A Valuable Service Lesson the Submarine Sandwich Taught the Architect

Image Credit:  Pixabay

Image Credit: Pixabay

'The true test of business's customer service fitness is not when things are going right - but rather what is done when things go wrong.'
Steve Ferrante


I went out to get a sub for dinner at one of my favorite sub shops near my home. I go there for a very particular type of submarine sandwich - a large buffalo chicken sub, everything bread, grilled peppers and onions, lettuce, tomato, and mozzarella. I mention this because I went searching for my dinner with purpose and clarity.

I arrived at the establishment and went inside. Fortunately, it didn't seem as though there would be much of a wait. There were a few people sitting and waiting with plastic, tented numbers at their tables, but no one standing patiently in line.

I stood for a moment at the 'Order Here' position. There were three women behind the counter. The first took orders, the second assembled them at the grille, and the third checked out patrons at the cash register - at least this seemed to be the system from what I could garner.

After an acceptable amount of time (three minutes or so) without anyone recognizing that I was standing in line, I simply said a friendly 'Hi' to the first woman. I figured that she hadn't noticed I was standing there and now she would at least have to acknowledge I was waiting either way. She said, 'Oh! Just a moment.' After another minute or so, I placed my order, she gave me my own plastic, tented number and I proceeded to sit down at a booth across from the cash register.

...And then I waited.

So far this hadn't really been anything out of the typical experience that I've had before with this restaurant. I proceeded to look on my phone and I even responded to my wife with a text. I looked on twitter for a bit and browsed a few emails I had been meaning to read. This was all well and good until I realized that I had been sitting there for 15 minutes. I knew this was exact because of the timestamp on the text.

This still wasn't Earth-shattering, except for the fact that four more people had ordered, stood at the cash register, paid and left with their orders. I thought 'well, this is odd.' At one point the cashier made eye contact with me and I gave her a little bit of look like 'hey, what's going on? I need my sub.' I don't know if that really conveyed everything I was thinking, but she continued about her business.

A few more minutes passed and at some point, the second worker (let's call her the 'grillemaster') noticed my increasing frustration with the situation. To her credit, she said "I'm working on your order now, Sir. Have a cookie for the wait." This did work a little bit of magic, but I was still really confused why a sub (as deliciously described above) would take what was now about 20 minutes. I guess I found out the answer - they hadn't even started it yet. The cookie helped, but not that much.

Now, let me just say this. I have been on the other side of this situation before as a 'grillemaster' myself. I understand that the orders pile up and it's hard to get ahead of the situation. For awhile, I gave the three sub makers the benefit of the doubt. Patience has always worked out for me before.

Another 5 minutes later, there was a call from behind the counter, "You're all set, Sir. I had 6 orders come in right before yours.' My sub appeared miraculously on to the counter. Now, I heard this and thought 'huh, so I've been waiting here for about 25 minutes in total. In hindsight, a cold sub was looking like a much more efficient order.

Why didn't someone mention that there was a line at the grille? Why didn't someone suggest that my wait time would be close to half an hour? Several questions like these floated in and out of my head.

...And then I waited some more.

You might be asking yourself why I'd still be waiting. Well, it's like this. Person 1 starts the order and gives it to Person 2, the grillemaster. After the order is complete, Person 3 cashes out the order and the cycle starts over. However, Person 1 and Person 3 were no where to be found.

At some point I just got tired of the situation and told my friend the grillemaster, "I need to cash out now." Eventually the grillemaster asked Person 3 (who reappeared from stocking cookies of all things) to help me out. She even added that I should get 10% my order. She continued to shuffle back and forth at the grille and seemed to be lost in the process.

I paid for my order and left. As I made my way to the door, the grillemaster said, 'please, come again.' I turned and said, 'it's alright, I appreciate the consideration.' Her reaction stunned me. She didn't look at me or even acknowledge I had spoken.

Now, maybe you've caught on, dear reader, that this situation was a bit chaotic for the three sub makers that day. As the patron, I had no idea what was going on - I still don't completely. But here's the thing, I shouldn't need to know how they make the sub, I just need to know if there are reasons why a quick 5 minute jaunt to the sub shop would turn into over half an hour of waiting.

In my book, the word 'sorry' goes a long way - something that wasn't mentioned. From what I can gather, grillemaster was busy trying to pull the entire process together by herself. At no point did she ask for help with making her list of orders, nor did she muster team spirit from her co-workers to get the job done. Even when I acknowledged the situation, she was still too engrossed in the process to recognize the one person that matters most in customer service, the customer.


If you take one thing away from this story, please consider your clients. They don't know what you go through to make your AutoCAD drawings pretty and clear. They don't know what crazy deadlines you're under. They don't know if you have other clients you're working for or not. The reality is, they shouldn't need to. As Architects, we have a responsibility not only to provide an amazing product to our clients, but also the thoughtful act of informing them when we run into issues. Don't leave your clients wondering when they'll get their own submarine sandwiches.


Customer service needs to be a mindset in any business. Have you ever had an experience like I did that made you question your own methods? Let me know some of your thoughts in the comments below.

CareerMichael LaValley