Monday, April 06, 2020

A Request From a Grocery Store Manager

I had a beer in me last night (just one...I'm a cheap date now).  I went on a Twitter Screed.  But, it was a humble request....simply put, it's how to act in the grocery store.

Here it is now, slightly edited, because I can actually type on a keyboard, as opposed to trying to rant on a touchscreen phone.

Hello.  I help manage a grocery store.  I've worked 17 of the last 19 days (and 26 of the last 30).  I'm worn down.  Mentally and physically.  Kicking high but slow.  I've been thinking on it, and I have some thoughts.  Requests?  Yeah.  Requests.  Here are a few requests that I have from the public, when they go shopping:

  • Get back in the habit of shopping just once or twice a week.  Whether you believe in Covid 19 or no (and that's a discussion for another day, but suffice it to say, there are a fair number of you that Still don't think things pertain to you), we're seeing far too many of you every day.  We appreciate the business, but for the sake of cutting down lines in the store, try just shopping once or twice a week.  We're not on spring break here, guys.
  • Make a list.  If you know how the store's laid out, make your list in a logical order.  Also, for your items, try to have a plan B and a plan C for what you're looking for.  Truth be told, 4 weeks in, the supply chain is still trying like hell to recover.  We're at the mercy of the warehouse, which can only receive so much itself, on top of being able to pick and stack a finite amount.  We're likely to be out of something you're coming in for.  Depending on the day between trucks, it might be many somethings.
  • It's just fine to ask if we're out of something.  In fact, that's the best way to phrase it:  "Are you out of French Cut Low Sodium Green Beans?"  It's not insulting.  Just be prepared to get a yes.  Just don't beat around the bush.  It's possible you'll get lucky, and we'll have it in back, especially if a truck's recently arrived.  But chances are, if you don't see it on the shelf, it's not here.  (A minor point...even before this, most stores don't keep a large amount of stuff in back, if they can help ties up dollars).  Don't ask "can you check in the back."  I know it sounds ludicrous, but a few of us have a pretty good idea of what's in the back, especially now since we're somewhat depleted of stock status.  If we think there's a chance it'll be in the back, we'll check.  But there's a good chance we know.
  • No, we didn't forget how to order.  At this point, we don't know if you're serious, or just trying to lighten the mood.  In my store's case?  There's a 99% chance that it's being ordered, and it's either out at the warehouse or it's being time-prioritized behind a more "staple" item.  Anyway, stop joking or thinking that we're just not ordering enough.  We're regularly ordering 5500 case grocery trucks, and receiving 1000 pieces (or less) of that.  While that's a bone of contention I have with the chuckleheads at my warehouse, it is a truth of how things are going right now that All the stores serviced by the warehouse are coping with this, and it's an impossibility to keep up with it all.
  • In some cases (for my store, dairy, produce and most meat categories), the folks at the warehouse ordering have done an amazing job of meeting demand.  In others (beef, dry grocery and frozen), they're struggling.  They're working as many days as I am trying to rectify it.  This is hard, on a lot of levels.
  • I say that to say this:  we know we're out of a lot of stuff.  Please stop being surprised or annoyed by it when you come in.  It's not due to laziness or lack of planning.  In almost every case, it's beyond our control.  And we're even more frustrated by it than you are.  (My manager, and department managers all feel about the same about all's stressful to look at these empty shelves...we're trained from early on that a good looking store is of the utmost importance, and we've gone a month almost without having a good looking's psychologically impactful to the point of being mentally exhausting, believe it or not).
  • Absolutely, you can ask when trucks are coming.  Just know that they give us a window, not an exact time.  It's like a cable repair'll be here between 6:30 and 8 PM, depending on traffic.  I'd say many, if not all, chains are this way.
  • While you're in the store, don't dawdle.  You're not there to visit.  You're not there to browse.  Use your shopping list and get in and out as quickly as possible.  We're not your destination to soothe your cabin fever
  • When you get to the checkout, follow the social distancing requests we have in place.  They're there so we can try to wipe down and sanitize what we can between customers.  Use that time that we're cleaning to do a couple of things:  Find your store loyalty card (if your store has one), and get your payment method ready.  Most times, you've got a couple minutes to do that.  When you fiddle fart around, you're making folks wait, possibly exposing more and more people to this thing.
  • I can't stress this enough:  Get off your phone.  It's rude, even if there's not a pandemic on.  Right now, cashiers will have a couple specific requests or questions.  Get off your phone so you can focus on that conversation.  You're not the great multitasker that you think you are.
  • That said, you can use your smart phone for a couple of things.  If your store has an app, use that app to call up that mentioned store loyalty card.  You can also use your phone to pay in most places without having to touch anything....
  • Don't get annoyed when you have to wait.  I'm sorry.  That's just a reality.  Lots of people shopping at the same time will do that.
  • You don't need to bring the whole family to the store.  Just bring you.  Truth be told, it was kind of annoying pre-pandemic.  It's irresponsible now.  Especially if you have a lot of young children.  Please don't bring them, unless you don't have any other option.
  • No, you can't go in the back room.  We're working back there.  You will be in the way.  It's not a secret space for us to do magical things.  We're just trying to work.
  • Don't park in the fire lane.  Just park in a space.  We're not at Thunderdome yet.  Just park in a space and walk the extra steps.
  • If you see a store employee or vendor pulling a pallet, please don't stop them to ask a question.  Those pallets are heavy (especially the ones with water or soda on them).  They don't stop on a dime.
  • If a stocker, vendor or other worker is working in an area you'd like to shop, don't crowd them.  Either wait until they're done, or say "excuse me."  I prefer the latter.  I want you to shop.  There are only 3.4 million other things I can do in the interim.  You wouldn't think a refresher in manners was required here, but judging by the family of five that crawled over my back on a Saturday to get to the Chef Boyardee, we're lacking a little bit of common sense, courtesy or some combination of the two.
  • We don't always have time to answer phone calls.  We're trying.  But if you're in the habit of calling to find the cheap soda price in town, stop that.  And if you're calling to try to find toilet paper, I understand.  Be patient if the phone keeps ringing.  I know this contradicts an earlier point, but it's probably quicker to just wander in to see yourself, some days.
  • The number of people are seem honestly perplexed and annoyed by seeing the shelves bare rankles me.  "I just don't understand what the problem is," is a variant of a statement that I'm getting a few times a day.  I'm sorry you don't.  I guess that's part of my attempt here, to try to lay a couple things out.  For the time being, you're probably going to have to change your shopping patterns.  I know that's inconvenient, and even difficult.  We're doing our best to make it as easy as have to have that faith in us.  The truth is, you might have to change these patterns for a while.
  • I wish I knew how long.
  • Be patient.  I say some variant of this around Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Be cool out there.  We're all going through this.  Not just you.  Do not yell.  That's important:  Do Not Yell.  Or cuss.  For any reason.  Be patient with us.  I'm tired.  My crew is tired.  We've all worked our asses off under what's an unusual and difficult set of circumstances.  Truth be told, it wasn't until this week that I really started to understand the anxiety of some in my crew beyond my own.  That's on me, and I own that.  It's easy to get blinders on and just keep trucking for the finish line.  Too easy, especially since I need to keep putting a foot in front of the other, sometimes, to keep from thinking too hard on things....
  • That said, this week will be the first week I've had 2 days off scheduled or taken since the first week of March.  And it's not guaranteed:  if a huge grocery delivery does make it our way, it's likely that I'll end up working my day off again.  
  • A couple small things tangentially related to this:  it's still Service Dogs only inside this store.  You don't need to bring your dog with you.  And there's a special place in Hell for you if you lie about your dog being a service animal.  Also: it's starting to get warm out there (82 yesterday at the Big Stupid Tompound).  That's actually too warm to leave the dog in the car, even with windows cracked.  Just leave the dogs at home.
  • If you've applied for a job with us (and we are looking for help), answer your phone when we call.  Set up your voicemail.  That's how that phone number works.  And be prepared to be interviewed at an odd time.  (I had one balk when I asked him to interview on Sunday.  Sorry chief...we're open Sunday, and that's the only day we're not receiving any deliveries).
  • Last thing:  Thank you.  Most of you, the overwhelming majority of you, have been very cool about this.  Most of you seem to understand this thing without my having to bullet point it.  And that's awesome.  We've been thanked, which is always nice to hear.  A couple folks called us heroes, but I don't think of myself that way.  I'm just doing my job.  It's all good.  Besides, wearing a cape would only be a distraction.