You Can’t Handle My Order!

Susanne Skinner is on hiatus today.
Her regular Monday blog post will resume soon.
In the meantime, Aline is filling in.

 Well, it happened to me again yesterday.

After my morning water aerobics class, I stopped at Panera Bread for breakfast. At the counter, I spoke slowly and clearly to the sales associate so it would be easy for her to handle my order.

Panera Bread, oatmeal with strawberries, breakfast “I would like a medium coffee and the steel-cut oatmeal with strawberries, pecans and topping, please. For here.”

“Medium coffee,” she replied and gave me my cup. So far, so good. Then, perplexed, she asked, “And you want oatmeal with some strawberries?”

I pointed at the menu above us. “I want the steel-cut oatmeal with strawberries, pecans and topping.” I repeated.

“Oh.” She punched in that order. Then she said the predictable, “For here or to go?”


Handle My Order: Blah, Blah, Blah

Gary Larson, What We Say, What Dogs Hear, Far SideI can’t tell you how many times this happens during interactions with retail salespeople and restaurant staff. That’s why I speak slowly and clearly. I can only hope that the person on the other side of the counter will listen attentively and handle my order correctly. More often than not, however, he or she performs a variation of what I call the “Blah, blah, blah,” order.

It’s from Gary Larson’s famous Far Side cartoon in which a dog listens to its master chastising it. The dog hears only its name because that’s the only word  relevant to it. The rest is just blah, blah, blah. We think this cartoon is funny because, well, it’s a dog.

In the case of retail sales and food service, however, I’m dealing with real human beings who seem incapable of listening to and remembering more than one word at a time.

You Want Fries with That?

I don’t blame Panera Bread: they’re doing the best they can with the candidate pool they’ve got. It is possible that Saturday’s encounter involved a trainee just learning the job. Yet blah-blah orders happen everywhere. Can they all be trainees? Here’s the another restaurant version.

Hamburger with lettuce, tomato and onion, ordering kiosksMe: “I would like a hamburger, medium rare, with lettuce, tomato and onion. I would like cole slaw instead of fries and an iced tea, please.”
Employee: Hamburger. How would you like it cooked?
Me: Medium rare.
Employee: Would you like anything on it?
Me: Lettuce, tomato and onion, please.
Employee: Do you want any cheese on that?
Me: No cheese.
Employee: And you want fries?
Me: No fries, cole slaw, please.
Employee: Would you like something to drink?


One Thought at a Time

How have we reached a point where people (mostly young, gender irrelevant) simply can’t listen to and absorb a sentence that includes more than one thought? Do they get any training? Does the store or restaurant manager ever explain that it’s important to listen to the customer and thus provide excellent customer service? Does the manager even know?

I have written more than one post about how kiosks are taking over jobs formerly done by real humans and why that is not a good thing. I’m beginning to reconsider.

Ordering by Kiosk

Panera Bread has ordering kiosks, as do an increasing number of fast-food restaurants. Usually I ignore them, preferring to deal with a person and demonstrate the value of that person’s job.

Panera Bread order kiosk, handle my orderNow I think I would rather go up to a kiosk and place the order I want the first time, all by myself, than engage in this repetitive — and frustrating — verbal dance.

I begin to understand why employers say they can’t find good people to hire, even though the candidates are clean, have a high school diploma and speak English.

Saving American Jobs

Never having been a teacher, I don’t know what goes on in the classroom. I can easily imagine, however, that none of the students are paying real attention. They save all that for texting their friends. Maybe next time, I should text my order and avoid the blah, blah, blah..

Donald Trump wants to save American jobs by building a wall but what’s the point of saving jobs if Americans can’t put together enough little grey cells to do them competently? Corporations want to save money by paying minimum wage (or less) but that won’t attract even marginally competent workers.

You want my order? You can’t handle my order!










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About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. Aline’s articles have also appeared on the Atlas Obscura website. She has been an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America since 1988 and is a long-term member of the Spacecrafts science/fantasy writers’ group. As a tour guide, Aline leads architectural and historical walking tours of the city for Boston By Foot, ghost tours for Haunted Boston and historical bus tours of the city. She lectures on Boston history and has appeared in the Boston Globe, as well as on TV for Chronicle, an award-winning television program that broadcasts stories of New England. As a lecturer, Aline has spoken at Brandeis and Tufts universities for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She has also addressed as service organizations and local meetings. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

1 thought on “You Can’t Handle My Order!

  1. Generations of teaching ideology and “Critical Theory” instead of “critical thinking” bearing fruit.

    While at MWCC, the older students who had some school-of-hard-knocks experience were uniformly attentive, asked great questions, and were focused. The few younger ones I had were scattershot – some were good, but some not.

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