Wednesday, March 25, 2009

3-25-09: Eat the Penny

This is a quick letter I wrote about a visit to Panera this morning. It's my latest battle in my crusade towards better customer service in the food service industry. I've since cooled my jets quite a bit, and won't likely actually send them the letter:


To the Panera Management:


        On the morning of Wednesday, March 25th, I decided to change my routine a bit and stop by Panera in Shelton for a bagel with cream cheese and a coffee on my way to work. I've visited your establishment many times in the past, usually for your delicious sandwiches, but not very often in the morning. I must compliment you on your bagels, by the way, and your coffee is always fresh.

        But I am slightly alarmed by your customer service. Now, let me start by saying that this is in no way a criticism of the friendliness of the staff; it's more of a business mentality observation. You will see via the attached receipt that the total for my purchase of a bagel with cream cheese and a small coffee came out to $4.01. To my dismay, I didn't have any small change on me, so I gave the cashier a $20 bill. Now, normally, at other stores like your competitor down the street, there might be a "Give a Penny, Take a Penny" contraption on the counter for these situations. Alas, there isn't one at your establishment.

        Instead of a "Give a Penny, Take a Penny," I was greeted by two employees, one the cashier, the other a kitchen employee who didn't look quite awake enough to accurately count out my change. The not-so-awake employee was asked by the cashier, for whatever reason, to count out the 99 cents and return it to me along with the rest of my change. I commented, in jest, "Could I owe you a penny later or are you really going to count out the 99 cents?" The not-so-awake employee, in a not-so-awake manner, replied "I guess I have to."

        Now, I ask you this: is it worth the penny? For two reasons, I say it isn't.
First, having two employees stand there while one counts my change and the other watches, while there are no other customers in line for the cashier to serve, probably costs the business more than $0.01. If these two employees both earn, for argument's sake, $8 an hour, that 30 seconds of dead time costs the business $0.13 in wages. The penny is therefore negligible, and neither employee is being productive.

        Second, I, the customer, was standing there watching this transpire. I even commented on it. I now think a bit less of Panera's customer service, and it's all because of one measly penny! Instead of changing my routine to visit Panera once a week in the morning, I might now only go once a month. Had I been told "Oh don't worry about it, it's just a penny," and received $16 in change, I'd remember it in a positive way and would definitely visit Panera more often in the morning. And, on top of that, you'd have two more productive employees who wouldn't be standing around collectively counting 99 cents.

        I realize this sounds insane, but I guarantee my experience is not unique. My co-worker told me a remarkably similar tale of one of his recent visits to your establishment, and he was the first person I spoke to when I got into work with my delicious Panera food.

        All I am suggesting is that you please either change your prices to come out to even dollar amounts, or you look into a "Give a Penny, Take a Penny" contraption (doubtful seeing that it wouldn't really fit well in the Panera d├ęcor), or simply "eat" the penny. I doubt these transactions happen too frequently for it to "add up quickly," and I'm sure it will help with customer relations. You'll get far more out of the penny than you think.

        Again, I enjoy your products very much. This is just a small suggestion to make your business even better. Thank you kindly for your time.

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