"Get 'em in, Get 'em served"
After the business starting rolling along I found that the nature of the neighborhood required a few changes on our part. We needed more space for seating and embarked on an expansion combining two storefronts. In the business district demand peaks for about two hours each day. That was where you made it or you failed. It was obvious that our seating for 20 was not going to cut it. Customers were crowding into the store and we had lines that ran out the door. This wasn't horrible during a nice summer day, but rain and winter are a bigger part of the year around here than sunny moderate days.
The other part of expansion is production. It’s great if you have seating for 120 but if you can only produce 60 units in an average turnover period, there is some wasted investment. So somehow you have to find the magic elusive number where demand, capacity, and production meet. Oh, and by the way, that number is not stable. It will vary based on many other little factors that are as hard to pinpoint as pulling out bits of eggshells from cracked eggs.
This all leads to my next memory (or story). In order to meet the demand in the short amount of time we had to make a living, I was often curt and short with people. What started out as an attempt at a mini-macro level efficiency experiment (serving as many customers that wanted to eat at our place as quickly as possible) turned into another marketing coup. There is no lying here, I wanted to increase sales, and this seemed like a opportunity knocking, or waiting in line, in this example.
So we were rushed for two hours like any food service place at peak hours. The difference here is that people cannot wait 45 minutes to get a table or be served. It is their lunch, and they have limited time. Rather than try to extend the service hours, it seemed better to increase production capacity. Some of this was internal, through systems and application of the right personnel to the right job. Because this was a counter service establishment, other efficiencies had to be forced on the customer.
No dawdling, no indecisiveness at the front of the line, have your payment ready when you get to the cash register, and eventually, for Pete’s sake, Get Off Your Phone. There are many, many stories of things I have said to customers that would have gotten me fired from any other service job. I will be telling those as time goes by, but for now let me impart on you that in was as much a show as it was service. I saw the number of people waiting to be served and the “one” person at the front of the line could either aide the process or hinder the movement. It started out as polite instructions as how you, the patron, can assist the servers and the process. When my patience ran thinner and the coffee flowed stronger, the remarks may have become a little snarkier. Often a customer would get upset and threaten many things, but by then I had moved on to someone else in the line. It was a shit show some days. As time went on this part of work became a social experiment. Just how far could you push someone in a public setting before they broke? It was my “Socio-elasticity” hypothesis. Unfortunately in any attempt to prove or disprove a hypothesis you have to make some mistakes. I did, and lost a few here and there. I am also certain that some customers might remember this a little differently.
So this becomes our system. Part internal, part external. Then came November 3, 1995. It was a Friday and the temperature was above average, in the 60’s (don’t think for one minute that I remember that much detail; let’s just say I love the internet). Even for the weather the store was busy. And it felt like I knew everyone waiting in line. I knew them as customers from over the years. One of the early lessons I learned is that customers are much less likely to act like an ass in your store if you know them by name. It also gives them a personal connection to the place, even a beat up little bagel shop in a small city.
The customers are acting overly courteous and it appears to me that they are all smirking. After about an hour of this with no end in sight, I make a casual comment to the girl working with me about what’s going on today. She looked at me with disbelief and said “Really? You don’t know what this is all about?” With a confused look on my face I retorted “No, Do you?”
This conversation was audible enough to first 10 people in line, and she said to me: “They think you are the soup nazi.” I made one of those faces indicating she was crazy and I didn't believe her but when I turned back to the front of the counter those 10 people were laughing and nodding in agreement. Of course this started a domino effect of customers acting out the episode that aired the night before and everyone but me was enjoying the show. Oddly, I was a fan and had seen the episode the night before but never made any connection to my own behavior. Although this is now considered a compliment and point of pride for some, I was not happy about it and would not accept it at the time.
I say this now, but I can tell you that my behavior did not change. I know many people in the business have been classified with this title but I guess that’s what makes it funny. Just not to me, not at that time. It did, however, add a great deal to the non-marketing marketing program. And for that, it couldn't change.