Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Brunch Crunch

What is the deal with Foster’s Market? Parking is like perpetual festival parking, the sort of parking you do twice a year at Shakori or the county fair -- but here it’s every day. At least the festivals have volunteers with colored arrows and vests to help you make your way. There is no such service here. You just have to make your own space in the dust and gravel. And the people leaving Fosters don’t go straight back to their cars and vacate their spots. They linger, talking, finishing up that conversation about how Republicans are selling our country out to big business and big oil, all the while clogging the lot and hindering us new customers trying to come to this small business, our engines burning fuel, our turn signals desperately flashing our intent to use their parking spaces until the filaments go numb.

Inside, there’s a line of people waiting to order. Except they are not really waiting to order, they are just waiting to get to where they can see to figure out how to order. From this line you can’t see the chalk-written menus; you can’t see the process whereby you order hot food from the workers and forage on your own baked food and drink. In order to learn this, you have to take a chance and leave your place in line to go around to the front of the counter. This requires pushing yourself through thickets of wandering customers all holding small plates and saucers with teacups at about the eye level of a short person. These folks don’t know how hungry you are. They don’t understand your need for certain information to connect you with your food. What is with their soulless gazes, their needing to be told several times “Excuse me please” before they shuffle a little to the side?

At Moe’s Southwest Grill, you can view the menu while you wait in line, and all your food is ordered in the same place at the end of that line. Now, isn’t that a grand idea?

You steal a glance at the menu and rush back to the line before you lose much ground. Now you have to remember what you saw on the menu. If you do forget, you can’t see it until you are about to order at the head of the line. At that moment, faced with a clerk ready to take your order, you have mere seconds to tilt your head way back and re-read the menu and make your decision. But you realize that now, and during your previous glance, you only saw the breakfast menu. There is a lunch menu hanging a few feet away -- but you can’t read that now because of the glare. So you have to leave your front place in line and go look at that, then come back and make an instant decision, all the while holding up the whole line behind you.

The workers there should be commended for their patience with beleaguered customers. They take your order as if nothing’s wrong, and you feel a little chilled out, even when they tell you there will be a 20 minute wait on “all breakfast orders.”

Umm, okay. 20 minute wait. Now what? There is only one thing to do. Join the ranks of the soulless wanderers you had to push through earlier. You’re in limbo with them now, walking the rough-hewn creaky wooden floor back in forth in front of the counter, getting in the way of those other customers who, like you once did, sought direction and sense in their quest to order food.

This is a health-conscious grocery store, you think. Shouldn’t there be high quality coffee and tea somewhere? You spy it way back in a corner, and you get some. There is juice in a fridge case next to it, so you get one of those too. Now you’ve got a cup and saucer in one hand, and a bottle in the other, and you’re holding them at the eye level of short people.

You overhear a father bringing tea to his family at a table. “Took me a while to get this,” he said, and you’re glad someone else has given voice to the disorder.

You wander back along the counter area because you think you saw muffins somewhere. You had not thought you’d get one, but now, with this wait, you figure, you might as well spend the extra money to have something to nibble on. But you realize the muffins are behind glass and you need to signal counter help to get them -- and the counter help is busy dealing with the folks in line. To get someone's attention you would have to holler as if you were at a crowded bar, and you hate doing that. So you stay mired in your limbo, and Foster’s loses a small sale. How many times a day does this happen? You turn to head back across the counter area again, and nearly bump into an old guy behind you.

“I’m following you,” he says. Which is sad for him, given all you’ve accomplished here.

At Bruegger’s, all the food is in on place. You get it in a single line as your bagel is prepared. You pay and you are free to go.

You have a ticket that was stuck in your hand when you ordered that breakfast. The clerk told you they would bring it to you. You figure, you might as well sit down. You don’t know how they are going to find you, but somehow, there must be a reasonable end to all this. So you get in the cash register line. Now, finally, there is some sense of progress. You pay for the items in your hands -- the tea and the juice, and for what is on the ticket which will be brought to you later. You wish you had it all with you now, but whatever. At least you get to sit down.

Behind you in the register line, a teenager needs to worm her way up past people to get to some chocolate on the shelf. “Excuse me,” she says repeatedly. She snags the chocolate and retreats, only to rejoin the line later and pass the chocolate shelf again on her way to check out.

Customers sit at picnic tables distributed through several interior rooms, a porch, and the lawn. When your food is ready, the counter workers have to go all through the place calling out your name until you raise your hand. You can hardly hear what they are saying. Surely this wears on the nerves of the poor staff. And how many people wander off the street, sit down, and just raise their hands when a clerk is passing with an order?

One member of your party of friends had arranged for you all to meet at Foster’s this Sunday. You had warned them, saying, “It’s like a chaotic web page where you can’t figure out where to log in.” Another friend says, “I hate this place.” None of you will be coming back.


Anonymous said...

Amen, brother! Somebody get them a traffic engineer, asap. Or just a designer who is less sadistic.

Marsosudiro said...

Next time I'm at Foster's, I'm going to order an Art Vandalay.

Hey -- do you remember when we directed parking traffic for the Festival of the Eno? There was a Honda Odyssey minivan with the license plate "Iliad", if I recall.

I nearly sunburned my toes, too, if I recall.

Elrond Hubbard said...

Haha Phil. I had to look up Art Vandelay. Here's how we can screw Foster's Market: Have a group submit a bunch of orders under pseudonyms. Let the group mill about the shop and gradually trickle out under the pretense of looking for outdoor seating. Then let the group just leave without paying or getting the food. The Foster's workers will be going around indefinitely calling out the names.

See, at Cosmic Cantina, you have to pay BEFORE you submit your name. They're on top of their game.

pauldude said...

Ben, I also hate the way they bring orders to you by shouting your name in the restaurant. I was once there with someone named Stephanie, yet the server at Foster's was convinced the name on the ticket was Lephanie, so she kept shouting "Lephanie!" as she went hither and thither. Each time she passed us we implored her to make sure the name wasn't Stephanie. We did finally convince her that the name she meant to call out was Stephanie all along, but that was after four or five ridiculous minutes. Bottom line: there is an element of chaos as Foster's that keeps me from liking the place as much as I might otherwise.