Tuesday, November 13, 2007

As Promised: The Herald Angel Must Die!

Would it hurt to keep Christmas in December?
Food Place have been exceptionally kind to us this year. They delayed the onslaught of Christmas carols and pop songs until 8 November. That's a whole week of delay that we don't usually get. We're usually straight into Christmas after Halloween.

When I think about it, working at a supermarket helps you to divide the year up into chunks. Boxing Day marks the arrival of Easter with a short respite in early February for Valentine's Day. On Easter Monday we set about changing the ransacked seasonal aisle for the next 'event'. Gone are the cute yellow chicks hatching out of giant eggs, in is Mr Sunshine. Yes, it's summertime. At the end of August, the summer stock halves to make room for Back to School, abruptly followed by Halloween with Christmas hot on it's heels.

Maybe this is the reason it feels like I'm on the fast-lane to being an OAP? And talking of old-age, I notch another year soon. On Sunday the 25th, I turn 22. How depressing. Well, probably considerably less depressing than being 45 and realising you're probably north of the halfway mark (which means I'm, most probably, more than a quarter of the way through my life). Or, worse still, being 75 and knowing the million-year-nap could commence at any moment.

How did Christmas carols lead into old-age and death? Well, let's continue with the theme of death for a little while.

The death, by brutal means, of: Santa Claus; reindeer; herald angels; choirs of children singing their songs who've practised all year long; cheap lousy faggots and old sluts on junk (they've failed to censor Fairytale of New York again); spacemen travelling through the sky; the Wombles of Wimbledon (just what is that all about? Are we in 2007 or 1974?); and Cliff Richard.

What I mean by this gibberish is this: if I hear one more Christmas song, I may not be responsible for my actions.

That's not to say I don't like them. But surely they're suited to a particular, and special time of the year? Christmas perhaps? I mean, come on. It's not even the middle of November, it's still autumn, there's no sign of snow and most people (by this, I mean me) haven't even thought about Christmas shopping yet. So why do we have to listen to this endless stream of seasonal cheer? To get us into the mood? Well that's all well and good. I do, perhaps, have momentary lapses into the Christmas mood. But then I remember that there's still six weeks left.

The solitary exception to this grumble is Elton John's Step into Christmas. I'd quite happily drape myself in tinsel and sing along to that one in mid-April. Oh, and there's Stop the Cavalry. But I'm sure I read somewhere that it wasn't intended as a Christmas song, so we'll discard that one.

And it's not just the songs. The store has already been embellished with tacky decorations and huge banners advertising Christmas food. We've even got the obligatory tinsel draped around the checkout poles (you know it's cheap and nasty, I know that too - but the customers like it).

What's the point in moaning about it? It's all around me and I might as well just start bopping along to all these 'timeless classics' and live for Christmas Day.

Any other business?
Given that I've just rambled on about Christmas and death at length, you've probably guessed that Food Place is not offering anything exciting to blog about at the moment. As I've mentioned, it's probably down to me only being there part-time now. I only work during the busiest times. I go in, do my tasks, and go home. There's very little time for gossip, dumb customers or stupid colleagues.

I suppose one thing worth mentioning is that Terry forbade me to leave the cash office or step down out of my supervisor role. Instead, I was promised the earth: "There will be no more bitching, backstabbing, ill-feeling and you'll get all the support you need." So far, so good. But just wait until the next time I, accidentally, ruffle the feathers of a cash-office colleague.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Revenge on Customers Amongst Other Things

OK, it's gone past a joke now. No posts in twenty days! What is the world coming to? I'll tell you what - exhaustion. My university has seen fit to schedule all but one of my lectures in a 9.00am slot, and I think I've mentioned before that I'm crap at mornings, and the one day I don't have a lecture to get up for, I do a 7:00am start at Food Place. So, what with that and doing all my private study, when I get a spare moment all I can think about is my warm, cosy bed.

But today, in the midst of reading week, I've decided to set aside some time to get something published on this blog. My archive is cluttered up with half-finished and barely-started posts that I've optimistically set about writing in study breaks and after Food Place shifts. I suppose I'll finish them off sooner or later, but for now you'll have to settle for a mish-mash of work-related ideas that I've got running through my mind.

Revenge on Customers

Whilst helping out on the kiosk yesterday, I got talking to Debbie about scoring cheap victories over nasty customers. The conversation made me realise what a fairy I've become. Since becoming a supervisor, I've forgotten how fun it is to be subtly, or even pointedly, rude to stroppy customers. I'm far too nice to them; maybe I should return to the glory-days of being a not-a-care-in-the-world-part-timer who didn't give a toss about pissing off the nasty people.

Here's just a couple of things the conversation turned up:
  • When a customer places cash payment onto the desk rather than into your hand. These days, I think to myself "how rude" and proceed as normal. In the olden days, I'd get irate and slam their change onto the counter in return. Sometimes I'd even omit to thank them for their custom.
  • When customers sneakily bring 50+ items through the '10 items or fewer' tills. Nowadays, you'd be very lucky if I so much as offered a polite reminder of the item-limit for next time. Too scared of causing offense. Back then, I'd get revenge for their deliberate ignorance by hurling their shopping through so fast that we'd run out of space in the packing well before giving them the smug "this is why it's a ten-items only till" lecture.
  • When customers ask stupid questions. I've become far too patient and tolerant of their idiocy. In yesteryear, if a customer asked where the frozen chips were I'd have said "well you could try over there in the freezers." The fairy-queen me of today would say, "oh, frozen chips just over this way, follow me, are these the ones you want? There's crinkle cut ones here too!"
  • When customers lie. They do this a lot. In the past, I'd have came out and called a shovel a shovel. "No, you didn't ask for x, I clearly heard you, and you asked for y" or "you did not pick this up from the Buy One Get One Free Display because I watched you take it from the shelf over there!" Now, I go for the easy life and kiss their ass. "Oh, I'm so sorry I must have misheard you."

See what being a supervisor has made me? It's turned me into a customer-is-always-right freak! Well, not exactly. It's turned me into the type of shop assistant that holds it all in and blogs about it.

Food Place Catch-up

I'm not seeing nearly as much of the place, and I already feel a little cut-off from 'the crack'. I never seem to find out what's going on anymore and I don't even manage to catch the nasty customers.

About the only interesting event to note is the music-system malfunction. It usually does a very good job of playing a nice variety of tunes and not looping them round too often. But last week it decided to start playing a particularly long version of 'Kelly Watch the Stars' on a loop. For five days. Just when I was one more play away from learning every single note of the song, it unceremoniously launched into 'Whatever Happened to Corey Haim' and hasn't gone back to old Kelly ever since. Perhaps the system was updating itself ready to start throwing Christmas songs at us next week? It's bound to happen. It's usually on or around November 1st. So the next post I write is likely to be titled 'Stick the bloody partridge and it's pear tree where the sun don't shine!'

The cash office politics have flared-up once more. I'm once again in the position of being afraid to make mistakes, lest somebody else go poking through the paperwork looking for them. That isn't the worst part - I freely admit to making mistakes. It's only natural that the odd procedure goes tits-up when I'm rushing to get back to supporting the checkouts. What really bothers me is that certain individuals are taking their findings back to Terry and trying to make me look incompetent. I know it's unlikely he'll think any less of me for it. He's told me numerous times that he likes having a cash office supervisor who would rather be on the shop floor than locked in a lime-green-cell upstairs. All my mistakes ever amount to is money being in one place when it should be in another. And it's usually a case of one till being £10 down and another till £10 over. It's not as though I'm losing hundreds of pounds!

For a long time I thought our store was different. Other Food Places have their cash offices staffed by old Margarets and Joans who bicker and argue all day long and spend hours doing what can be achieved in 20 minutes. I always liked the way the cash office was a small-job in our store. All it ever amounted to was a couple of hours a day following laid-down procedures and it was operated entirely by younger staff and -unusually - three out of four of them were male. But now, people have left and bickering old women are back on the scene. You can imagine the rest.

I'd probably feel a lot better about things if I'd taken the time to vent some steam by blogging about it. As it is, I've bottled it all up and feel pretty depressed about work again. I'm thinking about speaking to Terry to find out whether he'll allow me to work my hours just supervising the checkouts. I don't want any of this cash office hassle now. Either that or I wait until there's a vacancy for kiosk staff and ask to be demoted.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Cashier, In the Canteen, With the Lead Piping

Internet Woes
If you’d been wondering why I’ve been quiet over the past few days (not that long periods of time without posts is anything unusual for this blog), then please look to my internet ‘service provider’ for an explanation. What I mean by this, I’m sure you’ve already gathered, is that they haven’t been providing a service to me. At all. I’ve had green ‘LINK’ lights blinking at me for several days. I’d given up hope and was playing a game of Solitaire – face it, what other uses does a PC with no internet connection have? – when my anti-virus software unceremoniously launched it’s web-update function. A connection, at last.

Back to Food Place...It's probably not such a bad thing that my internet deserted me this week because, quite frankly, until today there was nothing to write about. Another week of everybody behaving themselves and no real problems emerging.

But today was something else.

Ringing Bells
Every now and then, the checkout staff at Food Place will take it upon themselves to have a bell ringing day. They ring for extra change, they ring for product replacements, they ring to say they've broken their till, they ring to say they can't send a pod, they ring to say they've dropped their pen on the floor and could I pick it up please. These days invariably coincide with days when I have a lot of other things to be getting on with.

There's nothing worse than trying to do the wages and being interupted every three seconds by a cashier ringing for your assistance. What could they possibly want? I ask myself. I've given them all change and left my keys with the front-end runner. How can they need me? Still, I'd better go down and see what they want...

"Andrew, I think I've just short-changed somebody," a dopey cashier informs me.


"A customer."

"NEVER! I mean, which customer?"

"Oh she's gone now."

So you really thought this was such a huge emergency that you needed to call me away from a very pressing task to tell me all about it!? As a matter of fact, you haven't even told me about it, all you've done is given me a vague outline of the events. Do you even know how much you've messed your till up by? Probably not. Because you're away with the fairies, as per bloody usual!

I tell the fool she'll have to wait until the end of her shift to find out. No way am I interrupting my long list of tasks to pull the drawer off and spot-count it.

The bells continued to ring in very much that fashion all day. Stupid questions, dumb mistakes, false alarms. By the time I'd finished the wages it was a miracle I had any hair left. More so that none of it had turned grey. I was seriously ready to batter the next idiotic cashier to ring a bell to death. Brutal murder at Food Place.

You may recall that some months ago - God it feels like yesterday - we got a new department manager. He immediately got on everybody's nerves, rattled cages left, right and centre and showed himself to be nothing but an arrogant fool.

Now, I can't remember whether I bothered to blog about the enormous improvement in his attitude and conduct. I probably didn't since this blog tends to focus on negative (more interesting) things. Basically, he was given a stern telling-off by Terry and he immediately bucked his ideas up. He started taking an interest in all of the store functions. Asking people about their jobs, watching them at work, asking for training and then, finally, offering to support us. It was actually beginning to become quite a pleasure to work with him.

Well he's gone and stamped over all of that now.

For the past week, he's done nothing but interfere, poke his nose in, complain and, generally, get in the way. Every corner I've turned he's been there, ready to criticise everything I'm doing. Most notably, he keeps banging on that I'm "relying too heavily" on his staff to cover checkouts at busy times.Well excuse me. I thought we were all a team here? Since when do any of us belong exclusively to one department? Since never. We're all there to run a supermarket - whatever that entails for us, be it serving on tills, baking bread or putting out stock.

Perhaps I should tell the checkout staff to stop filling and facing the cosmetics section? He forgets about things like that see. The cosmetics aisle is part of the grocery department, and should be replenished the same way. But no - "the lads on shopfloor" now don't do toothpaste and shampoo. When Terry came to Food Place, he put a lot of work into breaking down the old divide of "lads on the floor, lasses on the tills". Robert is now stamping all over that. He thinks fiddling around trying to balance tiny boxes of headache tablets is beneath the dignity of his "lads" (never mind the seven women who work primarily on grocery). If it's lighter than a 24 pack of lager, it's not hard enough 'graft' for them.

The man is just grating on me - badly. It was so bad on Sunday that I couldn't face getting him to sign off the weekly accounts. The duty manager has to do this - basically it's confirmation that a manager has viewed the cash sheet, checked for discrepancies and given it their approval. I just could not bear the thought of inviting him into the office. He'd stay there all day and droan away about a load of crap. And I'd end up killing him in cold blood.

Well that just about sums up Food Place at the moment. I'm preparing a post about the dumb things that customers do. Nothing fresh, I hear you saying. But I promise they'll all be hitherto unmentioned antics. Things that really make my blood boil. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

"I know my rights!"

Oh, I really should never get going about this type of customer. You know them, the kind that, upon failing to get their own way by kicking and screaming, will resort to inventing their own consumer protection laws.

It's a subject that can arise at any time. We often get customers who will attempt to play the legal card for the smallest of problems.

Wrong Price, Wrong Label
A very good example of this occurred last week. A gentleman had picked up a bottle of wine - one of the more expensive ones we sell - and taken it to the till. It scanned at £10.99, which resulted in a huge tantrum.

"The shelf said £6.99!" he protested.

Cue supervisor calls and checks being made. We located the item on the wines section and it was merchandised next to a price label that clearly stated the name of the wine in question and said £10.99. It wasn't long before the man came stomping up the aisle, pointed at an empty space, three shelves along, and insisted: "This is where I got it from. Look. The ticket says £6.99!"

"Yes, but that space is for the Hardy's Stamp variety, as it says on the label there. I can only guess that somebody has picked up the bottle you took and put it back in the wrong place. The price for the bottle you have is stated over here where it belongs - £10.99," I explained patiently.

I wasn't being a jobsworth. If there had been a whole case of this particular wine merchandised against the wrong price tag, I would usually admit that it had been a replenishment error and refund the difference in price. But when there clearly hasn't been a mistake made by the staff, I won't give refunds willy nilly.

"BUT IT WAS NEXT TO A TAG THAT SAID £6.99!" the gentleman roared in my face.

I calmly explained that the name of the wine that is £6.99 is stated on the label - and it wasn't the one he'd picked up.

"But you have it on the shelf at that price, therefore you are legally obliged to give it to me at that price!"

Oh my bloody God, not this again. You may recall I was reduced to tears by an evil customer whilst having the exact same conversation some months ago (here). As soon as somebody gets it into their head that they're legally entitled to something, they won't budge. Never mind the fact that they're completely wrong.

I remained as diplomatic as I could be: "If the ticket next to the wine you picked up bore the name of that wine, I would refund the difference. But it doesn't. The ticket says that £6.99 is the price for another wine. This one is £10.99. Would you like to chose a different one?"

He continued protesting that I was breaking the law and promised to call Trading Standards about it. I don't really know why I bothered putting up such a defense, because if it gets back to Food Place HQ, they'll only back down and shower him with gift vouchers to apologise for his trauma.

Electrical Goods
This post is being written thanks to an incident today that involved an electrical appliance.

This is, by a long way, the worst product category for producing angry, refund-demanding customers. I've seen it all - people demanding that they're legally entitled to a refund on a product despite having absolutely no proof of purchase, people demanding refunds for toasters that broke when they 'fell off' their worktops. Yes, I'm sure your toaster jumped onto the tiled floor! One man, upon being refused a refund for a DVD because it wasn't faulty, proceeded to remove it from it's box, right in front of us, and run a scratch down it with his car key! He actually thought that would help his case?

Today's incident was less dramatic, however. A lady brought back a small kettle, not boxed, and informed us that it had stopped working. OK, I thought, this should be nice and straight-forward.

"Do you have your receipt with you?"

"Yes, it's just here," she said, pulling out a slip of paper. As soon as I saw it, my heart sank. It was a yellowed, tatty slip of paper that had clearly been printed on our old impact-receipt-printers - when the store was operated by its previous owner. Knowing that we'd had thermal printers for at least three years, I knew right away that this product was far too old to be refunded as faulty.

"OK, when was this purchased?"

"Er, will it have the date on the receipt? I can't see, you look." She handed it to me.

"Right. You bought this kettle on the 6th October. Two thousand and one. Six years ago."

She looked at me, waiting for the refund. That she certainly wasn't getting.

"I'm afraid we only guarantee electrical goods for one year from the date of purchase."


"We will only refund items in store that were bought less than a year ago. Any faults that develop beyond that are covered by the manufacturers guarantee - which is usually just two years as standard."

"But I've paid you for this kettle! It doesn't work! I want my money back!"

"Well I'm not arguing that it doesn't work.." - it didn't look too healthy - "...but it has been in working order for six years. That's a bloomin' good life for a kettle in my experience." Particularly one that only cost you four pounds and ninety-nine-bloody-pence!

She wasn't amused: "Get me the manager! Trading Standards need to know about this!"

Terry was called. He told the woman exactly what I'd just told her. The product had clearly reached the end of its working life and needed replacing. He even offered to show her the ones we have in now. But no. She continued to demand her money back. By the time she'd finished ranting I was ready to grab a new kettle, throw it in her face and scream "THERE! Take it you tight-fisted old vulture!"

Once again, she promised, Trading Standards would be hearing about us!

Personal Property
We've had a lot of cases of customers telling us we're liable for damage to their property. None more unpleasant than the lady who had her bicycle stolen from the racks outside the store (which are on the street and have nothing to do with the store). She ranted at us for about twenty minutes whilst waiting for the police to arrive, insisting we pay her £300 immediately. She tripped herself up, in mid-rant, by admitting that she hadn't put a chain on the bloody thing!

Once again, though, she was absolutely convinced that we were liable for any damage to her property. We're not. There are signs all over the exterior of the store and around the car park, that vehicles are left there at the risk of the owner. Now I can't be sure of the legality of these notices, but I'm pretty certain Food Place wouldn't put them up if we were in fact liable for such theft or damage.

You Can't Throw me out!
A lot of people seem to be under the impression that they have an automatic Human Right to enter Food Place and do whatever they like. A few years ago, a middle-aged woman was heard, by several people, making racist remarks about one of our cashiers. A few people complained to the duty-manager and the woman was asked to leave the store.

"You can't tell me to leave! This is public property! Make me!"

What? Public property my arse!

In the end, the police were called, the woman was escorted to the office and issued with a life-long ban on entering any of Food Place's stores. She continued protesting, and began repeating her racist insults, in front of the police, and ended up being prosecuted. Turns out she was a council worker and ended up losing her job, as well as being plastered over the local newspaper.

Bet she wishes she'd kept her big mouth shut now.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fame at Last

Well, hardly. I was mentioned in the Guardian's blog roll. Big thanks to Al for pointing this out to me as I hadn't noticed - I actually read the Guardian on that day too! It was only a small mention, but in the three days since there's been an extra 100 visits per day. Not bad. So, to any new readers, welcome and I hope you enjoy what I've got to say about working at Food Place.

Which isn't a great deal at the moment...

The most boring week ever?
Perhaps it's because I'm not spending much time there recently, but Food Place has been such a dull place over the past week. The customers have all been perfectly well behaved, none of my colleagues have got on my nerves - though that's definitely got a lot to do with spending less time in their company - and Food Place haven't moved the shop around or installed new equipment.

To add to this tedium, I haven't had any stressful days. I've gone to work, got on with my daily tasks and routines, gone home again. No staff sickness, no workload of fiddly, time-consuming admin tasks that everybody else considers themselves too important to do. Even the wages were a doddle this week - not one person forgot to swipe and virtually everybody worked their flat contract - no overtime to process at all. Hitherto unheard of. I know I don't like stress when I'm experiencing it, but it does, at least, give me something to blog about.

So, no crack (as we say in these parts).

Time Management
You may recall my post that dealt with the new, and extremely unfair, attendance management system that Food Place is introducing across all of its stores next month (here). I'm pleased to announce that my prediction was, predictably, correct. There was mass-outrage and a never-ending stream of hypothetical scenarios were put forward by store managers that rubbished the system. What if there's a queue at the swipe machine? What if somebody is late for a genuine reason? What if somebody is at work on time, but is harassed by a customer en route to the swipe machine?

As a result of this, Food Place have backed down on the original proposal to force staff to swipe at very precise 15 minute intervals. We will now have a three-minute leeway. So if we swipe at twenty-seven minutes past, we'll be paid until half past.

A result.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Yet Another Catch-Up Post

It's been a while since I last posted and there are several reasons for this. First and foremost, I've started my university course over the last couple of weeks, so I've been settling into that. Another reason is that I've been ill. I was struck down (how dramatic) with a sickness bug - the sort that leaves you with bad chest pains caused by overly energetic vomiting. The other reason is, I've been so sick to death of Food Place that I completely lost my sense of humour about working there. But that's, hopefully, buried now, so I can get back to normal.

The frequency of my posts might well decline from now on. I've got my degree to think about and I'm still, rather foolishly, trying to cram in 27 hours of Food Place a week. I'm actually feeling a lot more confident that I can cope with this now that I've got started with it. My university timetable is pretty forgiving and, considering that I can work the majority of my hours over the weekend, I can still get another three shorter shifts in through the week and still get a day-off from both education and work - although it's probably going to end up being my 'frantic independent study day'.

So, back to Food Place...
The atmosphere at work has improved dramatically. Whether it's because I haven't been there as much or whether it's to do with people calming down, I'm not sure. I'm just happy that things have settled onto an even keel.

The first point to note: the powers that be have decided to make yet more changes to our store. Not content with doing a full refit early this year, installing new freezers in March, removing the deli and installing new checkouts, they now have deemed it necessary to install a 'queuing system' at the kiosk.

Now, I'm not denying that this particular addition is more than welcome. Customers are notoriously useless at organising themselves into orderly queues - particularly at the kiosk. You get five people queuing at one side and three at the other; you get people barging to the front regardless. Well not any more! Next week, they're installing railings around the kiosk with 'impulse purchase' racks in the middle. And we'll be able to press a little button from any of the tills that will cause a robotic voice to herald:

"Next customer to cashier number two please!"

Very Post Office. I'm actually finding the whole prospect quite amusing. Ever since Peter Kay mocked the little voice you hear in Argos, I can't think of it without giggling. I can only imagine how bad I'm going to be when it's actually installed.

Bakery Disaster
On Sunday I was called upon to help on the bakery as Margaret had phoned in sick. It was all going to be so simple. I'd been left a list of exactly what I needed to put into the ovens, which setting to use and what times I should do it. I wasn't overly thrilled at the prospect, probably through the certain knowledge I was going to burn myself, but I nonetheless thought I'd cope.

The burn scenario popped up much sooner than anticipated. As I was removing the first batch of crusty rolls, I pulled the tray a little too forcefully and it shot right into my forearm. Ouch. My reflexes pulled me back quick enough to avert a major blister situation, but it still hurt.

And then I got burned again. I'd taken out the wholemeal bloomers, wrapped them all with the cursed sealing machine and placed them back onto the tray to take to the shelves. I prodded the tray to make sure it wasn't too hot and it didn't appear to burn me. So I picked it up with my bare hands and set off. It was fine at first, but at the very moment it was too late to turn back the thing suddenly became intensely hot. By the time I arrived at the shelf it was as though I was carrying a red-hot poker - I've never dropped anything so fast in all my life! I now have very red fingers.

Things passed without further catastrophe for an hour or so. At one stage I actually felt like I was on top of things. I had the shelves fully stocked with every single product line, it was all selling, quite literally, like hot cakes and I had my next batches in the ovens. Alas, sadly I hadn't timed things very well. When a load is ready to come out of the oven, a very loud siren sounds and refuses to shut-up until you open the oven door. All four ovens blasted off within five seconds of each other - it sounded like the Germans bombers were on their way - and I handled this sudden emergency very badly. I tried to get the sodding pastries out as quick as I could (the time between them being fully baked and turning black is roughly eight seconds) and ended up dropping a whole tray of Very Berry Muffins. Cue much swearing and further panic about getting the other trays out.

I muddled my way through it all though in the end. Considering I hardly ever work on there, my sales figures for the morning weren't bad at all. So I was, at least, praised for that. I got a nice little thank-you mention on the board for my efforts.

Still, I won't be doing that again in a hurry.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Office Politics

Malicious Bitching
The past couple of days at work have been particularly unpleasant. So much so that, for the first time in a long while, I've felt like I don't want to be there. I won't go into too much detail about what's made me feel like this. There's nothing more dull than listening to somebody droan on and on about the intricate details of their working relationships.

The whole situation has arisen because one supervisor got into trouble for poor job performance and, rather than accepting this and pulling their socks up, is attempting to drag everybody else down with them. They started with obvious targets like Ed - somebody who wouldn't know an honest day's work if it slapped him in the chops. But I didn't think for one moment the mud-slinging would extend to me.

There have been accusations made that my work in the cash office is "sloppy and full of mistakes". What makes it harder to take is that these slurs are coming from somebody who I'd previously respected and thought a great deal of.

My first reaction to hearing that I'm "sloppy" and "mistake-prone" was anger. How dare somebody accuse me of being incompetent at a job that a monkey could do - never mind somebody who's studying for a degree and has five A-levels. All the cash office entails is entering numbers into a computer, counting things and extracting information from printed reports. To even suggest that there's a level of skill involved, or more than a minimal level of concentration required, really annoys me.

My next reaction was to give tit-for-tat. Fight back and defend myself. Of course I'm going to make the odd whoopsie with the cash procedures -I'm the first to admit to it - when I sandwich the job in between running about doing so many other things. In my mind, if the checkouts are busy, I need to be down there supporting them. That comes before sitting upstairs doing admin jobs. But other supervisors who operate the cash office think differently. When the door swings shut, they're in the office and won't move from it. They spend an hour doing something I'd cram into twenty minutes.

My final take on the issue was influenced by my subsequent chat with Terry. As far as I'm concerned, I'm now satisfied that I do the best I can and I'm happy with that. If somebody else wants to go nit-picking and scouting for my mistakes, then let them. I'm not perfect.

But I remain very disappointed with the person who's said these things. It feels like a betrayal.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Loo-Roll Woman & Tricia

Yesterday a lady came storming into the store, went to the kiosk and demanded to speak to a manager at once. She was carrying an opened pack of Charmin toilet paper, with one roll missing, under her arm and looked like she really meant business.

Gina didn't argue with the lady and called a manager to the kiosk. I happened to be nearby when Robert arrived to handle the situation. When I heard what followed, it made me very glad that I hadn't jumped in and tried to help...

"I was in here doing my shopping last week and I put into my trolley a 12-pack of Andrex bathroom tissue - the one I always buy."

"Uh-huh," Robert went along with the story.

"As I did so, a man in a shirt and tie approached me and said, 'do you know that the Charmin is on promotion? Same size pack, half the price' and proceeded to force me into putting the Andrex back and buying this!"

She was clearly referring to Terry. He's always stalking the customers, watching what they buy and talking them into getting the special offers.

Robert continued to nod along whilst, in the background, I made an effort to look busy so I could listen to the rest of this encounter.

"Well, I got it home, used it and I was very annoyed to find it's the shoddiest variety of bathroom tissue I've ever had the misfortune to use!"

I was already smirking away to myself at the way she said 'bathroom tissue' rather than loo-roll. Perhaps she felt better about standing in the middle of a supermarket ranting and raving about the stuff if she didn't refer to it as bog roll.

"Oh I see," said Robert, "What appears to be the problem with it?"

"It has a very rough texture and it's flaked everywhere, all over my bathroom!"

I ducked under the kiosk counter to have a good giggle to myself. I mean, honestly! If you were so peeved off about a pack of loo-roll, you'd return it and pretend the sheets were splitting or something; save yourself at least some embarrassment. She might just as well have brandished it in Robert's face and screamed: "It's like wiping my arse with sandpaper!"

When I first started at Food Place, there was a lady on the checkouts called Tricia. I didn't really see much of her - at the time I worked around my school hours and she mostly worked mornings. I'd actually completely forgotten about her existence until Susan, the new woman on the tills, mentioned her today.

Susan said: "do you remember that woman on the tills here that used to be so unbelievably slow, it looked as though she was about to stop?"

I had a think about it and Susan helped me along with a description before I finally placed this woman as Tricia. Susan was laughing away to herself as she did humorous demonstrations of how Tricia used to work. By the end of it I was peeing myself laughing - but I think that had more to do with me being extremely tired. I tend to react quite hysterically to the slightest amusement when I'm tired.

Basically, Tricia was so slow that it could only have been deliberate. Nobody could ever work at a pace like that naturally and she certainly didn't dawdle around when it came to home-time.

She would turn to the conveyor belt. Examine the items nearest to her. Carefully select one. Inspect it very intently, taking so long that she almost had time to read the complete ingredients list of the product. Turn the product around to look for the barcode. Grip the item with both hands. Present it to the scanner. Shake it around a bit if it didn't swipe first time. Listen for the bleep. Carefully pass the item to the waiting customer. Repeat the process.

It's very likely that readers won't see the humour in this. You have to have seen this woman in action to realise why she was so funny.

It was partly to do with her mannerisms and facial expressions. Her eyes were always narrowed to slits and she would move her gaze, slowly of course, around the area. She would always be chewing gum - but very very slowly. Grinding it in her mouth - combined with her general lack of haste, to look at her you could almost believe your vision had switched to slow-motion mode. And she never laughed. If a customer made a small-joke to her, she would stick on a wide grin and loll her head from side to side - as though simulating laughter.

Not content with reminiscing about this character, we proceeded to do impressions of her. We all sat ourselves on tills, dying for the next customer to arrive. Just so we could serve them Tricia-style. I found it impossible - I just could not go that slowly! And I ended up bursting out laughing in a customer's face and having to spend the rest of the transaction apologising and murmuring that "something tickled me earlier".

That's what the monotony of working at Food Place does for you.

Friday, August 24, 2007


This is a landmark post. It's going to be the first blog entry I have made that directly criticises Food Place management. I'm perfectly aware that if the Food Place mafia (the security staff) ever read this blog entry, they'll know instantly that this blog is about our company. But I'm confident that I've been vague enough about my location that it can never be traced to me.


The New Time Management System
On September 23rd, a new system will 'go live' in all Food Place stores across the country that manages the working hours of staff. It's, basically, an upgrade of the system we already use that will tighten the grip the company has on how much it pays us - and when I say tighten, it beggars belief just how strict they are proposing to become. And I predict mass outrage about it.

The current system involves staff swiping their clock-card on a reader at the start and end of their shifts. The times these swipes are made are then used to calculate our pay. But it's changes to the 'rounding rules' that are going to cause major problems.

At present, we're paid in fifteen minute intervals, which means the system is already rounding-off our swipes. At the moment, the watershed is the midway point. For example:

You're supposed to work 12:00 - 16:00. You swipe on at 11:53 and swipe off at 16:08. The system will recognise you as having worked four and a quarter hours. In actual fact, that's exactly what you have worked, but the system calculates it slightly differently - you don't get paid for the fifteen minutes between 11:45 and 12:00 because you worked less than half of it. But because you worked more than half of the fifteen minutes between 16:00 and 16:15, it will pay you for that.

You can't say fairer than that really. Sometimes you're very slightly short-paid, but other times you're very slightly overpaid. So the overall effect on your take-home pay is minimal.

The new system
The rounding rules have been tightened in such a way that, using the above example, you would only be paid for four hours - despite the fact that you actually worked exactly 4 hours and 15 minutes.

Allow me to elaborate. The new system doesn't have a mid-way cut-off. To be paid for a 15 minute time period, you must work for every second of it. This means that any swipes after 11:45 will round off to 12:00. So let's examine the example again, but with different swipe times.

You swipe on at 11:46 and swipe off at 16:44. This means that you have worked for 4 hours and 28 minutes. Which, to any right-minded person, is four and a half hours. But to the Draconian swipe system, it is four hours! You worked 14 minutes at either side of your scheduled shift, therefore you didn't work for a full 15 minute unit and won't be paid for it.

Similarly, if you swiped off at 15:59, instead of 16:00, you would only be paid until 15:45.

What's right about it?
Before I launch into a tirade about why this is outrageous to me, I should show Food Place the courtesy of making it clear that I can see why they are tightening the rules. At the moment, there's a hell of a lot of employees taking the piss out of them.

When an employee is scheduled to work 12:00 - 16:00, this has been planned so that the employee is there to cover the period when Food Place has recognised there is work for them to do. Some people exploit the current swipe system by swiping in early and swiping off late. The company thus ends up paying lots of employees an extra half an hour each day. Spread over a month, I'm sure the amount of money that canny workers are extracting from the company is huge.

And the majority of those employees practising this method of pay-boosting aren't providing the company with the benefit of more work. Lots of people swipe early and then stand and have a good gossip until the time they're supposed to start. So basically, Food Place is currently paying a lot of people to stand and chat and they're quite right to be pissed off about it.

What's wrong with it?
Basically, they've tipped the scale so far in the other direction that it's going to actually deter people from working. They've gone to the extreme of being so penny-pinching that it only doubles the blow from the insulting rates of pay Food Place offers.

Can you imagine the struggle I'm going to face at busy times on the checkouts? No longer will anybody be willing to stay an extra five or ten minutes to help get the queues down before leaving. And quite rightly. I would refuse too. Why should I stay back to help out if the company isn't going to pay me for it?

Other problems are going to arise when it comes to 'finishing off' after the store closes each night. We currently schedule the evening checkout staff to finish at 22:10. By the old swipe system, this meant they got paid for the tidying-up and cleaning they did. But now, we're either going to have to eat into our stringent labour budget and keep them there until 22:15, or stop expecting them to clean up. I would never continue to ask them to work until 22:10 knowing they would only be paid until 22:00.

Which leads me to the other MAJOR criticism I have.

Food Place seem to be quite keen on keeping this 'migration' -as they're calling it - low-key. They don't want the staff to be formally briefed about it, although they've stopped short of telling us to remain silent. This is despicable. I've already illustrated how easy it will be to lose 15 minutes' pay. All it will take is for somebody to do that three times a week and over the course of a month they've lost 3 hours. To some of our part-timers, that's a whole shift. Some of them perhaps won't notice this - but many will. And it's going to be me that has to give them the bad news:

"Sorry Debbie, over the course of the last pay-month you deprived the company of 12 minutes of productivity by swiping off a minute early to go home. As a result, you've lost three hours from your pay."

Terry's attitude has disgusted me too. He says "bring it on". He's looking forward very much to the 'minute-grabbers' in our store finding their pay smaller than expected. Doesn't it just show that he's paid rather too much? Doesn't he understand? We're talking about people who are paid at just above the National Minimum Wage here. Lots of our staff live in very difficult circumstances. Yes, the system will rightly hit the deliberate con-artists who've been at it for years. But lots of genuinely hard-working staff are going to be short changed!

What about people working overtime to help out at short notice? Go back to my earlier example and imagine that somebody comes in and works 4 hours and 28 minutes to help us out - out of the kindness of their hearts. And the company neglects to pay them for the 28 minutes of honest work they've put in.

It's all wrong. It's far too strict. All it's going to do is cause bitterness, resentment and discourage people from working. If the big bosses view us workers with such contempt that they need to introduce an all-take and no-give system like this, then what hope is there for us? If they get away with this, what will come next? Incidentally, the briefing pack we were sent commented that 'scores of retailers' have already adopted this approach and it's been a resounding success.

Yes. A success for the company as they've cut costs by robbing their staff!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Drama Queens & Corpses

After a reasonably quiet week on the fussy customers front, a lady chose today to table her motion to have our entire product range tweaked to suit her.

The lady in question is a customer who frequents Food Place. She's one of those strange customers that you never know how to take. Some days she appears to be in high spirits and chats away to you like a best-friend. Other days she does nothing but moan; usually about the finer details of her personal life.

This week, the big topic is that she's been diagnosed with diabetes. She's told us all about how she is waiting to find out whether she will have to inject insulin on a daily basis; all about her new diabetic nurse, who's lovely by the way; all about her quest to discover whether she can milk any money out of the government. Well, her words were closer to "this is affecting my quality of life! I might have to stop working, they should be paying me disability."

I felt like slapping her in the face and yelling at her about the four or five diabetic staff we have at Food Place. You didn't hear them moaning for days when they were diagnosed and they aren't screwing it for all it's worth by trying to get out of work and extracting extra benefits.

I digress.

This lady has decided to complain to us, formally, that our product range is not suitable for diabetics. She wrote Terry a snotty letter which went something like this:

Dear Mr Lucas
I am very annoyed that Food Place does not cater for me properly as a registered diabetic [oh, we're keeping a directory of people with blood-sugar disorders now are we?] and here are some examples of this.
  • You stock Dr Pepper full sugar, but not diet
  • You stock cans of full sugar Tango, but not the diet version
  • You don't stock Robinson's Summer Fruits in a low sugar variety

[the list continued ad infinitum] I feel very discriminated against by this stocking policy. Please change matters.

Just who the hell does she think she is? The opening paragraph of her letter suggested that Food Place doesn't cater for diabetics in general. She then moved on to give a list of very specific products that we stock in a standard variety but not a low-sugar variety. So what about the several hundred sub-brands we do stock that are suitable for diabetics?

So basically, Mrs Muck, you're actually saying Food Place is discriminating against diabetics who insist on buying summer fruits squash rather than blackcurrant & apple. Who insist on buying Tango rather than Fanta.

Or, closer to your meaning still, you're moaning that we don't stock a long list of products you want, and using diabetes discrimination as a weapon to get your own way.

Dead Customers

Today we found out a regular customer had died. Paula, who lived on the row of houses opposite Food Place, died of a heart attack aged 52. She wasn't in ill-health and seemed absolutely fine when I spoke to her yesterday morning - only about three hours before her death.

As most people know, a sudden death like that brings some harsh realities home. Any day on this earth could be our last. And what are we doing with our lives? Working in supermarkets. I spent a lot of the day walking around in a little daze thinking about dying and how seemingly random it is. Paula got up yesterday morning and went about her normal daily routines - popping over to Food Place to get something in for her husband's tea before she started work - all for the last time. She might have been worried about a dentist appointment next Wednesday. Or putting off paying a gas bill. And it's all over now.

And death makes people talk. Everybody at work was discussing it today. I was helping Deborah out on the kiosk this afternoon and we got talking about other customers who have died on us. I worked on the kiosk for quite a long time, and if there's anywhere in the store where you get to know the customers, it's there. Mostly because it's the same people coming in for the same products. A lot of the time, I used to find myself subconsciously going to grab a packet of their brand of smokes before they even asked for them. Every now and then, a customer would suddenly stop coming in and you always assumed they'd kicked the bucket.

The most memorable is the one we'd all like to forget about. The customer called Bob who visited the store twice every day - and then died in it. He collapsed in the wines & spirits section, suspected heart attack, and was dead before he even reached the hospital. Strange that I even remember the date - Tuesday 2nd November 2004. My God, it seems like last week! I'm getting old!

Not quite a customer, but linked to the store nonetheless, was a 10-year-old boy called Dylan. His mother was a regular customer who I often spoke to and I remember, vaguely for I was never paying that much attention, she often had her small son with her. He was run down by a truck on the road immediately outside Food Place and three members of our staff were on the scene administering First Aid. That was a terrible week too. The staff involved were deeply disturbed by what they'd seen and the front of the store was covered in floral tributes.

There was a young-ish man who shopped most evenings for odd-bits. I didn't know his name until after he'd died, but he was always chatting away to us. I had no idea he was an infamous criminal until the night he fell through a glass skylight whilst trying to break into a warehouse and plunged 30ft to his death. JPS Lights were taken out of our tobacco range not long after he died because he was the only customer who ever bought them.

Another slightly bizarre one was a young woman who often came in with her father. She was on holiday in Africa and was killed in a safari accident. The local rag never elaborated the details, which is probably a blessing because I don't imagine a safari accident would be very pretty.

There's lots more, but I'm going to stop being morbid now you'll be pleased to learn.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Jekyll & Hyde

The Strange Case...
There was a bizarre customer today that seemed to have a split-personality.

She'd gone to Cleo's till just as she was opening it up at the start of her shift. Most supermarket shoppers will know that it can be quite a pain if you've got a big trolley load and you're the first customer there - you don't get time to get everything onto the belt before the action starts.

Seeing that this lady was going to fall behind with the packing, I went over and started bagging things for her whilst she finished putting her shopping onto the conveyor belt. When she'd finished, she seemed delighted at this help:

"Oh my, oh thank you so much! You've made my day!"

She watched me packing for a few moments before suddenly exploding:

"Don't put all that in there! It'll be too heavy and I can't lift it!"

Taken aback, Cleo and I shared a puzzled glance with each other. I don't think the lady noticed this but, nonetheless, she swung back to her former self:

"Oh, how ungrateful of me to complain when you've been so helpful!"

My God! What is this? I was thinking to myself, almost too scared to speak in case she burst into another furious rant. In the event, I didn't need to speak, she did it of her own accord.

"NO! That's still too heavy, I'll never get that into the car!"

Miffed at such ingratitude, I reorganised the bags a little so the weight was more balanced.

"Oh, you're ever so kind, thank you."

But seconds later...

"I'll never get all THIS into the car!"

And then, she flipped back once more...

"Thank you very much. At least I've got a good strong husband at home to help me get it all back out again."

By the end of that encounter, I didn't know whether I was coming or going. Cleo was just as baffled as I was. Perhaps you couldn't appreciate how unnerving this customer was without seeing her. She literally veered between being so smiley and chirpy it was intolerable to being so full of rage and hatred she was shaking and spitting as she yelled. Perhaps she was doing it on purpose to make my day interesting?

Long winded
A customer telephoned the store today and when I answered, I got perhaps the longest query I've ever come across. "Oh, hello, my name's Madeleine Hayes, and I'm just telephoning you because I thought you, or one of you staff, might be able to assist me in discovering whether or not you might sell such a thing as an electrically operated toaster?"

So, basically, "Do you sell toasters?"

I mean, come on! It was as though she was asking for something completely bizarre that she'd never heard of before. Have you ever come across a device for toasting bread that isn't electrically operated? Apart from a spit for holding bread against a fire, I doubt it. And since when was it necessary to formally introduce yourself to shop assistants?

Still, I suppose I shouldn't be complaining because she was, at least, polite about it.

Self-Centred Staff
An incident today has given me the opportunity to have a good old whinge about people who think they're important and should have priority over their colleagues when it comes to booking holidays.

Today's event involved a team member requesting 25th August off as holiday because it's their wedding anniversary. They were told, quite rightly, that two weeks' notice was nowhere near enough and that because so many other staff had already booked holidays over that week, the only way they'd get it off is by asking somebody to swap a shift.

They went off in the huff at this and stomped off to Terry's office to complain. But they didn't just complain about the holidays not being granted. The complaint was made personal towards the supervisor who had refused the holiday request.

Just who do people think they are? It's made perfectly clear in the company induction and in the terms and conditions handbook, issued to all staff, that the company's standard notice period for holidays is three months. In our store, we say give two months' notice to be guaranteed the dates you want. You can ask at shorter notice and you will get the holidays if they're available. If not, tough.

There's just no fairer way of doing it than allocating dates on a first-come-first-served basis. Which is why I got so annoyed at the team member's reaction to being refused. It's not as though they didn't know when their own anniversary was and they should have booked it months ago. It's no good asking for time off when the schedules are already compiled for that week. As it was, that particular week has been booked solid since March.

When this colleague finally found somebody who was willing to swap a shift, they then started moaning that they'd need to get a babysitter for their new shift. Well Christ almighty! Did you want your anniversary off or didn't you!?

Friday, August 10, 2007

My Review & More Kiosk Annoyances

My Review
Was actually quite painless, I'm very pleased to report. For once, Terry managed to keep the whole thing running at just under two hours. That might sound hellish for some people, but believe me, for Terry it's actually quite brief. The last review I had commenced an hour before the end of my shift ("I'm sure we can squeeze it in," he said) - he ended up having to pay me two and a half hours overtime for it!

The main criticism I got from him is one I entirely accept. I don't throw my weight around enough. Perhaps that makes it sound bad, but the way he put it across, it sounded much better. He said something along the lines of: "you're far too willing to accept other people not supporting you like they should and instead of getting mad and putting your foot down, you take on their share of the work and try to do your own as well, which leads to things falling apart occasionally". This is true. It was a bit rich of Terry to point this out, however, considering he's the main culprit for not supporting me. I mentioned this and he accepted that, yes, sometimes he does tend to overlook my department - but he assured me he only did so because he was always so confident that I'm more than capable of managing. Which, I suppose, is nice. In a way.

On the plus side, he had plenty of positive comments to make about how the department is running. He's "over the moon" about the low discrepancy figures and commented that, of all the departments, checkouts and services feels the most upbeat and has the best morale. Which is all down to me and Wendy's hard work. Aww.

The best comment of all was "I think you're easily the most customer-focused person in the store." He elaborated that, throughout his Food Place career, he's always found cash office, personnel and admin people to consider themselves "back of house" and tend to have as little to do with customer service as possible. He said he was surprised, when he came to our store, at how much time I spend on the front-end and how I "never lose sight of the needs of the customers and plan my days to make sure I'm always around the checkouts at the busiest times".

Ironic really that he should say things like that when I actually spend so much time slating the customers on this blog!

I'm surprised I managed to get my head out of the door when he'd finished with all of that praise. I was so pleased to hear things like that. I thanked him for such positive and warming praise but, never missing an opportunity, I pointed out how much better it would make me feel if he told me these things more often.

So, on the whole, it went extremely well. If I've learned anything it's that, in order to get more support from Terry, I need to give the impression that I'm incompetent and need help (tehe, sarcasm).

Kiosk Annoyances Part Two
So after listening to all that praise for how "customer-focused" I am, I went back down the front and spent the last two hours of my shift getting irate with stupid customers.

I jumped onto the kiosk to get the queue down and immediately found another gripe to add to my list in this post. It fits in with a theme I already discussed - requests. Why can't people just ask for what they actually want without muddling the issue? Today, a lady asked for "Twenty Lambert and Butler and twenty Mayfair". So I turned round and grabbed twenty of the standard L&B (in a silver and blue pack) and twenty standard Mayfair (dark blue).

"I don't want those ones, I want menthol!" She snapped after I'd scanned them through the till.

I felt like blasting: "well you didn't ask for menthol did you!?"

Not long after her, another customer arrived that reminded me of another kiosk moan. People who have their own special names for the brand of cigarette they smoke. Names that aren't printed on the packets and have no fathomable origin.

This lady always says, "twenty B&H red please."

I remember the first time I ever served her because I couldn't find what she was looking for. I was thinking to myself I know there's a B&H gold and silver, but red? What makes this lady more annoying is that she's asked for "B&H red" for years now and, every time she gets a new kiosk assistant, she can clearly see that it causes some confusion - because they don't exist! Yet, she doesn't bother to learn the correct name. She actually desires "B&H Superkings" which are just a longer version of "B&H Gold". But she stubbornly persists that they're subranded as "red" when they aren't.

I always, after picking them off the shelf, deliberately say "Twenty Bensons Superkings was it?". She always looks quite annoyed, but she won't be stopped. We've all just got used to her now.

Another regular is the lady who requests, in the poshest voice you could imagine: "twenty Silk Cut silver cigarettes please." I think she believes that smoking Silk Cut Silver puts her a class above other smokers. Curiously though, for somebody who takes such pride in her brand, she's quite shifty. She shoves them straight into a carrier bag and always glances nervously around - probably checking to make sure nobody she knows is watching.

This is a phenomena usually only seen in the younger smokers that you have to ask for proof of age. Their eyes always dart to the back of the queue whenever somebody else joins and you know they're thinking "Oh my God, is that my Auntie Ally, is she gonna see my buy fags?"

Another kiosk moan emerged soon after; people who trespass behind the counter. This was never a problem before as the old kiosk had a huge heavy counter-flap for access. But the new one has a small door on the front next to the lottery terminal and unauthorised, uninvited access is becoming an increasingly frequent event.

Naturally, the Nosey Woman, discussed in this post, is the most frequent offender. Whenever she's paying for lottery, she pushes the little door open and leans over the counter, gawping at what's underneath. I often wonder why she goes to such effort when she could just stand by the wall and get a perfectly clear view of the back-end of the counter.

But there's other unwanted guests. Lots of people now, upon spotting the door, walk through it and start scrutinising the products on the shelves behind the kiosk. Picking up packets of cigarettes and inspecting them. The kiosk staff just ignore them and hope they'll go away, but I barge right at them screaming "I'm sorry, you can't come behind here, staff only! OUT!" Well, maybe not that blunt, but I certainly show them the door!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

What a Wonderful Day!

I just cannot believe how well today went!

Maybe it was because I went to bed early last night and woke up feeling utterly refreshed and ready for anything. Maybe everybody else was in a good mood. Perhaps there was something in the air that decided today would be good.

I didn't have any staff moaning at me. The customers were all lovely. Robert, for the first time ever, got through the entire day without upsetting or annoying anybody. Every task I endeavoured seemed to slot very nicely into my day - nothing seemed to eat up too much time.

If only every day could be like that one, I'd be a truly happy person.

Another Retained Card
This morning, Angela got a message on her till that instructed her to retain the customer's credit card. When this happens, as readers will probably know, the retailer is being instructed to withhold the card because the issuer suspects there is something amiss that must be stopped immediately. Well, in theory this is the case. Nine times out of ten, when the customer telephones the card issuer for an explanation, the lying, snivelling little toads will push the blame onto us and tell them "oh, there really is no reason Food Place should have kept your card."

When I was first summoned to today's incident, I was thinking 'oh Christ, here we go, a perfect day ruined!' But the customer couldn't have been more understanding. Their exact words were: "Well, at least it's reassuring to know that the banks are monitoring your cards and they'll pick up on anything fraudulent."

I nearly collapsed and died from shock. I have never known a customer take such a positive outlook on something as unpleasant as having their card snatched from them by a supermarket. The man was so pleasant about it all and I'd really like to thank him. Right here, on this blog. A public thank you message to one of the most surprisingly understanding customers I've ever dealt with.

Ah, on days like these, retail actually seems like a worthwhile occupation.

Performance Review
Tomorrow morning, I have my 6-monthly performance review with Terry. I haven't actually had one of these bi-annual meetings now since last September, but never mind. I'm not exactly devastated that I'm overdue a grilling on my ability to do my job.

Terry is one of those people who can turn a short, snappy, informal procedure into a major operation. He takes 200 words to say what can be said in 20. He poses questions and then rambles on for so long "just giving you a feel" for what he wants to hear, that he answers the bloody question for you. He moves away from the corporate-standard format for the review and adds his own questions. And don't even start me on targets.

The targets he set me last September ranged from the impossible to the downright insulting. Or, in the case of: "I want to see you drive cash discrepancies down to no more than £3 per week", both. I was infuriated that he completely disregarded the progress I'd already made (discrepancies averaging at £7 per week versus £44 under my predecessor) and set me a ridiculous target that worked out at 3p per till per day. Yes, I agree, I would absolutely love to have such small discrepancies all the time and, in fact, we do achieve the £3 figure around 1 week in every 4. But to set it as a benchmark for every week!

Other targets left me rolling my eyes. "Make sure the progress chart for cashiers is updated every week." Err, Terry, I do it every Monday morning as part of my routine! Was he really having to pick his brains so hard for a target that he couldn't scrape anything better than that? Because making sure a chart is updated is really going to improve my job satisfaction.

But for every insult, there's a compliment. I went into my last review fully expecting to be unjustly slated, but I got a lot of positive feedback. So positive, I felt quite humbled. Didn't exactly reduce me to tears, but it was very nice to know he does appreciate me - sometimes.

Tills Upgrade
The till system had an upgrade installed last night that has greatly improved the speed at which it operates. No more waiting 3-10 seconds for the cash drawer to flip open after the transaction is processed. No more waiting 10 seconds for the system to ready itself for the next customer. It's instantaneous now. As soon as you press a key, the system does what you asked it to.

There's been some other changes too. A lot of the menus have changed around or been tampered with so options can now be found in different places. This resulted in a lot of cashiers sitting scrolling through screen-after-screen, feeling like wallies, just trying to weigh a banana.

Never fear, we shall adapt to this shiny new way of doing things soon enough.

Monday, August 06, 2007

118 118 Staff

There's been stories in today's newspapers about a Facebook group set up by staff at 118 118 Directory Enquiries. The group allows staff to tell stories about awkward customers and vent their frustrations about working for the service.

Read it here (The Sun version)

When I read about some of the things that staff have posted on the site, I immediately thought about this blog. OK, so this blog doesn't reveal the company I work for (although regular readers probably have enough information to make a good guess) nor is it particularly critical of the company. In fact, I don't believe I've ever posted anything that would harm Food Place's reputation - either for the service it provides to its customers, or its merits as an employer. Most of the things I rant about reflect more about me and my colleagues than anything else. But I couldn't help but feel that my blog could actually be likened to the Facebook group for 118 118 employees.

And when they say things like: "I wrote a few a****** callers numbers on the walls of public toilets and pasted them on many an Internet site" - it's worrying that a blog like this could be viewed as similar.

Yes, I do rant about our customers. I've called some of them every name under the sun. And I can entirely sympathise with this comment from the 118 118 site: “People of Britain, re-discover the phonebook, you lazy b******s.” Yes, we all know they're the people who, ultimately, pay our wages. But that doesn't stop them getting on our nerves and I don't think it should take away our right to come online and have a screaming great rant about them.

It's not as though I've ever named a customer I've posted about. Given the anonymous nature of this blog, even their location isn't revealed. If I was posting copies of refund slips on this blog, giving out their details, then I would deserve to be sacked and banned from working in a shop ever again (oh, the delight!). But as it is, I don't. It's a bit of harmless steam-venting and, I hope, it provides a little bit of entertainment for anybody who happens to read it.

It's probable that if a Food Place customer ever stumbled across a blog entry that was actually written about them, they wouldn't even realise. We all see the things that go on around us from different points of view and my take on an encounter is nothing like that of the customer.

Having said all of that though, I wouldn't want to be lumped into the same category as a group of people who spoke of their customers with such outright contempt. Anything derogatory I say about customers is said entirely for comic effect. I don't really come home each night so full of bile that I need to post scathingly insulting messages on the Internet about people. When you consider that my Food Place serves between 20,500 and 22,000 customers each week and balance that against the tiny proportion of ones that I rant about on this blog, you can see how small the number of outright awkward customers there are.

For me, it's just a bit of fun. For a few members of the 118 118 group - they're clearly taking things too far.

The Sun article has some reactions from customers.

“This is bang out of order. I’ll never use their service again." and “It’s customer service at its worst. I won’t be surprised if callers hang up in droves.”

OK, I wouldn't be happy if I thought that call centre workers could paste my number on toilet walls if they didn't like my tone, but don't these people understand that staff are only humans? If you yell and scream at a call centre employee down the phone, with no provocation, then yes - they are going to go home and post nasty remarks about you on the Internet. Employees in the service sector are simply not paid enough money to take a professional stance and say "Oh, I say, that was a nasty gentleman," and think nothing more about it.

Just follow the golden rule. Be nice to shop staff, and they'll be nice to you. Be unnecessarily rude or aggressive, and you'll get everything you deserve. In 118 118's case, that means you can expect lots of prank phone calls. But, at Food Place, we'll stick with belittling you and making you look a clown on this blog. No offence.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Terry Rant

I'm a cash office supervisor. But Terry seems to think that makes me a supervisor of everything that general managers prefer to ignore. And, in his case, that means the entire Services department.

I'm sick to the back teeth of running an entire department single-handed with no managerial support. It wouldn't bother me so much if Terry didn't spend approximately 94% of his time nannying the grocery supervisors. He can't even trust them to pull in a delivery without his support. If they have a problem, he'd gladly spend hours on end trying to sort it out for them. But when it comes to a problem with checkouts or cash office or personnel or EPOS, we can sod off.

The finest example of this came today.

Last night there was a leaving party and most of the staff attended, myself included. A group of about six of us came home at midnight after three or four drinks because we all knew we were due in work early and didn't want to have a hangover. The rest stayed, got leathered and didn't roll home until about 6.00am.

So, naturally, two cashiers, one grocery assistant and the grocery supervisor (bloody Ed) failed to turn in for work. And what was Terry more concerned about? Needless to say, his beloved grocery department. But as for my checkouts being understaffed, he couldn't give a stuff.

So I spent an hour and a half serving between the kiosk and the checkouts when I should have been in the cash office. At one point I didn't have any prepared till floats ready for an arriving cashier and called Terry to fetch one from the cash office. He gave me the "what the hell am I paying you for?" look.

After I managed to get away from the tills I decided to update him on how short-staffed we were going to be in the last two hours of opening. He had the cheek to turn round and say: "we can't lend you anybody because we're short ourselves."

I was on the verge of entering into an almighty row. "We're short? Aren't you the general manager? Or have I missed something? Are you now the grocery manager and not responsible at all for Services?" I felt like thundering. I managed to hold back, briefly - it was the next comment that saw me slam the keys on his desk and stomp off on my break:

"I need you to do the section count for pet-foods since Ed's sick."

"You what? You want me to do Ed's job for him because he stayed out on the razz until 4 o'clock this morning and was too hungover to drag himself into work? What about me? I'm about an hour behind in the cash office because I've been sat on a till covering another two hangover-cases. It's ten to two anyways and I've been in since 9 without a break. I'm going on my dinner."

And off I stormed. Terry wasn't amused because he kept coming into the canteen and bothering me - it's a sign he's in a mood. He'd come in and announce things like: "the stamps are running low", "I can't find the keys for the supplies cupboard [that I've never set foot in nor taken any interest in ever]", "Is there a carrier bag order coming in because there's only two sleeves down there?"

By the time I came back from my break, however, he seemed to have mellowed and spent the rest of the day calling me mate and sucking up to me. He even kept coming to the cash office to see me, but didn't seem to have any particular reason for doing so. He'd just watch me for a few minutes in silence, before checking the sales figure and leaving again. But the ultimate act of sucking-up came at the end of the day. "Are you behind with refloating the tills? Because I can help if you like."

If he hadn't offered out of pure guilt, I might have collapsed and died at this unprecedented gesture. As it was I declined the help. If it's only on the menu as a peace-offering he can stick it. I'll cope alone.

But things had better change soon, or I'll go. I'm not one for making empty resignation threats - I normally sit down and talk to Terry about whatever is bothering me. But I've raised the lack of support and the grocery-worshipping issue with him countless times and nothing is done about it. He puts so much pressure onto whichever Services supervisor (me, Wendy or an acting-up-general-assistant) is on shift that we can't cope. Some days I'm expected to supervise the checkouts whilst I'm upstairs in the Training Room updating the training charts - unless I can learn to split myself in half, I'm going to have a nervous breakdown. Yet Terry still wants the highest standard. He wants cashier bells answered immediately when he knows fine well I'm upstairs doing work he's thrown at me. He only peeks at our department about three times a day and every time, he wants to see perfection.

So today, as we were getting ready to leave, I said: "you'll either have to lower your expectations of how checkouts should run or give us a bit of help now and then."

I doubt I've got the message over though.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Kiosk Annoyances

For non-UK readers, it occurred to me as I was forming this blog entry in my mind today, you might not know what a kiosk is - in supermarket terms.

It's the counter, usually near the main checkouts, with tills that sell, exclusively, cigarettes, tobacco and lottery tickets (or, at least, they're supposed to sell those things exclusively - people actually insist on paying for basket-fulls of groceries there too). When I went to the USA, a few years ago now, cigarettes seemed to be either available from certain sign-posted checkouts or just out on the shop floor with the other merchandise. I'm not sure about other countries though. Perhaps our tiny nation is alone in adding kiosks to supermarkets - just to annoy the staff.

When we got the new kiosk in May, I spent a lot of time on there. The slightest hint of a queue and I was right there, leaping onto one of the tills to help out. This was because I liked the shiny new-ness of it and, for some reason, this enhanced the experience of working on there. It was the same two weeks ago, when the whole kiosk was moved along several feet to get it away from the entrance. Just that slight move seemed to change the whole experience of working on it.

Of course, that's worn off now. All that I'm left with is the irritations and frustrations that come with manning this counter. Allow me to elaborate.


Kiosk customers will often ask the most stupid questions, make the most vague requests you could imagine, or give you too much information about what they want:
  • "What's the lightest cigarette you do?" Are you dumb? Do you really think it makes any difference?
  • "Twenty fags please." What am I? Psychic? I need to know which brand you want!
  • "Twenty Embassy Regal Kingsize please." Do you want Embassy or Regal? One's red, one's blue. Or do you want ten of each? Help me here!

Memory Games

And as if some of the demands they make aren't stupid enough, customers can also cause annoyance in the way they make their demands. Lots of naughty customers will approach you and say something like this:

"Could I have twenty Lamberts, ten Richmond Superkings, ten Regal Kingsize, five Hamlet cigars, three lucky dip lottery tickets for tonight, two lucky dips for Saturday - on separate tickets, one of them's for Aunt Belle - a Hotpicks three-numbers for tonight, a Lucky Donkey scratchcard - oh, and a lighter."

And I'm standing there, cross-eyed and thinking "que?". How on earth could anybody expect you to remember all of that twaddle?

But, worse still, there are the people who think you're incapable of taking more than one request at a time. It's much worse with lottery customers. They'll begin by giving you one play-slip which you then process for them. This involves taking the slip from them, walking to the lottery machine, and then walking back to till to add the lottery ticket to their bill. When you've done that, they hand you another slip. Repeat process. And another. Repeat process. Then they ask for a lucky dip ticket. Repeat process. Then they want a Thunderball. Repeat process. Then they ask for twenty Bensons. Walk over and get them, bring them back to scan onto the till. Then they ask for twenty Richmond. Repeat process.

I could, honestly, kill those people. I really could. Are they just trying to see how fast they can get me to move? Or whether they can make me dizzy?

Grocery Shopping

The kiosk is quite clearly not a checkout. There's no conveyor belt, no packing area and no scales. But that doesn't stop people thinking they can pay for anything they like there. "But I'd have to queue twice!" they protest if you tell them to pay for their shopping at the checkouts and then get their lottery tickets. I always feel like saying: "Oh, so you'd also like to pay at the deli counter to avoid queuing again?" Bugger off.

I have no objection to somebody with a small basket of items paying at the kiosk at quieter times. They want lottery or ciggies so it makes sense to pay in one go at one till. But lugging a basket crammed with 50 items through the kiosk at peak lottery times is not a good idea. For a start, it's not fair on the people who do it properly and pay for their shopping at the checkouts then join the kiosk queue for whatever else they need. There's nothing worse than waiting for ages behind somebody who's paying for far too much on tills they shouldn't be using.

But since Food Place has forbidden us to turn baskets away from the kiosk or put 10-items signs up, there's not a lot we can do about it apart from politely remind people not to do it. And get our head's bitten off for doing so.

Back to Lottery

Why can't people fill out slips properly? It's simple. You mark the draw you're entering, and mark the numbers you wish to play. If you can't decide on numbers, mark the 'lucky dip' box and the machine will pick for you. If you want more than one line of numbers, simply complete another box.

But it's all too complicated for some. About half of the slips you're handed and place into the machine will be spat back out. People don't fill in enough numbers, they don't mark the relevant boxes to opt-out of additional games, they mark too many numbers. It's really not that bloody difficult!

And then you get people who hand you slips that look like they've been eaten and vomited back up. How the hell do they expect the machine to process it? Damp, full of creases, coffee stains. Dear oh dear. Customers will sometimes make their own alterations to their play-slips. For example, last year the UK lottery operator made the play-slips for all games longer - meaning they didn't fit into the little plastic wallets that some people keep them in. No bother! They just cut the tops off them! For God's sake, it's a machine! It only recognises what it's programmed to recognise!

Some don't even bother with play-slips. We have a growing number of regular customers who, week-in, week-out, can't be arsed to fill out a slip, instead choosing to come to the counter and rhyme-off the numbers they want for you to enter manually into the machine. Can't you see there are people waiting? I haven't got time to prat about waiting on you hand and foot!

And finally...

Don't dare ask for anything from the top shelf. I'm five-foot-naught and can't reach without standing on the bottom shelf and smacking my head off the top shelf in the process!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I Love Bitching

Having inspected the stats for this blog, it would seem that visitors love reading posts that mock, insult and belittle my colleagues. Of all the labels I use, Colleague Bitches is, by a long way, the most popular one that people explore.

However, looking back through the posts that I have tagged with this, I've noticed that my bitchiness isn't particularly fierce. Alex, Sandra and Cynthia are the only colleagues of mine that have dedicated blog entries (here, here and here) - and even those aren't as bad as they could be.

So I thought I'd give you an updated low-down on who's annoying me at work and this time I will do my best to make it warts, boils and all. Nothing spared. It's just that it's quite difficult to get passionately angry about somebody unless you've got somebody to share the anger with - why else would bitching be such a popular activity at work? Anyways...

The new department manager at Food Place continues to rub me up the wrong way. And it's actually getting quite creepy now. Last night, I went out with a few of my friends from Food Place for a quiet drink (well, it was supposed to be quiet!). At about 10:00pm, were sat in a window booth at a bar and Debs looked out of the window to see Robert standing on the opposite side of the street staring right at us.

"Nobody look now," she whispered - God knows why - "but Robert is on the other side of the road staring at us!"

One by one, we glanced from the corner of our eyes and, sure enough, there he was. He wasn't with anybody - totally alone and staring at us - he vanished about five minutes later. And then the text messages started. He texted three different people, bombarding them with questions. Where were we? Was everybody at work invited? When were we going home? The icing on the cake was when he phoned Greg at 12:30am to remind him that he started work at 5:30.

I didn't know how to feel about that. Did I laugh at it or find it outrageous or spooky? At first I was a bit spooked. My mind ran away and starting adding bits to the memories of him standing there. By the time I'd finished blowing it out of proportion, he had red eyes, a death-stare and there was thunder and lightening to set the scene.

But all the same, there's something seriously bloody wrong there. Why didn't he come over and join us if he'd seen us? And what was he doing watching us? And checking up on us? Does he think we belong to him now? He's just a creep and I'm getting more and more uneasy about him all the time.

Oh God I hate this woman so much. She never stops moaning about the people "rahnd 'ere". Well sod off back to Slough then! She loves nothing more than picking fights with people and then twisting it round to try and convince Terry that it's all because she's from 'dahn sahf'. She's done it with me more than once and I just laughed in her face. "Yeah, one of my best friends is from Aldershot - I really hate southerners!"

Her despicable tactic of latching onto people she perceives as weak continues. She's all over any new starter like a rash. She tries to convince them she's lovely and everybody else is horrible, loading all the bullets and waiting for her victim to fire them. Yet, whenever she's confronted about things she's said, she denies everything: "I promise you dah'ling I'm not like that. I would never say things behind peoples' backs."

Yeah, and I'm Moira Stuart!

He's one of the department managers. As I've mentioned before, he suffers from mood swings. On Monday he worships Food Place and motivates everybody to think the same. On Tuesday he "can't wait to get out of this shit hole" and drags the morale to the floor. He constantly arrives at work still hung over from his binge-drinking the previous afternoon (he never makes it to the evening!).

Before, I could tolerate him. Now that he's developed a tendency to talk to me like I'm a sack of dirt, I can't stand him. He's forever poking his nose into my department and telling my staff what to do. If I set them off scrubbing the checkouts when it's quiet (a job that needs done at least once a week) he'll drag them away and have them helping somebody else - who doesn't particularly need help.

There was a row over the magazines last week too. Will, in his majesty, went behind the kiosk and pulled out the magazines back-stock box - which contains everything that won't fit onto the shelf, but will be needed later in the week. He pulled out two magazines with last month's date on them and yelled at Lyndsey for not getting them returned. OK, she was careless and we lost credit for them - but bloody hell, the way he went on, you'd think she'd lost us thousands!

He seriously needs to die (ouch!). Or at the very least, leave Food Place and become permanently unemployed. If that's still too nasty for you, he could go and work in a small shop with Will as his manager and Sandra as his fellow assistant. I cannot abide the bloke. But King Terry seems to love him. Ed gets away with things that nobody else does. He doesn't wear the correct uniform and he takes unofficial breaks all the time - he must smoke about 80 a day judging by how often he's round the side of the building.

He's also a lying little toad. A few weeks ago, he lost one of the small handheld computers we use to do stock counts. It turned up in the cold-room, dead from hypothermia, and he was the last one seen with it. Instead of owning up to his costly mistake, he turned the blame onto Gina, claiming she'd left it there. She must have been the first person he laid eyes on when trying to formulate his excuse, because there is no fathomable explanation as to why Gina would have had the thing or what she was doing in the cold room.

It would seem I'm not as bitchy as I think. Those are the only people I can think of anything nasty to say about. I don't even have much to say about Alex at the moment - he's actually been quite pally with me of late and he hasn't done anything especially offensive. He's still a tart though. And so the claws come out once more...

Saturday, July 28, 2007


It would seem that all the cashiers at Food Place have got together and decided to drive me round the twist. All day they've done stupid things. Persisted in asking stupid questions. Summoned for assistance when it's not required. Summoned me to do tasks for them they're perfectly capable of doing themselves. Held competitions to see who can get rid of the most change in the shortest time. Constantly asked to be relieved for a toilet trip.

In case you didn't quite get all that - they've drove me up the bloody wall!

Dianne Leaves her Brain in Bed
It started first thing this morning. Dianne rang for me three times in the space of fifteen minutes to ask dumb questions. Firstly she asked "do we do these?" whilst waving a suspicious-looking card at me. It turned out to be a card given to convicted criminals to allow them to pay fines. Yes Dianne, we do, in fact, allow people to pay their fines here, but we decided not to train anybody to handle it, hoping you'd just blunder your way through it and miraculously do it right! (Sarcasm, as I'm sure you gathered.)

Minutes later she rang down again. "This lady's forgotten her purse, but she lives miles away. She wants to know if she can take the shopping now and pay next time she's in." OK, not a question, as such, but how dumb can you get? Yes Dianne, of course you can allow people to float off home without paying for their shopping. That's what Food Place is all about!

Next time, about three customers later, "Andrew, this isn't scanning, can you find me a price please?" What? You mean that packet of cheese you're waving at me that's got £1.09 plastered right across the front of it?

If she'd rang that bell one more time, I'd have gladly throttled her.

Deborah's Change Requirements
This morning I was in a very industrious mood and I got the morning change run done and dusted within half an hour of the store opening. I had every till crammed to the gills with every denomination of coin and was confident I wouldn't have to even think about change again until at least 3.00pm.

But Deborah had other ideas. By 10.00am she needed more pound coins. Annoyed at this attempt to scupper my change plans, I nonetheless gave her 100 more £1 coins and £40 in £5 notes. Nobody else needed anything, so I had to do this change run specifically for her till. What a waste of time, but I soon got over it.

Not two hours later, when most of the other cashiers hadn't even got through their first bag of £1 coins, Deborah rang her bell again:

"Andrew, I need some more pound coins."

"What the hell are you doing? Eating them? Have you not been working your change?"

The following line was delivered with such perfection that, despite my annoyance, I had to laugh (she was just finishing serving a customer as she said it)

"Yes! I have been working my change! [to the customer] that's £9.99 change, thank you!"

"Oh, you've been working your change, but you've just handed a customer a pocket-full of the stuff, without asking for the penny!"

At least we both got a bit of a giggle, but I still had to go away and do ANOTHER change run for one till only.

The Bells
Four times today, the bell was rang and I walked several thousand miles to assist only to be told that it didn't matter - they didn't need me after all. What the hell were they playing at? I'll tell you what it is - cashiers spot a potential problem, looming about five miles away on the horizon, and immediately ring for assistance - ignoring the 100 possible solutions they could use without having to bother a supervisor.

Oh, it's doing my head in just thinking about it, so I'll go away and get some rest. Hopefully I'll be able to recharge myself adequately so I don't have another stressful day tomorrow. Highly unlikely...