Sunday, November 8, 2009

Potbelly Screwfest

I really try hard to make something of my life. I put a lot of thought and energy into *most* of my life projects. So when I come across a successful idea despite itself... well, it really hacks me off.

I've been to Potbelly at least a handful of times. At first the charm of this place "being different" is what drew me back. Then, once I got to know Potbelly better, it donned my list of Places Never To Eat At.

Why, you ask? Well, the food is mediocre. My friend Kristen says "the bread hurts my mouth." Cody calls Potbelly "Pothelly." Then there's the ambiance. The cackling sound of loud employees shouting orders while you're eating? Deffening. It's anyplace but the place to go to digest your food peacefully. And the "line design?" Read on!

Soup's On... Not

My first poor experience with Potbelly happened a month ago. My coworker David and I decided we wanted soup and he said Potbelly had a good potato soup, so we bolted to forage for food. I realize the place can get busy at lunch, but I've never understood why workers YELL across the line of customers at the counter to take orders from the folks further down the line. Some might call that endearing. I call it irritatingly unnecessary. DO YOU REALLY LIKE PEOPLE YELLING AT YOU BEFORE THEY TAKE YOUR MONEY? I know! Me either.

After wading through the line and finally making it to the register, the register lady asked "What did you have." I said "A bowl of soup to go." She said "You don't have to wait in line to order soup." I said "Oh, I didn't know. There's no sign here to indicate that." The lady went to retrieve the soup and as luck would have it, they were out.

No Soup For You

She offered to give me some frozen soup, but yeah, not so much. My favorite part was when she asked "Can I get you anything?" I said "Yeah, how about some hot soup?" The blood rushed to my face as I realized this lady was just a pre-programmed myna bird. She looked to be about 35 and I was frustrated how at that point in life, someone has mailed it in and chosen to not use their brain.

Thar She Blows

I decided that I'd have to give register lady a life lesson from the line so she might be of some use for future customers (my guess is that Potbelly didn't have an effective training program). I said - "You know what would be really awesome? If the people behind the counter actually talked to each other. Not yell, but talk. You're out of soup but the guy YELLING orders at the front of the line has no idea. It would be really awesome if you could let him know so other customers don't have to wait in line for soup they can't have."

The lady said she would tell the line, but as I waited for my friend David to collect his sandwich and not his soup, I noticed she just went along her merry pre-programmed way.

Frustrated, I sent in a complaint to the Potbelly website when I got back to the office. Surprisingly I received a reply the next day from a regional manager who offered her apologies.

I decided to sweep this experience under the Potbelly rug as just an untimely event... until...

Screwfest, Part II

I decided I could be bigger than that bowl of soup I couldn't have, so a few days later I went in to get a shake. Danielle said I'd love the shake. This time, instead of standing in line, I stood under the "To Go" sign and asked the counter lady for a shake to go. She said "You need to stand in that line over there (pointing to the other register). I said "OK," and got into formation.

I stood at the register and watched register guy ring up three customers who were coming downstream toward me. It was true. I didn't exist. Since I wasn't coming at him "from his left," apparently I wasn't going to get service.

The best part is when I turned to my left to ask counter lady what I should do, a customer had just walked-up to the counter and asked for a shake and counter lady started making it!

WTF, I thought. Why is she making the other customer a shake, but I had to wait in line... only to be ignored by register guy? I was losing it. I wanted that damn shake and I was going to get it!

A lady coming downstream looked at me with a puzzled look on her face. I said "I'm sorry, I've been standing here for three customers and I need to place my order." Register guy looked up and at me like "What are YOU doing here?" I said "Excuse me. I was told to stand here to order a shake and you've been ignoring me for three customers now. Can you please get me a shake?"

The guy looked completely dumbfounded. I guess "Irritated Shake Customer" didn't make the cut for the employee training manual. Worst off, he made my shake. I'm assuming he spat in it, but you know what? That was the best tasting shake of my whole life. Why? Because I earned it. The hard way.

Shake It Off

At my age, I have to try and keep my blood pressure down, so I decided to just let it go. "Serenity now, Patrick" I said. And I did let it go (well, sorta). Truth was I was too old for Potbelly. I realized I needed to restrict my dining adventures to places where people have brains and think on the job.

I learned firsthand that the Potbelly experience simply sucks. Whoever designed the Potbelly line needs to be forced to order from it. Then be fired. It's truly a usability issue you'd think a restaurant that is franchising itself across the country would pick-up and fix.

For me? The next time I want a sandwich or a shake, Potbelly won't make the cut.



Oh. My List Of Places Never To Eat At, You Ask?

1. Any restaurant with a buffet. Buffets are just gross.
2. Any restaurant where you order through a line (sorry Luby's).
3. Mi Cocina in the Dallas Galleria - they stole my glasses.
4. ... and Potbelly, without a doubt!