Sunday, March 1, 2015

Whole "Common Core" Foods - They Standardized Deli Service, and Ruined It

Standardization is good and even necessary at times, right? Standard laws and rules and safety limits and measurements all make society more efficient and often more effective. But the value of standards isn't a given. Did the standardization of fast food by McDonalds improve food? Hardly. And that brings me to Whole Foods.

I love shopping at Whole Foods and have done so as often as possible for at least ten years. My Whole Foods is in southeast Denver on Hampden Avenue at Tamarac Square, and it is a truly glorious store. In fact, I think it was a bit of a flagship store for a while in Colorado, and our shopping experiences and service have always been exceptional ... until yesterday. While doing our weekly shopping we had the worst service experience ever while simply trying to order some deli meats and cheese, the same order we have placed for a long time. The problem is the store at Tamarac has moved the deli meats from the meat and cheese counter in the center to the prepared foods aisle along the side, and that has created a log jam of miscommunication and poor service, the likes of which I would never imagine from John Mackey's company.

Because the new location is alongside prepared foods and fresh sandwiches, the staff has no central focus and their "system" for taking orders ended with me waiting nearly 30 minutes for a half pound of ham, some mortadella, and ten slices of cheese. Having finished our shopping, we were ready to wrap up our trip and leave, as the deli meats order usually takes about five minutes while the workers at the cheese counter methodically take orders and fill them. "Prepared foods," on the other hand, had three different people filling orders, they were writing them down on "order sheets" which were laid out in no order, and they had no system for people stepping up to the counter. After waiting a few minutes, my wife went to check out. She finished and watched three customers who ordered after us check out before I finally came with my small deli order.

The cashier noted that I had "a free sample," which the clerk gave me to compensate for the delay, and when I explained the situation, a "manager" overheard and apologized as he explained the new "plan to standardize service" at more than a thousand stores. Apparently, ordering meats from a different department than "prepared foods" meant that, at some stores, they "never knew who was ordering what." And, that sounds like a completely ridiculous excuse for a company that is more than thirty years old. The manager also noted they are still training the prepared foods staff who "aren't used to slicing meats." So the obvious question is: why implement this disaster without full and proper training? When my wife was at the store last week, she witnessed some "corporate types" who were publicly discussing how the new design would "increase flow" and efficiency for people who get prepared foods and deli meats. And, that's simply absurd. What about the meat/cheese counter workers that we have known for years who know exactly what we like, how we like it, and who are already trained to cut meats.

This new system - and an apparent re-design of the store - is part of a plan to standardize, and it's simply a case of fixing what ain't broke. It's like the Common Core movement, which sought to address low performance at some schools with a stifling rigid new focus forced upon all schools. The store we had on Hampden Avenue worked very well. It was that "place where everybody knows your name." But the corporate reformers got a hold of it, and their plans to standardize have compromised service. Another example:  we've ordered Friday pizza specials for years with no problem. Last week, we called to order and were connected with a worker in "prepared foods" who had no idea how to take a pizza order. She thought we wanted frozen pizza, then pizza by the pound, then something else. And, she wasn't even sure how to direct our order to the guys making the pizza who we used to place orders with seamlessly.

And, thus, in a move to standardize service at all stores, Whole Foods has royally screwed up service at ours. And, had this been one of our first visits to Whole Foods, we might not return. Of course, if the problems continue, we'll probably revert to shopping at King Soopers which is closer. I don't really prefer King Soopers. But if Whole Foods wants to be more like fast food restaurants in its standardization of service, I might as well shop anywhere because the high quality of Whole Foods is being compromised in pursuit of a "common floor."

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