The Local Safeway Has Employee Issues, To Say The Least


Okay, there is a Safeway just around the corner, a seven minute walk for groceries and other household items. It is a very convenient store.

It is also a very annoying store. It appears to be the epitome of the bored, unmotivated workplace with uninterested employees who, if not watched over, avoid doing work.

Of course this is an exaggeration. Of course the new, not-yet-cynical employees are a joy to interact with. Of course.

And yet, my experience at this store, when I need to interact with one of the employees, is increasingly frustrating with one exception, the manager. As much as I despise self-checkout, at this store it is the only sane option, and even that fails miserably when you bump the bagging area and the whole system stops until a cashier comes over to push one button to say no, you didn't just try to steal a candy bar. Assuming said cashier is 1. around, 2. paying attention, and 3. actually willing to move over to your giant annoying self-service kiosk.

And yet, I digress from today's adventure.

Every once in a while, this particular Safeway store has a bottle of Nikka Coffey Grain or Hibiki Harmony in the locked whiskey case. When this happens, I find someone at the customer service counter who will unlock the cabinet, pull out the whiskey, walk it to a cashier, and hand the bottle to her. I will then wait in line to buy the bottle. On paper, this is an easy transaction.

Reality is much different.

Today, as I walked over to the customer service counter, there were four employees standing around talking and laughing. I must have had the "I'm going to ask you to do something" walk, because as I approached, all four of them turned and walked into the locked room behind the counter. Sadly, I am used to needing to wait at the counter, so I stood there. The three cashiers next to their registers all looked away when I made eye-contact. The self-service cashier ignored me entirely.

About couple minutes later, two of the four who went into the back room walked out and away, telling me I would be helped by one of the people in the room.

Okay. I continued to wait.

Two minutes later, another woman walked out. I asked, "Could you help me?"

"I'm on break, she'll help you," she answered, pointing back to the room behind her.

I waited for another four minutes, watching seven employees wander around, talking to each other, helping other customers. Eventually, the door opened, and the fourth woman walked out of the room. Glancing in, I saw the room was empty as the door closed. "Could you help me?"

"I'm off shift, she'll help you," she answered, pointing back to the room behind her.

"There's no one in the room. The previous three people who exited said you would help me. Who should I ask for help if you are all ignoring requests for help?"

She stopped. "Uh..." she said, looking around, "her." She was pointing to the third woman who had come out of the back room, who had told me she was on break, who clearly wasn't on break.

"She told me to ask you," I said.

"She did?"


At this point, either my body language was loud, or my voice was unintentionally loud, because an employee I had never seen before came bouncing up to me. "Can I help you?"

"You're new here, aren't you?"

"I am, yes."

"Thank goodness. I'd like help with a bottle of whiskey in the locked cabinet."

"Oh. Well, let me see, I think that's ________, she's over there," pointing again to the third woman who was walking hurriedly away from us.

"Yeah. Could you help me instead? She's one of four people who seem to be actively avoiding doing work."

"Yes, I can." Less than two minutes later, he had unlocked the cabinet, pulled out the bottle, relocked the cabinet, walked with me to the cashier, handed her the bottle, and chatted with me the whole way. What could have been a four minute, pleasant shopping experience was a 20 minute lesson in crappy customer service embodied by the continual abdication of responsibility. I'm okay waiting for 20 minutes, the waiting didn't bother me. The constant "That's not my job" attitude when it IS your job is what annoys me.

Yes, people have bad days, yes there are grumpy customers. And yes, sometimes the reason you have grumpy customers is because of the employee's behavior.

The Sprouts market a short drive away doesn't seem to have these customer service problems. Cause and effect, can we say?

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