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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bagel Quarters

I went into an Einstein's Bagels the other morning because, in the fall, they make pumpkin bagels that are delicious. When I walked in, a few people were eating at tables, but there was no one in line, so I walked right up to the clerk at the first cash register.

There was a time when, as a customer, you would talk directly to the person who would make your order, but now you have to talk to the clerk who punches some buttons on a screen, which then relays the order to another screen in front of the food preparation area, where your order is put together. I'm sure it helps with inventory control and theft-reduction, and probably works smoothly in other quick-dining places like Panera or Crazy Bowls & Wraps, but it seems a bit much in a bagel place.

Regardless, I told the clerk I wanted a pumpkin bagel with light cream cheese, cut both ways. He dutifully hit the buttons for pumpkin bagel and light cream cheese and asked me to repeat the other part. I said, "Cut it both ways, please." He looked at me as if I had started speaking Lithuanian or asked him to identify the 100th digit of pi.

"What do you mean, cut it both ways?" I explained that I wanted the bagel sliced in half, as usual, so there's a top and bottom, and also cut vertically so as to create two sandwich halves. He nodded, then scanned the screen to see where the "cut it both ways" button was. While he was doing this, the guy who would prepare my bagel was standing next to him -- if he were any closer, they'd be sharing an arm. He'd heard my order, but didn't start making it because it hadn't appeared on his screen yet.

Once the clerk found the correct button sequence, the "chef" began to make my bagel by cutting it horizontally, then vertically, and then applying the cream cheese. Wrong! He did step three before step two, but I didn't say anything. I just watched as he tried to spread some cream cheese on each quarter, but along the way he tore one of them, so he had to throw it away and start all over again with a new bagel -- which he did in the same sequence. And then, because he was spreading the cream cheese with a scoop instead of a knife, he tore the new bagel, threw it away, and picked a third one out of the basket. At one point, he glanced at me with a look that said, "I can't believe you're making me do this," as if I'd challenged him to work blindfolded with one hand tied behind his back. In Lithuanian.

Finally, he finished applying the cream cheese, put the whole thing together, stuck it in a bag and handed it to me. I checked the time and was stunned to find out it had taken fifteen minutes from the moment I entered to the time I walked out with my food. And this was not at rush hour. I was the only customer up front the entire time.

I bet that, after work that day, those two employees went home and, when their families asked, "How was work today?", they told the story of a crazy guy who had came in with the most ridiculous request. But on my side of the counter, I couldn't believe asking for a bagel to be quartered in this manner was such an unusual request in the Einstein's universe. When you order a sandwich at Subway, they cut it both ways. So does Panera.

Is it possible that I'm the only one who likes a bagel cut both ways? In fact, why isn't that the default way a bagel is prepared?