Cake Decorating, Customer Service, Speaking from Experience, Venting, Work

Work related pet peeves

Welcome back for another round of venting. As the title suggests, I will be covering pet peeves in the workplace. Not just pet peeves at my current place of employment, but also former jobs to give you a sneak peek as to the things I’ve witnessed/encountered over the last 20 years in the world of retail.

I spent the first 15 years of my career in the automotive industry, mostly as a Parts Advisor but I was also cross-trained in Service, Warranty and Cash Office. As you might expect, being a young female in a male dominant field was a challenge in itself. I had my fair share of customers who refused my help and they quickly asked for the “guy behind the counter” which was usually the manager. To which my manager would often reply, “she’s more than capable of looking up the part you need” just to make a point.

Not only was I expected to look up parts, but my job also included testing various parts and installing parts. One particular customer who was also one of our wholesale customers was a real piece of work. The type of guy that runs his own towing company/repair shop in a hick town and thinks he knows everything about vehicles. The type of guy that never knew the name for most parts he was looking for, refusing to give us the VIN so that we could verify what he was working on, because not all parts from one year are compatible with the next year. The VIN was also helpful in knowing which engine/transmission/driveline was used, but this guy naturally knew and by knew I mean made his best guess which was often wrong.

His constant guessing and ego caused him to make more trips back to return parts that were not compatible. While he was quick to blame us (me) for not knowing what I was doing, the truth is it was his ego that was the problem. Give me the info I need and I’ll give you the right part. If you guess at what engine you have, and you don’t know what you’re looking for, chances are I will not look up the proper part that will fix your issue. So frustrating! Especially when he loved to throw “The customer is always right” BS in my face usually followed by some insult within earshot of other customers. Real professional, right?

This guy treated me like garbage for the first two years, always insulting me in my place of work and assuming that I didn’t know what I was doing, why would they let a girl behind the counter when I belonged in the kitchen. I can’t stand that sexist mentality. As an employee, there wasn’t much I could do about it, except take it. Avoiding and ignoring him was made difficult when he would go out of his way to insult me. At this particular DIY auto parts chain that I like to call Autohole, we accepted used oil that we had to dump into the big recycling tank in the back.

This guy always waited until he had several gallons saved up and brought it all in at once. He never took a minute to wipe down the containers, they were always covered in dirty oil dripping everywhere and sometimes the oil was still hot as it was just drained into the recycling bucket and brought in. Guess who had the honor of lugging all of his nasty used oil containers to the back? In his mind I was unfit to look up anything he needed, so he’d call my co-worker over to look up his parts and order me to carry in all of his dirty oil to be recycled.

One day his idea of me changed. If I had to guess it was the fact that a few of my younger male co-workers were not as experienced and often asked me for help looking up what this jackass needed. He had experienced this enough to realize that this girl knows what’s she’s doing behind the parts counter. From that point on I was his main point of contact when he called or came in. I should mention that I guess in his small closed mind, I was the lesser of two evils. Our store had changed managers and this jackass didn’t want to deal with a person of color. His tune had changed to, “Let me talk to the girl behind the counter.” Some might consider this a small victory, I might have if he didn’t treat everyone else just as horrible and the fact that he always smelled like he peed himself.

Moving right along…

I really enjoyed my days as a cake decorator, especially when I was given the creative freedom to decorate it without restrictions. Keep in mind that I wasn’t creating Cake Boss level cakes, but rather a Big Chain grocery/retail bakery department style cakes. Our smallest size was an 8″ single round layer up to a Full Slab double layer that served up to 72 people (give or take depending on how generous the slices are cut).

Just a tip: If you are considering pre-ordering a cake for any occasion, Please know (roughly) how many people you intend to serve. Believe it or not, the question of “What size cake do you need?” seems to stump many customers. If you are unsure, it’s always a safe bet to order larger and have extra, than it is to order smaller and not have enough; especially if the cake is for a child’s birthday.

Also, keep in mind that most employees are not “professionally trained” when they are hired on as a decorator in a large chain bakery department. While some may accept special requests/custom orders because they may have more experience, not all associates will be able to accommodate you. Insisting that so and so has done it for you in the past and so and so no longer works there, please keep in mind that when an associate declines your custom order, it’s because they know they can’t give you the quality that you are asking for. Trust that they know their limitations, don’t take it as a sign that they are being difficult. If you want custom work, go to a custom bakery where they offer that service normally, but expect to place your order well in advance, not the next day. It’s safe to say that if you don’t see what you want from the 3-ring binder of visual examples, then expect that we can’t accommodate your 3-tier custom order as we do not have the packaging for a 3-tier cake.

Being the people pleaser that I was a few years ago, I did offer to create a custom cake for a customer. She brought two pages of random images that she wanted to incorporate onto her kids’ 1st birthday cake. By random I mean an image of a penguin, music notes, stick figure kids dancing, and I can’t recall but I know there was a fourth image. There wasn’t a theme, but rather just images that her 1-year-old enjoyed.

I went the extra mile, I drew up a rough sketch and showed the customer what I had in mind as far as the placement of where the images would be, to give her an idea as to how the cake might look. She agreed that what I had in mind would be acceptable. I confirmed the order form, size, cake flavor, icing, the image placement to make sure she was still onboard, and I was given the green light and “creative freedom”.

I knew going in that this cake wasn’t going to be easy and that it would be very time consuming. I made sure to complete the order on a shift that I didn’t have anything else pending. Once it was done, I placed it in the freezer to stay fresh until the customer picked it up.

Since I don’t have a photo (I wish I did), I’ll do my best to describe how this cake looked. To start it was a half slab double layer covered in white icing so the colors would show up better. I placed the penguin at the center (top) as that was the image that was most important to display. That image took up 1/2  of the space from bottom to the top because I wanted to leave room to write Happy 1st Birthday (insert kid’s name) at the top * That was the 4th thing*  I had a stick figure dancing kid near the edge, one on each side of the penguin so there wasn’t so much white space and I placed the music notes all around the four sides of the cake. I was feeling pretty good about incorporating all of the images that were requested, granted with no theme it did look a bit off, but that is what the customer asked for.

The customer came in to pick up the cake and naturally she wants to see it before taking it home. I expected to hear “Thank You” or “Wow that looks great!” Not even close. Instead she insults my work, claims it’s the worst cake she’s ever seen, the kids don’t look like they’re dancing, to which I replied that it’s hard to show movement with icing. There was too much white space and insisted that more decorating needs to be done before she’s willing to take that home. I asked her what she wanted me to add while pointing out that I have incorporated all of the images she requested. She thought more music notes might help to show that the stick figures were dancing. More music notes were added. She was still not satified and wanted something more to tie it together. I’m at a loss because there isn’t a theme, so I suggested adding colored sprinkles to add a bit more color to the cake, to which she agreed. She was still not satisfied with the end result, but brought the cake home anyway, but not before mentioning that if she knew the cake was going to be so ugly, she would have done it herself…… Good luck with that!

Just ungrateful! If I’m to be completely honest, I’m quite sure the 1-year-old didn’t care how the cake looked. I’ve seen some bad cakes and this wasn’t one of them. I put in time off of the clock to resize the images so they fit the cake better. I gave her what she asked for, she agreed to the placement. I can’t be held responsible if she thought the image of a stuffed penguin was going to look as real in icing as it does on paper. I can’t really jazz up music notes or stick figure kids. Thanks for reminding why we don’t take custom orders.

Just to show that I’m not a hack, here are a few images of cakes that I have decorated.

wedding cakeMinion cakeFrozen CakeBasket Weavenemocake5cake

Moving right along…

I find it difficult to work with associates that don’t take as much pride in what they do or care about the cleanliness of their workspace (especially if it’s a shared workspace). Maybe difficult isn’t the right word… Annoying, Frustrating and Irritating sum it up better.

Due to the fact that we are working with food, preparing food, packaging food and there are customer that have food allergies, we need to take precautions. As a customer I don’t want to grab a container that is sticky, covered in sugar, covered in marinara sauce or cream cheese icing. As a customer, I expect better from those handling/packaging the baked goods and I make sure that I extend that courtesy when I’m the one packaging during my shift.

I wish I could say the same thing for my co-workers. I often go in for my closing shift to find that I have to wipe down most of the containers as I can’t in good conscience put them out looking disgusting. Another pet peeve of mine is finding all of the baking trays stacked in a pile on the prep table with a layer of dirty parchment paper in between each tray.

For the love of god, THROW OUT THE PARCHMENT PAPER! We can’t reuse it and leaving it there only creates a mess on the botton of the trays. If they were making pizza buns, now sauce and cheese are on the bottom of various trays which means that if I don’t wash them (nights I am not scheduled) then the next person will put those trays in the oven and what’s on the bottom of those trays will most likely fall onto the product baking below it, which might be cookies or turnovers which now has bits of marinara and cheese due to someone’s laziness.

Speaking of cleanliness, once we are finished packaging any product with nuts (peanut butter or macadamia nut cookies) those trays are to be set aside and washed before being used again. That doesn’t happen in my department. In fact nobody seems to make that connection, including the manager(s). It’s just my opinion, but I strongly believe that those working with food and managing food departments should ALL be food safety handling certified. Just my two cents.

While I’m on the topic of working in the bakery, when you as a customer see an associate pulling trays out of the oven and onto the cooling rack, please refrain from asking, “Did those just come out of the oven?” Because I know you just watched me take them out. Also, don’t ask if I can just give you one. ONE: It just came out of the oven and I am not going to burn myself or risk a lawsuit as you burn yourself. TWO: We don’t sell items as a single, we package in quantities of 6, 12, 21 and giving one away means my counts are off and I’m wasting product.

With that said, my pet peeve ranting is coming to an end. Not to say that there won’t be any more, just not today.

Enjoy your weekend and be kind to the retail associates~ Hannah



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