11.02.2009

Dear Costco, You Are Fucking Retarded

Shame on us for deciding to pick up a few pizzas from Costco to host our little Halloween soiree, but who knew it would be such a total debacle. I knew it would likely be very busy, but I did not think I would end up witnessing a total breakdown of their system, aka: The End of Western Civilization As We Know It.

The way the external Costco food lines are supposed to work is that if you are a walk up order, you’re given a number for your order, and when your order is ready, they call your number. If you placed a phone order, you’re asked for your name, and when you arrive, your name is called when your order is ready. Essentially, neither of these two things were happening. On the rare occasion a name or number was mumbled, you couldn’t hear it anyway. Really, invest in a PA system of some kind. That shit is ridiculous.

That aside, if numbers and names are regularly being called, there is no reason to form a line, you simply wait within earshot until you hear your name or number. I mean, it doesn’t take a process engineer to figure this out, why is this so hard to understand? But, since no numbers or names were emanating from the little Costco pizza hovel, the mob that ebbed and flowed from about 20 people to over 50 people at its peak formed some informal line. People would get to the window, be told their order was 20 minutes out, get back in line, get to the window again, be told their order was now 40 minutes out, return to the line, get to the window, and then be informed it was 60 minutes out. What the fuck?

I saw this scene play out over and over again. So, the longer you waited in line, the longer your order was going to take. As you can imagine, this “line” quickly degenerated into an angry frustrated mob pushing and shoving their way up to the window to yell at the poor idiots working the counter. Judging by the exasperated conversations, it didn’t seem to matter if you called your order in a day before, that morning, two hours before, or were simply a walk up customer. The staff seemingly put all of the orders into a big bucket and picked tickets out at random and tried to complete them. That process was broken.

Being Halloween, afternoon elapsing into evening, it was a special kind of hell to see grown men dressed as Frankenstein or older women dressed up as some kind of slutty feline thing (cougars, indeed) irately dropping F-bombs and pointing out that they had waited an hour, two hours, called yesterday, were assured it would be ready by x time, etc.

To make matters worse, the guy working the window seemed to change every 15 minutes. This created some problems. The first guy would take a look at the stack of pizzas sitting there and call out “Irene, Joe, #506, #318!” Nobody would come. The next guy working the window would take a look at the very same stack of pies, but cry out “Sally, Ed, #312, #890!” How in the hell can they be coming up with different numbers and names from the exact same stack?! On top of that, the first guy was running out of room and would start stacking pizzas in alternate locations hidden throughout the work area, so that when the next guy came on, he was unaware of these secret hiding places. I’m watching this all unfold before my eyes. The worst offense was that the second guy had no knowledge of what was previously told to customers. So the second guy would tell you that your order was going to take 45 minutes, but people would cry out that the last guy told them it was going to be 30 minutes, and that was already an hour ago! People would default back to saying, "well just tell me when my order will be ready." The workers would then just sigh loudly, and confess, "I really don’t know," they’d throw their hands in the air and basically just give up.

I’m not trying to brag or anything, just establish credibility with you, but prior to a career in law enforcement, corporate security, and eventually a little stop at the non-profit museum I work at now, I managed two different pizza restaurants, and went on to co-manage a restaurant/bar/nightclub. It’s not very hard to figure out how long a pizza is going to take from order to plating. Most establishments have this down to a very predictable science. If you have a decent crew, a pizza takes about 2 minutes to prep, 7 minutes to cook in an industrial oven, and 1 minute to cut and plate. Therefore each pie takes a minimum of 10 minutes. You then factor in the capacity of your oven. Let’s make this simple and say that your oven can handle 10 pizzas at one time. You then project out time based on which "set" a particular pizza is in. If your order is within the first 10 orders, your order will be done in 10 minutes. If your pizza is within the second set of 10, your order will be done in 20 minutes. If your order is within the third set of 10, your pizza will be done in 30 minutes, etc.

As orders begin backing up, this gets communicated from the kitchen to the front end so that new orders coming in can be told how long their wait is going to be. Most restaurants, no different than the old hostess trick, will inflate the wait time by a certain amount to allow for fuck ups. So if the kitchen is saying it’s a 30 minute wait, some establishments will communicate a 45 minute wait to the customer. Worst case scenario, it takes the extra 15 and you’re right on. Best case, you hit the actual time of 30 and pleasantly surprise the guest by 15 minutes. Again, not rocket science, just common sense.

Costco had no concept of any of this, it was just a free for all with no apparent process in place. Two other tricks I learned that they could benefit from were “order-hopping” and “prepping to stock.” Let’s look at order-hopping. If I got a phone order for Sally, made her pie, and it’s done, but she hasn’t arrived yet, it will sit quietly in a warmer. If Joe then walks up and orders the exact same thing and is standing there waiting impatiently and I’m in a crunch, I will give Sally’s pizzas to Joe, and immediately re-fire Sally’s order. That way, even if Sally walks up the second after I do that, the maximum Sally will wait is 10 minutes, meanwhile Joe has gone off happy as a clam, and Sally’s pizza hasn’t been left sitting there getting cold. That’s order-hopping. And Costco needs to learn this technique. I saw dozens of pizzas sitting there unclaimed for 30 minutes or more, while irate customers are standing around banging on the window, literally asking, "well can I have that one just sitting there? I’m here now." Next up, prepping to stock. Most pizzas are prepped to order, meaning that they’re not made, or prepared, until someone actually orders it. When you’re really slammed though, something I used to have the kitchen do was pre-prep half a dozen each of our most popular menu items ahead of time. You know they’re going to get ordered, and there’s nothing like telling a customer as they order, that their pie has just been fired or is coming out of the oven soon. It keeps customers happy and gets you ahead of the curve so that orders don’t start backing up. I would do that with over a dozen different pizza options on the menu; and that was just the pizzas, not the sandwiches, ribs, chicken, or other miscellaneous food the kitchen was responsible for.

Costco could easily prep to stock; they only have 3 menu options! There’s cheese, pepperoni, and combo – all the same size! It’s so basic. Yet they continued to find ways to fuck it up. I swear, it seemed like every third order they got out was coming back as a mistake. So many people walked up and said yeah, I ordered 2 combos, this is 2 cheese, what the fuck? So now, the kitchen has to throw those pizzas away because they can’t be re-served legally, and re-fire yet another order with another pissed off customer standing around seething at them. The backlog was too great to overcome. For every single order that left, another 8 came in and stacked up new.

In the middle of it all, a young couple came up to pick up their order of 25 pizzas, which literally brought the place to a standstill. Initially they were told that only 9 of them were ready, but the more they complained about their party being late and that they’d called it in weeks ago, suddenly 17 were ready, and then 30 seconds later all 25 were somehow flying out of the kitchen. This wasn’t their order, it just became clear that the louder you yelled and made a fuss, the quicker you were going to get out of there. It was like some Persian Bazaar, where you haggle and heckle any vendor who will listen until you ultimately get the deal you want. It was every Frankenstein, cougar, and child for themselves.

One poor Asian man, who could barely speak English, was actually forced to pay for something he didn’t want. From what I could gather, his wife had phoned in an order of 1 pizza. Costco, in all their wisdom, had made 2, and attached this guy’s name to the order. He tried to explain he only wanted one, he’d only paid for one in fact, evidence of another glitch in communication between the front of house and the kitchen. The guy coldly said, "well we made two so now you have to pay for it." Totally bewildered, the poor man dug his wallet out and took some cash out, "I just want to go home" he said. The idiot behind the counter has to now re-open a register (because it’s after 6pm now, Costco is technically closed, despite 50 people still trying to get their food) in order to take this poor guy’s money for something he didn’t even want, that could have been used to satisfy another order. You dig? They made him pay for it. While this is going on, some other military guy has had his order gouched; he races up to a screeching halt near the back door, flies out of the car and just starts banging on the back door until someone meekly opens it. He screams and yells, and 15 minutes later, we now have pizzas secretly coming out the back door as well.

At some point, some supervisor type braves the mob and comes outside. Her big grand explanation is “thanks for your patience, we’re really trying, things are backed up.” No fucking kidding. Thank you, Master of the Obvious. That was it, that was all she said. People started yelling at her that they wanted free stuff, we demand reparations! And while the crowd was unwieldly and unorganized in their approach, they did have a point. At some point, a decision-maker has to step in and basically admit, hey, we screwed the pooch here, this is unrecoverable, how can I salvage this? Me? I would have happily come out with a stack of $10 bills and began refunding people’s money, come out with some of those plastic containers of Costco cookies that are going to expire and be thrown away anyway, pass out sixers of beer, do something. You don’t end up losing a lot of money, and it’s amazing how quickly things can be de-escalated with free food.

This may all sound like a long-winded explanation, but this really isn’t that difficult to figure out. You add up all of your phone orders, which is a hard, quantifiable number. You then take a look at last year’s number for walk up orders, which is documented. You add the two numbers together and then make an adjustment up or down depending on current market conditions. I would have increased the number by about 30% to account for the economy being down and a $10, 18-inch pizza can feed a lot of hungry kids or party guests on Halloween, it’s a deal. So there’s a pretty accurate projection of the business you’re going to do. You staff up accordingly and get those pizzas prepped. Then all you have to do is start firing them and you can accurately tell people a window of time that their order will be up. Done.

Me, I got there at 4:30pm and was told my order would be ready in 30 minutes. No problem, I’ll wait. But when the guy behind me was told it would be 45 minutes to an hour, I knew something must be rotten in Denmark. That was too big of a jump. So yeah, I was told 30 minutes, but didn’t leave until 6:30pm, a full 2 hours later. Thanks, Costco. Thanks for making me miss my daughter trick or treating and basically all of our Halloween shindig with family and friends.

You bunch of fuckwits.

5 Comments:

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Grant said...

we *almost* went to Costco for pizza on Halloween too but decided to go to another pizza place instead... sounds like we narrowly avoided disaster.

 
At 12:50 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Dude, good call!

 
At 10:30 PM, Blogger Christine Birchfield said...

That was frickin hysterical!

 
At 11:57 PM, Blogger joe said...

Put your self in there shoes! Think and plan your event. And be the man that thinks first before hand. Your not the only one in need too. I paid for pizzas ahead a day before and got it on time that I asked.

 
At 9:42 AM, Blogger Justin Giampaoli said...

Hard to take advice from a person who can't use the English language properly.

To wit, "your self" is one word, should be "yourself"

"There" should be "their."

"Before hand" is one word, "beforehand."

"Your" should be "you're," a contraction denoting "you are."

Retail food sales is their core business, not mine, and thus should be their core competency. So, they should be able to handle selling pizzas without me having to "plan ahead." You don't call the gas station the day before you want to buy gas to place an order. Dur.

Thanks for playing.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home