No, you aren’t “just” the messenger

A few days ago, Amy and I grabbed dinner at a restaurant chain that offers online ordering, and delivers to your car at designated spots in their parking lot. I’ve enjoyed going to this restaurant occasionally for at least 15 years.

We arrived four minutes early, and called their phone number (as instructed), then waited.

Fiften minutes passed before we decided to call again.

I remember “Jane” asking the name on our order, even though we just told them. They would send “Jack” out to our car. Before “Jane” had a chance to hang up, Amy asked in a polite tone why it was taking awhile.

I just answer the phone and I’m the messenger.

(Also: It was hectic, and although “Jane” offered a drink for the trouble, we never got a sincere apology from her.)

From our perspective, we were under the assumption that our food was ready 15–20 minutes earlier. Add the ten minutes needed to drive home, and I’m not sure it’d be in good shape anymore.

“Jack” brought out our food. While pointing to a sign in front of our car, this statement was the first thing I remember when asking him what happened:

You’re supposed to call when you get here.

How would you feel if you followed instructions, only to be subtly scolded?

Amy politely held out her phone to show that we called three times1.

Oh, that’s weird. We didn’t hear anything about it! I do apologize for that.

Again, we asked about the food and how long it was sitting there. “Jack” felt the outside of the bag and said it felt warm, but we could check, or ask to see the manager to get it remade or get it “comped”. We mentioned where we lived (to describe how long it’d take for us to get home), and he showed some sort of false empathy.

Oh yeah, me too.

(Wait. What?)

Yes, bring your leader to us because you’re doing it wrong. (I didn’t say that out loud.)

“Judith” walked out to our car a few minutes later. She was super nice, listened to our brief story (experience), asked us if we’d like our food to be remade, and asked if we’d like something else. We already requested a drink, but didn’t ask for anything else.2

We were curious if “Jane” would come out personally to apologize. She didn’t.

“Judith” came back out ten minutes later with our order, plus a piece of cake for dessert, and was very apologetic again.

On the drive home, I joked to Amy to “prepare our bowels for rage”. Fortunately, the food was great.3 😀


“Jane” — Your primary job is to help customers with their needs, and your method is answering phones and making sure colleagues bring out the orders. We understand. Since we didn’t get our grub, be proactive to help customers with their needs. Check how long our order has been waiting, then start a new, urgent order—if we were okay with it—rather than send “Jack” out with food that’s been sitting for 15–20 minutes. If you weren’t empowered or able to do that, skip right to the manager (not “Jack”) and brief them on the situation along with your proposal. (e.g. “‘Judith’, can we remake this order since it’s been sitting for a long time? The customer has been waiting for 20 minutes.”). Also, listen, and don’t be defensive.

“Jack” — Don’t make assumptions. Ask us what happened, and listen.

“Jack” and “Jane” — How would you feel if you received this kind of treatment? Consider and use those feelings to help guide your actions towards the right resolution. (Empathy!)

“Judith” et al. — Evaluate the process of this service by walking through all the steps. Determine and fix/minimize any gaps, especially when things are busy. Teach employees to listen. If possible, empower employees with the ability to make things right.4 It’ll give them the opportunity to learn and take responsibility for themselves.

  1. When Amy called the second time, they answered and hung up. 
  2.  I don’t remember if we brought up asking for the meal to be “comped” when “Judith” saw us. At this point, we had been there for about 30 minutes. 
  3.  I’m glad there didn’t appear to be a behind-the-scenes experience as depicted in the comedy film, Waiting. 😀 
  4. We never said, “Don’t send ‘Jane’ out here or we’ll go ballistic,” so use that opening to make things right with us. 

Published by

Bryan Villarin

Bryan is a Community Guardian at Automattic. He's also a photographer, card magician, and cat whisperer. (Thanks to my friend and colleague Steve Blythe for the sweet photo!)

2 thoughts on “No, you aren’t “just” the messenger”

  1. Your takeaways are bang on – especially on “Jack’s” assumption. Assumptions most often create trouble and also lead down to the path of “knowing & not caring.” Reminds me of that statement, “a customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

    On a somewhat related note, I’m always worried that “floor spice makes things nice.”


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