I’m not one to rant and go all preachy consumer-advocacy on my blog. I save that for the phone calls to the customer service lines of the places where I receive bad service.
But this time… the place deserves it.
My long-time, beloved and local Noodles & Co., has earned my wrath.
I ordered Pad Thai with extra tofu. I knew this was a gamble, because I’ve had it before at this restaurant and it’s been pretty subpar; but their other stuff is usually quite good, so I went against my better judgment. I love N&C. When I was PTA president, I used to arrange our dinners out fundraisers there all the time. It was a great relationship. But these elegant café places are sort of all the same now: explosive growth,
good food swiftly prepared and you’re out in less than 40 minutes, because we all have to get back to texting and instagram.
After ordering we sat down with the number placard which designated our order. All our meals arrived and all my tofu was beneath the Pad Thai noodles. About halfway into the meal, my stomach started to hurt. So I stopped eating. I “searched” around into my bowl and discovered my tofu was
seared scorched. It was beyond overcooked, it was past its peak and it was inedible, hard and bad tasting.
I decided at first to let it go and just move on. But then I thought better of it and I walked up to the counter with my bowl and I presented it to a staffer. I’m not sure he was the manager, but he looked to be the oldest in the restaurant.
He asked me if I needed assistance and I told him my food was overcooked and showed it to him. I should have taken a picture of it, but I didn’t. My phone was in my car and I’m really starting to get skeeved out by all the photo sharing all over the internet and the way things are taken out of context.
I said, “This is overcooked; not only is that the problem, but it’s singed, burnt. It should never have been served and someone served it anyway.”
“Why didn’t you tell us about it earlier?”
“Because it was hidden beneath the noodles and my stomach only started hurting moments ago. Does it look burned to you? Does it look like it should be served?”
“Would you like another one? How about dessert?” he said, gesturing to the piles of brick-sized rice krispy treats and 6″ cookies in a basket on the counter.
“No. Thanks, no. My appetite is shot. I just wanted you to know. It’s too bad; this place used to be my go-to but lately, in the last six months or so, it just seems to have gone downhill; become lazy and this burnt tofu is sort of a sign of that. You all have let things slide.”
“Would you like something else? How about taking something to-go?”
I tilted my head. I didn’t want anything in return. And here’s where I started to realize that I was talking to a script reciter. This person had no … interpersonal skills or training. No empathy, well, that was just a hunch until he said this when I asked him if he’d eat it…
“Well, I don’t like Pad Thai,” smirking. I hate smirks. They’re symbolic to me of peoples’ inability to feel whatever they’re feeling and behave authentically.
My eyes became as big as saucers. They popped out of my head, bounced off the counter, landed on the floor, and rolled about 12 feet to a nearby table. While my kids scrambled for them, I did my best, “WHAT?!”
“You don’t like Pad Thai? Tell me you didn’t just say that. Well, then do you like your food burnt? We’re not gonna really go there, are we?”
Sheepish smile, clear discomfort came over his face and he sort of snorted in spite of himself, “Well, I uh, no. I don’t like my food burnt.”
He was looking at me (my kids were holding up my eyeballs for me, like Mr. Potatohead would do for the missus when she lost her eye) and he said, “Well, what do you want me to do for you?”
I said, “I realize this makes you uncomfortable. You don’t have a solution that will address this; my appetite is ruined because of the burned food your kitchen concealed beneath the noodles; I get that. I don’t want money, I don’t want food. I just want you to say you’re sorry and that regardless of whether you like Pad Thai, that you hear me. That you understand how I feel and that laziness contributed to this experience.”
“Yeah. I guess it did.”
That was the best he could give me. It’s not that I wanted more or that I needed I needed I needed, it’s that there’s something wrong, something missing, a chip maybe in someone who can LOOK SOMEONE ELSE squarely in the face and ostensively tell them that their complaint doesn’t jibe with them BECAUSE it’s not identical, because it’s not their comfort at stake, because it’s not ABOUT THEM. They can’t … empathize.
I’m sure this is part of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. meant when he talked about service, when he talked about doing your best to further humanity and social progress. I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean for a 20-something manager behind the counter of a restaurant to slough responsibility and avoid apology (which he still had yet to do; the words, “You’re right, this is bad, I’m terribly sorry about it” or even their ilk never crossed his lips). What did cross his lips? Compensation, a product replacement, an actable solution; corporate policy.
Sometimes, all someone wants is to be told their concerns are valid; that they matter and that they were right to want an apology. I’m sure that isn’t asking too much; if it is… we’ve got big problems.