Dumb-Ass, Stupid Management

You cannot make this up. Two case studies.

Last night, with the Patriots playing like the St. Agnes School for Girls and being pummeled by the Jets, and the Giants beaten so badly by the Colts that someone should have used the Little League mercy rule, my wife and I decided we needed ribs. So off we went to Smokey Bones, a very good local rib joint, complete with loud  noise and cheap drinks and amazing ribs.

Since we were able to park immediately in front of the place and there was no loitering crowd, I knew they weren’t packed. The hostess greets us and asks, “Would you like to sit at one of the high top tables?” I hate these, they are uncomfortable and in a lousy area. “No, I would not,” I reply.

“Are you sure?” she presses.

“Yes, I am,” I tell her.

She then confers with a colleague over tables on her chart, while I point out three empty booths right over her shoulder. “Don’t worry, we’ll find a booth,” she says, continuing the weegie board maneuvers on her seating chart.

When the assistant takes us to the back of the restaurant, I’m amazed to find 20 available booths.

“What was the big deal with the high tops?” I asked.

“Well, no one likes to sit there, so we try to convince people to use them.”

I am NOT making that up. That’s what she said.

“In other words,” I pointed out, “I’m such an unimportant customer, and you care so little about me and my returning here, that you deliberately try to seat me in your worst seats, not your best seats?”

“You got a booth, didn’t you?” she asked.

I wonder if we’re getting the inferior ribs, or the ones that dropped on the floor, or were suspected to harbor Mad Cow disease? Can management get any dumber?

Maybe so.

This morning, on line at the Dunkin Donuts drive-through, my wife spots her favorite, pumpkin coffee, which they only offer this time of year (which is itself pretty stupid, since it’s hugely popular). I order one for her with two sweeteners and cream. But as we pull away from the tinny mike, she sees a sign, “Pumpkin coffee is pre-sweetened.”

“Find out what’s in it,” she said.

At the window, I engaged in the following conversation with a woman in a nice Dunkin uniform and visor, and this is the actual conversation, so help me Abbot and Costello. (If you can, play Sinatra’s “They Got a Lot of Coffee in Brazil” in the background.)

ME: Did you put sweetener in the coffee already pre-sweetened?

HER: Yes, you asked for it.

ME: But you didn’t say it was already sweetened.

HER: You didn’t ask.

ME: What is it pre-sweetened with?

HER: Pumpkin.

ME: No, no—what’s in it?

HER: Pumpkin.

ME: Is the Pumpkin coffee pre-sweetened?

HER: Yes.


HER: Pumpkin.

ME: Is there a sweetener within the pumpkin coffee when you pour it?

HER: Yes.

ME: And what is that? Sugar? Sweet n Low?

HER: Pumpkin.

At this point my wife says, completely audibly, “Oh, dear God, the poor thing.”

ME: Are you telling me that it’s the natural sugars that are found in pumpkins?

HER: It’s pumpkin.

ME: But if it’s the pumpkin itself, then it’s naturally sweetened, not pre-sweetened?

HER: It’s not naturally sweetened, it’s pre-sweetened.

ME: With pumpkin, right?

MY WIFE: Take the coffee and let’s go.

HER: Have a nice day.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

32 thoughts on “Dumb-Ass, Stupid Management

  1. Our local Dunkin Donuts refuses to add to your order at the pickup window. They insist you go around to the speaker.

    Weird policy for a place that is in the business of selling more donuts and coffee.

  2. Thanks for the laughs Alan, how were the ribs in the end? Doesn’t everyone hate those pedestal table things?

    I know you know it is so much worse in England, I have told my wife that I won’t eat out now unless it is a well planned operation, something always goes wrong otherwise. I know it won’t last though, I am sure I’ll break.

  3. Alan,

    I never understood why a hostesses make the decisions they make when it comes to seating customers, especially when you can plainly see the empty booths as you’re marched passed them. The only thing I could come up with is it has something to do with the amount of wait staff they have on that day along with possibly insuring some level of tip distribution.

    But you’re encounter with the person at D&D was absolutely hilarious and clearly right out of Abbot & Costello’s who’s on first.

    What is disconcerting about both your examples is how people just don’t think and use common sense. This is a problem that is escalating on a significant level which is scary.

  4. I get frustrated sometimes too, Alan. But this seems like a communication failure on your part. How about this:

    ME: Did you put sweetener in the coffee already pre-sweetened?

    HER: Yes, you asked for it.

    ME: Oh, shoot. I didn’t realize it was pre-sweetened when I asked. Can I have a cup without the extra sweetener please?

    You expect the girl at the Dunkin Donuts drive through to understand your condescending questions and know what type of sweetener is in the Pumpkin mix, which probably comes in a plastic bag?? Look up the ingredients on your iPhone for crying out loud…this poor broke lady is just trying to keep from dumping the hot coffee in your lap! 🙂

    I second your wife’s statement:

    “Oh, dear God, the poor thing.”

  5. I’m thinking that the management at the restaurant probably instructs them to do that for Social Proof reasons. Looks a lot better when people are eating at the tables in plain view than hidden away in a booth somewhere. The real issue there is they need to train the waitress to have a better answer than that one.

    And now I am craving some Pumpkin Coffee. I think the reason it is so popular is because they only sell it this time of year. I know I look forward to it.

    As far as the girl behind the counter, I am guessing that is why she works at Dunkin Donuts.

    Here is a good one for you. I went to a Hot Topic store to purchase a shirt for the “To Write Love On Her Arms” non profit group. Here is what the girl at the counter said to me while making the purchase.

    Her: I think someone should shut this organization down.

    Me: Why?

    Her: Cause they are scamming people.

    Me: How are they doing that?

    Her: They say they are a non profit organization but they charge $25 for these shirts. If they were really non profit the shirts should only be about $5.

    Me: Well you know …. never mind. Have a great day!

    P.S. Dolphins will take care of those stinkin Jets this week.


  6. Seth, I don’t think you understood what I wrote. We didn’t want another one, my wife needed to know if there is sugar in the “pre-sweetened” coffee, because she doesn’t use sugar at all. The fact that the staff wasn’t trained, and perhaps too clueless, to know what “pre-sweetened” meant is the point.

    So you see, it wasn’t the extra sweetener and, on those plastic bags, they tell you what the ingredients are, which is the law. But, thanks for your value judgment.

  7. These are both interesting stories about service. I am curious why you decided to title the post “Dumb-Ass, Stupid Management” and not address the management issue in either story? In the former, what was your real issue? The fact the hostess had a poor response for attempting to put you in a certain style of table? Or the fact the restaurant utilizes that style of table in the first place?

    In the latter story, you seem to blame the $7/hr DD window worker for having poor communication skills. Is this really fair? Aren’t you the highly educated communication expert? Seems to me if you had simply requested to learn if there was sugar in the mix, you might have learned what you really wanted to know.

    By the way, these types of service failure frequently grind me to dust as well. Where is “management” when these things happen? Reminds me of an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (doesn’t matter which one), the owner/manager is usually blind to the service faults and has a list of 100 other things wrong which are causing their business to fail.

  8. I don’t think it’s funny. I think it’s sad. I think it’s a waste of talent and resources and emotions and a pitiful example of leadership. It’s why most operators refer to guests as customers instead of guests and why they see no difference between service and hospitality.

    How about we replay the DD incident and this time, instead of sugar, we insert an ingredient that the guest is allergic to? Still condescending? I really detest that “blame the customer” attitude.

    The good news is that I have plenty of potential work.

    @ Tim. The goal is to distribute guests evenly in order to ensure greater service to each guest – not in distibuting tips.

  9. Cary, the title of this entire category on my blog is DASM if you looked—Dumb Ass, Stupid Management. And whenever anything like this occurs, it’s ALWAYS a management problem. We’re just seeing the effects through front-line personnel.

    But I simply don’t tolerate stupidity at any level, and this is where I differ from you and Seth here. Just because someone is making a small salary is no reason for me to degrade them by assuming they can’t do any better. Most of them are doing quite well. These are the exceptions—that hostess as well—and they’re performing poorly. Too much time on Facebook? Not paying attention in school? Ignoring their own training? Just exercising poor judgment? Doesn’t matter.

    I would never assume, as you do, that a lower pay grade defines someone as inept.

  10. Most places I go give me the best possible table available. With the exception of reservations for specific tables, why on earth wouldn’t they do that?!

    • Because those places that give you the best table understand it’s about you, the guest. Those that don’t think it’s about them.

      One is based on seeing you as just another transaction, the other on understanding that you are much more. It’s the difference between service and hospitality.

  11. Seth – should companies expect their customers to be the communication experts? Surely not.

    Customer -One pumpkin coffee please, with sweetener and cream?

    Service – Do you know it comes pre sweetened?

    Anyway, I just wanted to know if the ribs where good – they are so hard to come by in London, I have started making my own – fun sometimes but a bit of a bind.
    I am the eternal hunt for the best ribs and cheeseburger, living in England doesn’t always help in this quest.

    • @Jim
      As a former Londoner (19 years, but now in Australia) I can tell you there used to be some great ribs in Spitafields Market, but I think that may not exist anymore. try searching for Bubba’s Ribs, I think they were called. Southern dude who also missed US-style ribs in London so started his own BBQ.

      And just because London is London, and not, for example, Chicago, don’t denigrate it for not having what you want. It is another country. You don’t go to smokeybones for Pizza so don’t blame London for not having US food. There is lots of brilliant food there, just not US-style food. Relax and expand your palette instead of going through a “well planned exercise” for dinner.

      • I remember Bubba well!

        I get your point Joe, I can eat out at a various restaurants my office is on Charlotte Street so it’s hard not too see the choice, it’s just the service or lack of that annoys me, did you not notice that when you lived here?

        I just wish I could get a decent burger (how would you like it cooked sir) and ribs sometimes that’s all. Not the end of the world and thanks for the advice

  12. Jim, the only decent burger I found in the entire UK was a place in the countryside, part of a chain that resembled something called TGI Friday’s in the US. (When I asked the server what kind of cheese was available, since cheddar on a burger is out of the question, she told me, “Melted, sir.”) You can get the chefs at the high end hotels to make one if they have a meat grinder.

    Ribs in the US are easier in some cities than others, but they are generally great if you go to the right places. The two major choices are the baby back and the Kansas racks. Hint: Do NOT smother them with all the sauces they provide, because they cover the flavor of the meat.

  13. Brillant – “melted”

    Here’s one to try, when asked by your hairdresser / barber, “How would you like your hair cut?”
    always answer -“In complete and utter silence.”

  14. I like hairdressers and bar tenders. I hate supercilious wait staff who tell me their life story and check on the food every five minutes with absolutely no conviction in their questions. If I’m unhappy, believe me, you’ll be the first to know. I won’t be sitting here afraid to bother you!

    • therefore she was right. it is ion the bag marked “Pumpkin”. gee only 23g of sugar… but then in the US I challenge you to find ANYTHING that does not have sugar, sweet or savory, all the same, stacked with sugar of one sort or another.

  15. I’m still so busy laughing at your post that I can barely add my comment!

    Well I’m glad to see they no longer do what used to happen to me quite frequently when I would take my staff out to lunch.You’d be pretty much be guaranteed a seat near the restrooms at lunch time when dining with other females, regardless of how full or empty the restaurant was. The check would always be handed to the male, regardless of how he was dressed!

  16. I recently went to the deli counter at a local supermarket and asked for 3/4 pound of sliced turkey breast. The clerk began to load the scale then froze in bewilderment — the scale was marked in ounces and she couldn’t find a 3/4 pound reading! I finally said, “I’ll just take 12 ounces.” Your wife was right — poor thing.

  17. Thanks, my wife doesn’t want anything with sugar. It’s pre-sweetened with sugar. It’s unacceptable that the staff doesn’t know that, though some commenters here think that’s a problem with MY communications skills!!

  18. Someone, somewhere, mentioned that I should expand my range and allow for “non-US food” in London. I’ve been to 58 countries, I doubt you have, and I’ve eaten in all kinds of restaurants. There are great restaurants in London that are French, and Argentinian, and Brazilian. There are only a handful of Scott’s and “English” restaurants of that caliber. That’s simply my factual experience. Nothing about restricting myself to US food!

  19. Alan – not English as such, but there is a fabulous Scottish restaurant in London, Boisdale of Belgravia (close to Victoria station). It does excellent food, including haggis and steaks. More importantly, it has a huge range of Scotch and a heated cigar terrace.

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