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Pickles on Pizza: Is Your Customer Service Up To Par?


canning-728269_640Written by:  Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work

It’s a weekday lunch hour and my  Russian friend Natasha and I, dart to Subway for our  repas.  Deviating from our regular sandwich choice, we go for the Pizza.

Now, time to build our pizza and the clerk asks us what we would like.  I look at the choices and say:  “Olives and peppers, please.”  Natasha follows me but adds “pickles.”  “Pickles?” the clerk asks.  “Yes, pickles” my friend replies.  With an odd look on her face the clerk replies:  “No, we can’t do that!”  “Why?” my friend asks.  “You have lots of pickles!”   The clerk said:  “I’m sorry we don’t serve pickles on pizza.”  While all of this was happening I was chuckling and my friend did not know why.  I did not realize that perhaps I was being insensitive.  But I was analyzing this experience from a cultural and a customer service lens.

A pizza consists of many ingredients we often find in sandwiches.  Bread, meat, cheese and sometimes vegetables.  In a way it is an open-faced sandwich (I’m sure my Italian readers will hate me for this!).  And Slavs like pickles especially on their sandwiches.  So if you analyze it from this perspective it makes a lot of sense about why Natasha would  want pickles on her pizza!  However, I was trying to tell my friend that perhaps one of the reasons why the clerk was not allowed to give her pickles on her pizza was because it would interfere with the profit margin. Probably the pizza had been priced based with only a few toppings?

In any case, this left a bad impression.  What would you have done?  I would have given her the pickles even if it costed more.  Each customer experience should have a happy ending.

Is there a pickle problem in your customer service delivery?  Are you creating unnecessary barriers or being too inflexible and thus missing out on much needed ethnic and niche market sales?  It could be a simple fix that could make a difference between acquiring a whole new group of customers or turning them off. Having various feedback mechanisms in place to see what is working and what needs improvement is a good place to start.

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POTLUCKS AND THE POLITICS OF FOOD IN THE WORKPLACE


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work   co-author,  The No-Nonsense Guide To Workplace Inclusion

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While splitting the check, B.Y.O.B, potlucks, and eating leftovers from the catered luncheon are routine in a Canadian workplace; by far this experience  is not an international phenomenon. While you may think your welcoming, kind gesture to “break bread” with a New Canadian co-worker is a good idea, don’t be surprised if they have a different interpretation. Food and eating can be a highly political affair. Political? Indeed – political! Let’s take a look at one of our most popular epicurean rituals which has stood the test of time.

Potlucks

Why do we have potlucks in Canadian society? Potlucks offer an inexpensive, easy way to feed large groups of people, while providing an assortment of food the guests may have never sampled. It’s about sharing: food, workload, and preparation.

What are the beliefs that sustain potlucks in Canadian society?

  •  Cooking is a chore and not many people like it and especially when it involves trying to please a number of people whose preferences are unknown.
  • If you want to have a gathering everyone should be “pitching in” financially and effort-wise. Food and entertaining is expensive and it shouldn’t be up to one person to do all of the work.
  • It’s more fun if we all help out and we can share the joy and responsibility.
  • Hospitality doesn’t need to be formal. You can still be hospitable and casual at the same time. Everyone can be a host. It doesn’t take a lot of skill, effort or rules.

How might these beliefs clash with people who are coming from countries which are more hierarchical, formal and collectivist?

In a big way! Although the price of food has increased dramatically, it is still widely accessible and  affordable by comparison to other parts of the world. We don’t have a lot of rituals around eating except for “eating on the run”, “fast food” and “Tim Horton’s”. With a growing acceptance of vegetarian and veganism what we eat these days is less based on social stratification and more inclined to be on preference.

North Americans tend to view food in a “profane” way as the famous sociologist Emile Durkheim would probably conclude. Food is ordinary and nothing special, has no associated rituals or beliefs to preserve its “sacredness”.

This would be in sharp contrast to the many New Canadians who are more likely to view food as “sacred”. They may have grown up learning how to cook with recipes passed down from the generations, or associate foods with symbolism and rich meaning and a wider array of festivals and celebrations. Some foods may be used for medicines or spiritual healing or to bring good luck or fertility. The “sacredness” of food means the act of eating is a“sanctified ritual”. For example, Jews and Muslims will refrain from eating pork products and the meat they eat must conform to “kosher” or “halal” standards. It means that the animals are slaughtered in a religiously prescribed way to enhance the sacredness of the food and thus the sanctity of eating.
Hospitality is a lost art in North America. If you have ever shared a meal for instance with an Afghan, a Portuguese, or an Arab family – the hospitality cannot be compared. You will be treated like royalty and no effort or expense will be spared. The goal is not to make the experience easy for the host, but just the opposite. By contrast, the host wants to show you how much you mean to them by going through lots of trouble and expense. You will not feel obliged to do the dishes nor would they want you to. They want you to relax and have them entertain you. You may actually feel that they have enlisted their whole family to make you feel comfortable. The experience is formal and every action is intentional. Good hosting skills lead to many benefits including: new jobs, connections, elevated status, marriage proposals, a strengthened ability to negotiate, but most of all preserving or enhancing one’s reputation.

Are potlucks a good idea in a North American workplace? It all depends. If you want to celebrate or show appreciation for a job well done you may come across as a cheap manager or employer – an insult to your New Canadian workers. Showing appreciation and respect for employees and especially those from more formalized cultures requires: a demonstration of effort; some expense and conveying their importance in the workplace which is not a bad approach to take with all of your employees. Is it?

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