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How to Make Your Deli Experience More Pleasurable, Here are 5 BIG Ways

Updated on May 28, 2013

Note: They are SO easy if you really want to follow them.

When I decided to post this article, I had a really difficult time finding a category to place it in. There isn't a selection specifically assigned to "retail" proper, so I had to run with the more vague category of "Business and Employment." Since the bulk of my article will focus on a type of "business" and to a particular type of "employment" within that "business." I guess you can say I am NOT being totally misleading. So, further further ado, here goes.

Anyone who has done regular food shopping at any of the major retail supermarkets has certainly visited the chain's Deli Department. Most if not all run on same motto as the fast-food giant "Burger King, "have it your way." Of course, it is good customer service.

As a customer, however, to develop a protagonisic relationship with the local Deli Associates, it doesn't hurt to approach them with some modicum of understanding and a touch of compassion for good measure. I have often seen and experienced the wreckage associated with this high stress, fast paced, and quite often, thankless position within the retail industry, because for the past two years I have worked as a Deli Associate for a large regional retail outfit.

This article is not meant to be a slam on customers, no, no no! It is meant to be an eye-opener. Think of it this question while you are reading the next few pragraphs: If you, the customer were on the other side of the counter, having the toughest day of your life, would you dread waiting on a grumpy cat full of attitude ready to go right to your manager for even the slightest perceived out of place blink of the eye? You betcha! In today's economy that fear is real. And if someone did lose their job because of that perception, was there something that could have been done to avoid this outcome?

I have put together five tips to educate, not offend the public-at-large. Some readers may see themselves here and that's ok. By recognizing certain habits and seeing how they affect others, we learn how to engage better and ultimately we develop better personal and professional relationships. Let the tips begin!

  1. The Deli Associate has been instucted to pester you until you order something. That is the Company Policy, they are not being jerks. If you are just looking, make that clear as soon as they make eye contact with you. "I'm just looking right now, but I will call to you when I am ready to order." is GOLD to the ears of a Deli Associate. Not only have you established your immediate need, but you have freed them up to wait on someone who is ready to order or have given them the opportunity to finish an equally important task. Note: Just because a Deli Associate is not waiting on you doesn't mean they are not busy. There is lots to do, even though you are the only person standing at the counter.
  2. If you have a large order of meat and/or cheese to be sliced, (5 lbs or more) and want it cut thin (I actually get more of these orders than one would think), please be patient with your Associate. It takes time and muscle to fill an order like this and Deli slicers aren't always maintained properly when the Deli is busy. Note: Deli workers suffer from a myriad of soft issue injuries due to repetitive motion. Your order could conceivably cause an injury without you even being aware of it.
  3. When requesing a type of meat or cheese, be specific. Often times the Deli Associate cannot see the type of meat being requested. Many times all they see is a finger pointing to a loaf that is facing upside down, backwards and at an angle. The Associate is actually being courteous when asking "What kind of turkey(ham, etc) would you like , Miss or Sir." Note: There are lots of choices and the Associate cannot read your mind, though it would be most helpful if they could. If you can't see the writing, don't be afraid to tell the Associate; it's better than them thinking that you cannot read, and some do, in circumstances like this, believe me. I for one have no trouble going around the counter and locating a loaf that had such tiny letters that a customer could not read it properly.
  4. Deli Associates, work long hard hours trying to satisfy the demands of their customers in as timely and proficient manner as possible. They are human, after all, like their customers, they bleed, have families, friends and believe it or not a life on the other side of the counter. Customers that come in with a bad day under their hat really need to avoid the Deli. At least until they are able to calm down some. Snapping at a Deli Associate who may already be having a bad morning, is recipe for an unpleasant transaction. This one I have experienced first-hand. If nothing the Associate does is going to be right that day, I highly recommend the customer skip the Deli. Note: Most Deli's ARE the least supported of all Departments and generally are expected to do the most work. We all try to maintain a smile, but there are some days it is near impossible. If your Deli Associate isn't smiling, chances are they have either has an unpleasant customer before you or are a bit stressed out from a busy morning. It is nothing personal, it is, just the nature of the position. This is when a smile and a kind word, like "You look tired, having a busy morning?" is just what the Associate needs at the moment. Sometimes great relationships begin on something this simple.
  5. To properly open and close a Deli Department takes roughly 1 1/2-2 hrs. Most stores open at 7 and close at 10. The most stressful times are between the hours of 7 and 8:30 a.m. and 9 and 10 pm. These are the times Deli Associates will be the most distracted, customers should not be surprised or offended if the Associate takes a bit more time to rush to his/her aid. 10 minutes before the Deli closes is the worst time to come over and demand sliced meat or cheese. These requests: A.) set Associates back anywhere from 10-15 minutes and ultimately prevent them from completing their opening and closing tasks at closing time. The domino effect is that the Night Managers become disgruntled with the Associates, the Deli Manager is brought in to the mix and if this becomes a habit, the Associate and Manager is reprimanded by the Store Director if there is an overtime issue. When all is said and done, the customer ultimately suffers because they were the first domino to fall. The customer can almost count on poorer quality service on their next visit, To avoid this, here are two suggestions; opt instead to purchase some of the good quality presliced meats in the Deli case as well as in the grocery section. The quality is not all that much different, and some are better, believe it or not. If, for some reason a customer absolutely must have Deli items sliced in a particular way, and cannot make it till closing time, another good alternative is to call the order in. An available Associate will cut it to specification, wrap it, keep it cold and have it ready in time for even a 10- minute-before-the-store-closes arrival. Orders done this way make the visit quick and painless both for the customer and the Associate. Note: Just because the Company gives carte blanche to the 10 minute before closing shopper, doesn't mean they have to take full advantage of it. I personally used to call my order in to Hannaford Deli an hour before I got out of work. When I arrived my meat was cut beautifully and the Deli Associate always thanked me for my order. I was even told that he wished he had more customers like me. So it really can be a win/win.

Those are the basics, folks, Again, I hope these tips do not offend anyone. I do hope, however, readers walk away a bit more enlightened and try at least one of these tips to see how they work. The old adage "an educated consumer is the best customer," has been the ultimate goal of this article. It's application is as relevant here as in any other retail operation.

Retail is by far one of the most difficult industries there is. We hava had another adage "the customer is always right," drilled into us for as long as we can remember. This adage, however has become not only an albatross around the necks of retail workers, but has also begun to lose it's sparkle due to a ghastly evolution. It has morphed into not only a real threat to the retail worker's livelihood but has also become an insult to the company who has spent ime and resources training them. I postulate: If the customer is always right, then what is the point training someone to be knowledgeable in any product being sold or skilled at selling it if the customer has the power to tell the retail worker how to do their job? Would it not be better to follow in the footsteps of the self-serve industry? Perhaps. Or perhaps there are readers out there with even better suggestions, At the least, my hope is this little piece sets at least a spark-on to get a dialogue going.

Retail will never be perfect and in the case of the Supermarket Deli,I see it losing rungs daily in its climb up the ladder to at least near-perfection. I do see, though that with a bit of patience, understanding and yes, humanistic compassion on the parts of both Associates and customers, the establishment and maintenance of more protagonistic as opposed to antagonistic relationships. If this can be accomplished, there is some hope, at least, for this little corner of the industry.


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