack before resuming playing with her tape measure. This sales clerk did NOT want to help me or make a sale!

Carpet samplesMistake 2:  I found what I wanted and approached the other sales clerk, who was now free. I explained what I wanted and asked him to ballpark price it out.  He instantly tried to talk me into buying a stock item – because, he said, it was cheaper, I wouldn’t have to wait three weeks, etc.  I explained that it wasn’t an issue of price or time but size and style. He grudgingly calculated (with some difficulty) the cost.  This sales clerk wanted an easy sale, not one that made him work.

Mistake 3:  After finalizing the carpet choice, I went back to the second clerk and said I wanted to place the order.  He had started to write it up when a young sales clerk came into the department to start her shift. He instantly insisted that she complete the transaction “to get credit for it.” She said she had no experience with a custom order that involved binding. He insisted and then left.  This guy REALLY didn’t want to work and was willing to let his young colleague struggle to help us.

bored personMistake 4:  Eventually, all three of the clerks got involved in calculating the cost and completing the paperwork. They all seemed so uncertain how to do this, I felt impelled to check their math at each step.  No one was sure about where the order would be shipped, and no one told us that we’d be putting down 90% and then paying a balance on delivery. The order was finalized, we thought, and I paid with a credit card.  The process was far too complicated and the clerks were not properly trained.

Mistake 5: After my card was run, the system would not finalize the deal.  It kept saying we hadn’t paid.

  • The older two clerks insisted we go pay at checkout. 
  • The younger one knew how to check whether our card actually had been charged. It had. 
  • Just then, the store’s assistant manager showed up.  He could see three clerks working with two obviously distressed customers, so he stopped to ask what was wrong.  He did NOT look at or engage with us then or over the next 20 minutes. He sat and played with his cell phone, taking calls, while they went through the whole thing again.
  • Eventually, he had the young clerk call HD’s central tech office in Atlanta.
  • The young clerk, however, was very apologetic and professional as she tried to sort it out.  The assistant manager quite obviously wanted to be anywhere else. Tech couldn’t help, and the young clerk shut down her terminal and tried another one with no luck.  Senior management ignored us and never apologized!

Mistake 6: It had now been at least an hour since I first asked for a price.  Other clerks would buzz by the desk and try to chat up the three clerks we were working with. Finally, another manager came and took things over. The assistant store manager left without a word. When the new manager could get nowhere, she apologized and told us to leave – that they would figure it out and call us by the next morning.  Home Depot wasted more than an hour of our time before cutting us loose.

At that point, I was prepared to cancel the whole thing and go somewhere else – a sentiment I’d expressed to the clerks several times.

What they did right:  The young clerk called me later and again apologized profusely, telling me nothing had been resolved but promising to call me next morning.  When I opened my email the next day, the transaction had gone through.  She called me within minutes to explain what had happened with the computer system and to apologize profusely once more. Her apologies were genuine.  She and the second manager, alone, had behaved professionally.  She told me that the second manager was giving us the carpet ($300) at no charge. Later that day, I got an email update showing that the order had been fast-tracked and would now be completed in a week instead of three.

Will I ever place a custom order again at Home Depot?  No way!  The company finally did the right thing, but all the wrong steps along the way gave us an insight into the company that was extremely unflattering.  I go into Home Depot under duress as it is (my husband practically lives there).  I prefer to go to a hardware store.  Now I will, at every opportunity.

How does a district manager inspire catatonic staff at an individual store to treat each sale with care? When salespeople pass the buck and act uninspired is it because they: 

  • don’t think an order is big enough to bother with
  • are lazy
  • feel there’s nothing in it for them if they work smart and no downside to being sluggish
  • don’t know better
  • are not trained to be effective salespeople 

While Home Depot may be doing well for the moment, the retail landscape is bleak, which portends cutbacks for millions of jobs. How can anyone in retail dare to act blasé and indifferent? Doesn’t an employee want to be chosen to stay in the event of massive layoffs? What happened to personal pride?

Photo: blog.teletracking.com

Photo: blog.teletracking.com

Service of Humiliating, Harmful Strategies to Get Paid: Lunch Shaming

May 8th, 2017

Categories: Charity Begins at Home, Children, Food, School, Strategy, Waste

Photo: canadianfamily.ca

Photo: canadianfamily.ca

The headline alone of Bettina Elias Siegel’s article in The New York Times, “Shaming Children So Parents Will Pay the School Lunch Bill,” is enough to sink hearts and for readers to scream: “What are they thinking?” To embarrass a child in front of others for something they have done is horror enough but to do this over something over which the young one has no control is unthinkable. Adding injury to insult is that it involves an essential life-sustaining activity, eating, and it is fomented by school administrators who, of all people, should know better. Further, there’s a huge element of waste involved.

I wrote about school lunches four years ago in a different context: Service of Equality: Free School Breakfast, Lunch and iPads.” In that post I wanted NYC to pay for breakfast and lunch for the children whose parents couldn’t afford to buy them but thought that giving free iPads was a bit much when there are viable, far less expensive tablet options.

Recently Siegel wrote: “On the first day of seventh grade last fall, Caitlin Dolan lined up for lunch at her school in Canonsburg, Pa. But when the cashier discovered she had an unpaid food bill from last year, the tray of pizza, cucumber slices, an apple and chocolate milk was thrown in the trash.”

What’s the strategy here: It’s better to toss good food than give it to a hungry child? That’ll teach a parent who isn’t there who may not have the money to pay in the first place.

Photo: thebalance.com

Photo: thebalance.com

News in the rest of the article doesn’t get much better. Siegel further described “lunch shaming,” as the nasty approach is called. “The practice is widespread — a 2014 report from the Department of Agriculture found that nearly half of all districts used some form of shaming to compel parents to pay bills. (About 45 percent withheld the hot meal and gave a cold sandwich, while 3 percent denied food entirely.)” Instead of a real lunch some are given two pieces of bread with a thin slice of cheese.

Photo: money.usnews.com

Photo: money.usnews.com

Siegel described a cafeteria worker in Pa. who quit when forced to take away a child’s lunch. A child in Alabama went home with a stamp on her arm: “I need lunch money.”

There’s no free lunch and there’s the lunch bill to pay. What to do? Some qualify for a federal free meal program though others are afraid to apply because of their immigration status. Communities ask for “random acts of kindness” and organize fundraisers and GoFundMe pages. A Texas-based 4th grade mentor, Kenny Thompson, paid the bill when he saw the lunch lady refuse food to a child whose mother, he knew, was in the hospital. Next he founded “Feed the Future Forward,” and through fundraising events and donations hopes to wipe out over $50,000 in debt. To qualify for the refund money, however, Thompson makes schools sign a pledge that they won’t give children with unpaid bills a meal different from the other kids.

Lunch shaming is nothing new. Siegel quoted a mother whose son won’t eat peanut butter as the result of an incident two decades ago. How did it catch on and why do communities permit it? What gets into the minds of administrators who lose sight of their clients—children—when addressing a problem? How can parents permit such cruelty in a place they entrust their children?

Feed the Future Forward

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