From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

Beyond Order-Taking

Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you.

Henry Ward Beecher

Back in 1987, I was preparing to give a speech to a conference for seafood department managers of supermarkets. Lacking any good stories about the seafood business, I decided to go as a “mystery shopper” to my local grocery store and see if I could “create” a situation that might result in a colorful story.

As I neared the glass casing of the seafood department, a voice called out, “How can I help you?”

I’m thinking, He doesn’t realize, it’s time for a pop quiz. So I say, “You know, I’m very health-conscious. I realize that certain species of seafood are high in cholesterol and others are low in cholesterol. Could you tell me which ones?”

The seafood specialist said, “Sir, do you realize there are two kinds of cholesterol?” He proceeded to launch into a clear and helpful medical explanation of the differences between high-density lipoproteins and low-density lipoproteins. I was certain I was witnessing the second coming of Marcus Welby, M.D.

Although startled by his response, I persisted in administering my test of product knowledge. “I need more variety in my seafood preparation. Here I am living in Seattle, where we have such great seafood, but I don’t know many recipes. Please understand, I’m busy, so help me find something easy to put together.”

The seafood specialist walked briskly out from behind the counter and gestured with his hand in a way that said, “Follow me.” We headed into the grocery aisles to the spice section. He reached up to the top shelf, pulled off a box and held it up, saying, “This spice from Japan is excellent. Very versatile. Goes well with any seafood. This is a good place to start.”

As we walked back to the seafood department, he stopped just before the glass casing, looked me square in the eyes and said, “Sir, let me be sure I understand your needs. You’re saying you want healthy seafood and a variety of recipes that don’t take much time to prepare?”

I said, “Yes, precisely.”

“Have I got a book for you.” He pulled down a book and put the front cover about 10 inches from my eyes. The title read, Healthy, Easy-to-Prepare Seafood Recipes for the Pacific Northwest.

As I thumbed through the pages, the recipe titles sounded delicious. Forgetting my purpose for this mystery shopping trip, I couldn’t resist placing orders. Salmon . . . halibut . . . tuna . . . scallops! I was on a roll.

As I pushed my shopping cart toward the checkout stand, the irony of the situation dawned on me. I had come to the seafood department to test this guy’s product knowledge, to get a good story for a speech. I was leaving with what was, for me, an all-time record for seafood purchases in a single shopping trip.

The seafood specialist was far more than an order-taker. He was an extraordinary problem-solver who made a difference in the quality of my seafood dinners, and who made me feel like the most important shopper in the store that day. If there were a Supermarket Hall of Fame, my seafood-filled shopping cart would have been a resounding vote of confidence for this dedicated worker.

Art Turock

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