Please Complain

May 15, 2014

            We are now into our second week; and I find that during the first week, even though I was about as gracious as I am capable of being, I thanked customers far less than they thanked me:

            “Thank you for doing this.”

            “Welcome back to the neighborhood.”

            “We’re all so happy that you are here.”

            Hundreds of people have thanked me.  It’s a reversal of nature.  I am supposed to be thanking them for coming into our new bakery.

            It was Mothers Day last Sunday and customers stood in a long line through the morning to buy all 200 bagels and 100 English muffins we had been able to make.  And the bread – and the muffins, cookies, brioche and all else we had produced.

            We were less than competent in serving people but ran out of nearly everything we made while our customers put up with the slow-moving line.

            We’ll get better.  We are learning to produce more.  We have plenty of bagels and English muffins now.  We are adding additional bakery foods.  We’ve already started selling our croissants and Danish and I am going to be making a sourdough waffle on Saturday.

            But we’ll have problems anyway.  Having been through this before, I know that it takes a bit of time to figure out how to serve people well – how to manage a customer line and make it possible for customers to get help quickly.

            So I thought I ought to say:

            Not so long ago, I ran into someone who had shopped two times at Little Red Fox, the nice little market up the street.  She told me that she had waited so long to be served that she wouldn’t go back there.  I asked whether she had said that to the owners but she hadn’t.

            I told her that it was a mistake to withhold.  A customer who doesn’t complain deprives a retailer of information and opportunity.  Just going away doesn’t help a business improve.

            I know that we were irritating customers last weekend.   I could see the looks of exasperation.  But I do not know how many of those we irritated we lost as potential customers.


            It would be a great kindness if customers had said to me, “You know:  You’re not doing this very well.”  I could then have said I knew it and promised we’ll get better.  When customers don’t complain we don’t know as much as we want to know.

            A complaint is a lot easier to deal with than a lost customer.  That woman who complained to me about Little Red Fox promised that she’d go back there.  I hope she did.  The store then gets another opportunity to win her as a customer.

            All of us want a second chance.

  1. Mark Kreitman says:

    Well, though more than pleased re your return to our neighborhood, bit puzzled not to see sourdoughs — old MM favorite — other than fine toasting cut off from long loaf. Hope too slicer is en route. No surprise we all line up.

    • Many of our breads, not all, are made with a sourdough. All the dark breads are. The baguette and Palladin are made with a yeasted pre-ferment and are not sourdough.

      We will have a slicer.

  2. Paul Boudreau says:

    Since You Asked…
    I’m not sure this is really a complaint; more of a question, really. The Palladin I bought last week had an extremely tough crust. Is that what you were aiming for? Thanks.

  3. Olga Boikess says:

    You asked for feedback: 1. The coffee is wonderful- and the care with which it is made is one reason why. 2. The bagels are much improved from last week and I thought today’s version was excellent. 3. The baked good have been great from day 1. 4. I personally would like more salt in the bread- but I know that you differ. You are the baker. 5. I imagine that you have already decided to get more than one “cash register” machine. That would help some. 6. While the layout looks lovely, and people need to be able to see all the things that are available, it needs some rethinking to speed up service when there is a long line. I don’t have any suggestions here. 7. I would post a sign explaining that you know there are service and supply issues that you are working on- and you thank everyone for giving you a chance to improve.

    Just my two cents. Thank you for doing this. Best Olga

    Date: Thu, 15 May 2014 11:22:57 +0000 To:

    • Thank you for these comments which we are trying to take to heart.

    • Paul Boudreau says:

      As far as knowing what’s available, I think it would be helpful to have a list posted daily, maybe on a white board or something similar. That might be too much trouble but it would solve the issue of needing to look in at least two non-contiguous areas of the store to see what’s offered each day (assuming that changes).

  4. John Cahill says:

    Wasn’t going to complain, but since you asked . . . I stopped by (my first visit) on Tuesday at about 2 pm . . . I’m in the neighborhood at that time several times a month . . . all the tables were taken and no one looked anxious to leave . . . since there was no place to sit, I left without buying lunch . . . any plans to expand seating?

  5. Dave S. says:

    What a great post, Mark. If only all B2C businesses, whether large or small, both said and lived the ethic you espouse above. As hundreds of others have already said, thank you! You’ve done a great thing for Washington and for many people, beyond baking some awesome bread and pastries.

    Know you and your team are already on top of all the process improvement opportunities so no need to belabor that.

    Rather, when time and resources permit, how about a real egg cream? The vanilla drink is good, cool and refreshing but not so traditional. And, looking forward to whenever possible to make those cool Sri Lankan caps available for sale.

  6. Eric says:

    Thanks for the advice, Mark. Often I think people are reluctant to complain because they don’t know how to do so, or who to complain to. Coincidentally I have had the same experience at Little Red Fox; waiting 15 minutes after I ordered for a to-go cup of drip coffee and a buttered bagel. But of course I didn’t stick around to complain, I had been there too long already!

    I’ve been to Bread Furst several times so far, and the one time I have had a longer wait time was trying to order cheese. It seemed that there was no good way to queue up for the cheese and meats, compounded by the fact that the store was absolutely slammed at the moment, and the person servicing the counter was being given orders for sandwiches as well. However, the worker was quick and attentive once she was able to serve us. I think people are more forgiving of having to wait when they can see that workers are doing their best to fill orders, which is another benefit of Bread Furst’s open working spaces.

  7. Annie says:

    Thank you for this entry. I want to come back again and I do consider myself one of those irritated customers, but not for the reasons you might think. I expected long lines and a bit of confusion on opening weekend. But I thought your staff did a great job in a trying situation. One young woman even checked in with me personally when she heard I had some trouble getting my (very delicious) order of sausage and grits. I appreciated that. What I did not appreciate was your response to the delight (“Oh, cookies!”) my friend and I expressed when we saw a lovely plate of cookies being put out on an otherwise somewhat empty counter. You responded in a tone that sounded very snarky to us, “It is a bakery” you said as you walked away. Maybe you thought you were being funny. It fell flat. And it fell flatter when my friend mentioned that she recognized you as the owner from the press on the place. I’m sure you were stressed out by the day. But if that was” as gracious as you are capable of being”, I’m not sure I want to come back. Except I do. And I will. And I hope you will take this bit of criticism in the spirit in which it is intended – to help you improve.

    • You are completely right. It was meant to be funny and I can see that it wasn’t. I apologize. Come in and let me give you some of those cookies that pleased you.

      Thank you for writing.

  8. Jenna says:

    Please post online what breads are baked each day so I know when to stop by on my way home from work! Also, your corn rye is delicious! I look forward to trying your other varieties.

  9. Paul Boudreau says:

    The bagels I bought from you this morning were delicious – so nice to get one that isn’t the usual bloated thing. I still do stand by my question regarding the palladin’s tough crust, however – I wasn’t being a troll.

  10. Jim Blitz says:

    A question for you, rather than a comment on your post. I visited on the way to work this morning and I’ll be back. I’d love to bring my kids there this weekend but one of them is severely allergic to peanuts and mildly allergic to other nuts. I know very few bakeries are safe for people with these allergies, but is there any chance you have items that are prepared without nuts and are free from all cross-contamination? Thanks.

    • We can’t make such a guarantee. The pastry kitchen has nuts all around. So does our “dry” storage area. Very few breads contain nuts but even there we make occasionally a bread that contains nuts. I am sorry.

  11. Jerry and Sheryl says:

    Last Friday we were visiting our daughter in DC and when we were thinking about lunch she mentioned that your bakery had recent opened and had sandwiches. We arrived about 1:00 PM. The staff was very helpful in telling us where we could legally park and being concerned about our orders. Some suggestions:
    They were out of turkey so I ordered the tuna salad. The bread and tuna salad were very good but the tuna had been pretty much lumped in the center of the bread. It would have been more enjoyable if they had taken a few more seconds to spread it out somewhat evenly on the bread.
    We sat at a table near the front that had not been wiped from previous customers. The one trash container near the front door was overflowing so I took our trash toward the back and came upon a container marked “Recycling” where I deposited out plastic cups. After wondering what I should do with the trash I went further to the other side of the counter and saw a container that appeared unlabeled which I assumed was for trash. I wonder if it would be less confusing if both were labeled and placed side by side and if there would be room for labeled trash and recycling containers near the front door.

    We took home the small strawberry rhubarb pie and enjoyed it that evening. We don’t get to DC often but we will plan on returning.

  12. Mike Wexler says:

    Well, I was one who complained early, about the chaotic customer lines without clear indications where to order/pay. I suggested giving out numbers and you gave me a “look that could kill” with a few choice words… so I didn’t take it personally and trusted that I’m not alone and you’ll figure this out soon.
    I’m glad to see the new customer line setup, it’s clear, it works,
    I’m hooked on your baguette, it is fantastic! also tried the roasted veggie baguette sandwich and it was great.
    And since you ask for complaints, here is a little one: the other sandwich offered was Jambon-Beurre, which is strictly ham & butter, alas yours had cheese too… I guess truth in labeling would make it Jambon-Fromage or just Ham & Cheese

  13. Milan says:

    I was able to buy a sesame seed bagel about 10 days ago. It was amazing, so crunchy and hot out of the oven, it tasted a lot like the Turkish simit which I love. However, I have been back twice now — exactly one week ago, and again on Friday– and on both occasions only the everything bagel was available. Is there a particular day when sesame seed bagels are sold? I’d like to know so I can plan accordingly.

  14. marcus7845 says:

    Well, long time MM sourdough purchaser, I’ve done so twice at your replacement.
    But interior of 1/2 $7 unsliced 3 lb loaf, when home sliced with classic serrated bread knife, disintegrated crumb-like. My last visit. Sorry to lose you personally, but Whole Foods does better.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I just had a dish of roasted eggplant. The eggplant that was roasted was very good. The uncooked impenetrable eggplant (about half of the serving) had to be tossed.

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