Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Lemon Filling

When I had my first bakery, Richard’s Bakery of Tualatin, Oregon, from 1975-1985, that’s where I learned how to deal with customer complaints. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the best course of action in a retail situation is to just give over to the customer’s complaint, and give them their money back. If a customer comes in and says they got a lug nut in their maple bar, even if they didn’t, the last thing you need is for someone to be standing in front of your bakery case, loudly complaining about biting into a lug nut, in one of your products. On occasion, I would drag my feet while considering compensation, as was the case when a woman said she broke her tooth on a screw that she had bit into in a sponge cake. Luckily, she just went away, and I never heard from her again. Since she was trying to get her dental bills paid, and it was a lot of money, I thought I’d better think it over. She must’ve thought it over too, and decided not to try to scam that nice young man with the bakery.

But most of the time, if a person said their bread was stale, or a turnover wasn’t done, whatever, ya just give’m their money, and that’s that. I can even recall a wedding cake blooper, where the cake was reported to be dry, and we responded by giving the customer a full refund. It’s not likely the cake was really dry. But I had basically assumed the policy of “the customer is always right”, and we lived by it. My second wife, who survived several years of bakery ownership, and I quarreled regularly about my strict adherence to The Nordstrom Return Policy. “Face it, Ric”, she would exclaim, “The customer is sometimes confused”.

One day, early in the morning, I was standing by my 20-pan Reed revolving oven, icing Danish, when a man walked into the production area, carrying a pink quarter sheet box, the kind that holds a quarter sheet cake. As he approached, he had a bit of a twinkle in his eye. “You Richard?”, he asked. “That’s me”, I spoke, “What can I do for you?”. “Well”, the man spoke with kind of a giggle”, “My wife sent me down here, for a refund”. “What seems to be the problem?”, I asked.

Apparently, this man’s wife had been to the bakery the day before, and had purchased the cake from our decorated cake case. It had “Happy Birthday” written on it, and one of the sales staff had added the word “Dad”. She had purchased it especially because it was for her father-in-law, this guy’s Dad, and they were going out for a special dinner in his honor, and taking his favourite dessert, a lemon-filled white cake, from our bakery.

So they went to the restaurant, had their meal, and then, as the “Happy Birthday Dad” cake was revealed, and placed before the honoree, this guy’s wife announced..........”Dad, I made you your favourite cake........white cake with lemon filling”!!!

As the man told the story, I could tell he was working up to something, since he was chuckling more and more. What happened next, at the restaurant, could possibly the best story I have ever heard, illustrating how lying doesn’t pay. Because just as the woman announced that she had made her father-in law’s favourite lemon filled cake, (which, it turned out, had been mismarked in the cake case by my staff) the cake was reveal a RASPBERRY FILLED CAKE!!!, At that moment, and I swear this actually happened, the man burst into uncontrollable laughter. Can’t stand still laughter. Tears laughter. Of course, myself, being a person who will laugh just because someone else is laughing, he got me going too. So there we stood, utterly engulfed in laughter, about how his wife had been so busted for telling a bold faced lie, for trying to take credit for making a cake she had not made. Then, still barely able to speak, the man says...”So I really need to get the refund, man”, and we both burst out laughing again.

Some minutes later, I gave him the refund, we shook hands, and he took off. As the years have past, I have relived this moment many times, thinking about how that woman must have been squirming, shocked, and embarrased, as they cut the cake. How does one cover up such a lie? How about.....”Oops, I forgot raspberry is not lemon?” In my own life, if I am ever tempted to lie, I just remember the “lemon filling” story, and any further desire to fib quickly recedes.

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Pacific Beach, Washington, United States