It’s fair to say I have a negative brand impression of Safeway grocery stores. I think it goes all the way back to my childhood, too, when my mom would be forced to go to Safeway in the Montclair District of Oakland, CA. I loathed going to that store and I think my mom did too. The only times I ever recall her going there was when she either had to pick up clothes from the dry cleaners located in the upper parking lot of the Safeway or when Lucky’s didn’t have an item she needed. So maybe my Safeway aversion is ingrained like my bad cholesterol problem. Then again, I don’t think so.
My negative impression starts in Safeway’s parking lots. The spaces are narrow with little room to back out; the flow of traffic is senseless and maddening; and the lighting is so poor that I hold my keys in my fist as I’m sure I’ll be mugged at any moment. Now maybe the Safeway designers are just trying to create a linear experience because the interiors aren’t much different. The floors are unkempt and dirty with narrow aisles and awful lighting; there’s always a poor and narrow selection of brands; the produce seems of low quality; and the place is populated with unfriendly cashiers, painfully slow counter clerks and slightly creepy produce stockers.
Despite all that, we have a newly renovated Safeway in our area—one that The Boy (my son) and I have watched go from rubble to its new incarnation over the last year as we pass by it every morning on the way to daycare. So, being a fair-minded guy (whodda thunk it), I thought I’d give it a shopping chance, especially after the The Boy and I had briefly stopped in for some gelato earlier in the day. (Oh-la-la, gelato at the Safeway! Okay, it was low-grade gelato, but The Boy liked it.)
I came back to the store close to 5:30, fairly late on a Sunday for me as I like to have shopping done and be cooking by then. I pulled into the parking and found a wide—yes, wide—parking place for my Honda Pilot out in front and made my way inside.
I like to start off in the produce section, and this new one is grove-like big. Everything is well-organized and mostly makes sense. (Lemons in the produce refrigerator section? Really? Okay, I guess.) Each aisle I went down—and I went down each one like I was a tourist—was wide and long and filled with an equally wide selection of brands. I’m thinking, this is really, really good. Then I got really impressed. The Mexican/Hispanic food section, my favorite type of food to cook, was excellente! Aweeeeeeesome! Each shelf filled with items I can normally only find at the the mercado way down in Burien.
Ladies and gentlemen, my brand perception meter was pegging into positive territory!
Then I got to the deli counter.
I forgot to mention that I loathe any Safeway deli. I’d rather be stuck in the parking lot waiting for a 90-year old woman to pull out of her space then order something from the fucking Safeway deli. Like I said, the clerks are painfully slow bordering on flat stupid and, worst of all, they don’t carry Boar’s Head deli meats. And they preslice their meat, letting it sit in trays in the display. I hesitated. I could go to Thriftway and get my roast beef, cut to order. Really, I don’t have to do this. I looked around, and there was only one other woman waiting with her 8 or 9-year old son. The slices looked satisfactory. Okay, maybe I’ll give this a shot.
There was one Deli Dude working the counter, while other employees busily shuffled behind him. I waited while Deli Dude fulfilled this woman’s somewhat lengthy order.
“And that was….roast beef, right, ” he said to her. Yes, she replied. Crud. There wasn’t a ton of the nice looking roast beef left, just parts of slices and pieces so small it resembled meat confetti—or, meatfetii, as I was dubbing it in my head.
Just then he caught my eyes. “Hi, sir, I’ll be with you shortly. Just filling this order. My first day on the job. How are you?”
“Fine, thanks.” I could feel negativity begin to coarse through me. Oh crap. Your first day? Maybe it’s good the meat’s presliced. This could be a problem if the meat needs to be sliced given that meatfetti is all that’s left in the tray.
Just then, another clerk came up and asked if I’d been helped yet. I said nope, not yet. She asked for my order. I told her. She looked in the tray and told the new Deli Dude that he’d need to slice some more. Shit. She turned back to me and explained that they’d have to cut some. Please say that you’ll do it, you look like you’re experienced. Please? Ah, she’s undoing the meat and getting it ready to be sliced. Excellent! I turned away to watch the mom scold her boy who was being a bit of a pest. I fixated on his irritable nature and felt glad that I hadn’t brought The Boy along.
I turned around. Uh-oh, she’s gone. Where’d she go? Why isn’t the slicer going? Panic began to set in. I think the Deli Dude could tell. “We have to cut more meat, sir…be with you soon.” I nodded. Hm, two people at the counter. I knew this would happen. My brand meter was dipping back toward neutral.
Minutes passed, still no meat in a plastic bag. Be patient, be patient. I checked the time. I looked around at the cheeses. I looked other items. I Iooked at my iPhone. I had been at the counter for 8-9 minutes now. Where the fuck is my meat? The mom and her son were now gone. Brand meter slipping quickly into the red.
“We’re cutting your meat now, sir…” he said.
“I thought you were slicing it. Is it coming fresh off the cow?” I shot back, letting my dickishness shine. I shook my head and rolled my eyes skyward. Goddamnit. I knew I should have gone to fucking Thriftway.
After another two-plus minutes, my order was ready. “Here you go, sir. I’m sorry for the wait. It’s my first day.”
“Thanks,” I grumbled dickishly, taking the bag of meat. Then I looked at the bag. Oh Christ, you gotta be fucking kidding me? Half the bag was filled with the meatfetti the other lady had told him to set aside.
“Hey, this is mostly scraps of meat, friend. Meat confetti. Not cool.” I know my lips were pursed when I said it.
“I can cut some more…”
“No, ” I snapped, “I need to go. I’m late to cook dinner” I grabbed the bag and left.
I knew it, I fucking knew it. All Safeway delis suck ass. I went down another aisle trying to find the bacon, finally finding it after a minute or two. I should leave this fucking bag in the bacon. Stupid meatfetti shit. I really should just toss it right here. Nah, then people will wonder. After picking up the bacon, i looked at the list. Shoot, I need bread.
I went back to the bread section, which happened to be about 30 feet across from the deli. I got my bread and made my way toward the checkout. That’s when Deli Dude came bounding up to me.
“Sir, hi, I’m really sorry about the wait and how it was sliced. I have new roast beef. I hope this is okay.
I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say. I could feel my dickishness fade. I looked straight at him and smiled.
“Ya know….thanks, thanks very much. That was really thoughtful.” it was about all i could say.”I really appreciate this.” And I walked away with my bag of nicely sliced, meatfetti-free roast beef.
Well I’ll be damned. I smiled inside.
I knew he knew that I was cheesed off, and it took a lot of courage and humility for him to do that. My crusty old-man heart filled back with warm blood. Maybe Generation Entitlement & ADHD knows something about customer service and hustle after all.
I got to the cashier who was—surprise!—friendly.
“Did you find everything today, sir?” she asked.
“Yes, I did. Maybe even a little redemption for Safeway,” I chuckled. She looked at me quizzically and laughed, obviously unaware of recent events and my long history.
Note: I tried to find a manager but they weren’t available. I intend to stop by as soon as a moment allows.