How Much is Your Cost Cutting Costing You?

Imagine the following scenario:  It’s 6:00 pm on a Sunday evening in January.  Outside, it’s dark, cold, snowy and blowy. Inside the fast-food restaurant it’s bright and warm.  The restaurant is entirely empty, except for the young lady working that evening. The door opens and four people hurry in, talking, laughing.

The young lady moves forward as the group approaches the counter.

Lady 1:  “How are you doing today?” (Big smile, cheerful tone of voice)

Young lady:  “Awful.  I’m sick, shouldn’t even be here but nobody would come in an cover my shift.”  (Frown and shrug, pull out disposable plastic gloves and pull them on)

Lady 1:  “Oh.  I’m sorry to hear that.” (Sound and look a little taken aback at the response)

Young lady:  “What can I get you?” (Abrupt.  Look at lady 1)

Lady 1:  “A spinach salad please.”

Young lady:  “We don’t have a spinach salad.  We use iceberg lettuce.” (Do not look at lady 1.  Turn away and start getting bowls, tools ready to make salad)

Lady 1:  “Oh, when I was at a different location, I could get spinach.” (Disappointed, but not argumentative)

Young lady: “I can’t do that.  The owner is getting mad at how much spinach we are using.” (Firm tone, another shrug of shoulders)

Lady 1:  “I don’t mind paying extra.” (Hopeful)

Young lady: “Spinach salad is not on our menu.  I can’t make you a spinach salad. If you want to add some to the iceberg letter, I can do that.” (Firm, stern look at lady 1)

Lady 1:  “Ok.  Well, then, I’d like cucumbers, tomatoes and green peppers in my salad.”

Young lady:  “No spinach?” (Look at lady 1, quizzical tone of voice, raise eyebrow)

Lady 1: “Yes and spinach.”

Young lady add iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes to a large bowl. Picks up small paper bowl with five spinach leaves in it and adds to salad.

Lady 1 looks at the five leaves of spinach, looks at her colleagues, looks back at the five leaves of spinach, sighs and shakes her head.


As you’ve probably guessed, I didn’t make this up.  On Sunday I, along with three other colleagues, needed to grab a quick bite to eat.  This restaurant was near by and it offered salads. Two big pluses. Unfortunately, not one of us got what we came for.

It’s also rather tempting to start judging the young lady working that evening.  I admit that’s where I went at first.  

It was pretty obvious she did not want to be there. Could she have done a much better job of serving us? Absolutely.  There is no denying that, but that’s taking the easy way out.  What responsibility does her manager or owner have in all of this? 

She had been told to only give out five spinach leaves in each order.  That’s putting her in a rather difficult situation. What direction / support were the employees given on how to handle those requests when they came in?

I also have to wonder what else the manager or owner is doing to save money from an internal customer perspective? Is employee recognition and reward considered a waste of time and money?  Is the store adequately staffed during busy times or are the staff expected to make it work?  What kind of training and support do they receive?  Is it enough or are they thrown in before they are ready?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, but that moment reinforced my belief that before I take on a job training staff on how to better serve the customer, I need to be sure that they are being served well by their management team.

(I also wonder at how much it costs to do all that portioning, never mind the cost of each bowl that was then thrown away once the spinach was used.  And what is the cost of a lost customer?  How much are  they saving by refusing to serve more than five spinach leaves?)