Outstanding Organizations Know It’s NEVER About The Pickle

Outstanding! 47 Ways To Make Your Organization Exceptional

customers, customer service, choices, outstanding

This organization with more than 2,630 stores is very likely outstanding, but on this day, a franchise owner and his manager were not. Read on …

– – – – – – – – –

My 29-year-old son, Michael, and I met at a sub sandwich shop down the street. A handy location for us bothand now our former favorite place to eat.

It was never about the pickle.

After interacting with a friendly cashier, we got our sandwiches and sat down. When Michael realized we’d not received our sliced half-pickle, he said to the counter guy, “Excuse me, we ordered a pickle and didn’t get it.” His response?

“I’ll need your receipt.”

“Um, really?”

Turning his pockets inside out, Mike said, “Dad, do you have the receipt?”


We both turned toward the cash register and saw our cashier had gone on a break. Darn. Meanwhile, the gent who needed to see our Pickle Procurement Paperworkhad returned to his work.

We were on our own—sans pickle.

Knowing this author of customer service books pretty well, Mike said softly, “Dad, can we not make a thing out of this?”

“You bet, son. No problem.”

But I know Michael loves a pickle with his sub. When I saw his hands still roaming his pockets hunting for the wayward receipt, I politely asked the employee who had denied Mike, “You sure we can’t have our pickle? We did pay for one.”



Then our cashier returned to her post. Jumping up, I said, “Hi, remember me? We ordered a pickle with a #8 and a #10. Right?”

She affirmed that we had indeed entered into a Certified Cucumber Contract!

Whoo hoo!

But then a new guy behind the counter jumped in declaring, “Let’s see if your receipt is in the computer.”

You. Must. Be. Kidding.

There’s no going back now!

I asked, “Okay … who’s the manager here?”

“I am,” said the proof-of-purchase-searching man.

So, the fella wasting everyone’s time while showing complete distrust of his own team member/cashier, not to mention a paying customer, was the … LEADER!

At that point, my son and I began a fine rendition of “good cop, bad cop.”

Or “crazy old man, calm young man.”

As the store boss pressed register buttons and I got a tad heated, Mike calmly said to any staff member who’d listen, “Well, this is a little weird. We just wanted our pickle.”

But wait! A third person joined the melee and began arguing with us.

I asked, “I’m sorry, who are you?”

He said, “The owner.”

No way.


From then on it’s a blur, but I do recall the Jimmy John’s franchise owner stating loudly, “You’re making a big commotion in front of all the adults in my store.”

Shame the guest. Good tactic.

Getting nowhere, this happened:

Me: “Are you saying you’re willing to lose customers over … a pickle?”

Owner: “When they act like you, I am.”

That’s when mellow Mike, co-owner of a service-oriented wedding video/photography business, said, “Dad, why don’t you head out to the truck?”

What a good son.

As I departed, he ordered a sandwich to take home to his wife. Arriving at my truck, Mike reported that when I left the store, the owner turned to other customers and said, “Well, it’s always something, right?!”—and everyone chuckled.

In my absence, I was mocked. Another outstanding service strategy.

Customers aren’t always right, but the Miller men weren’t wrong.

An hour later, I shared our experience with my QBQ! speaker colleague daughter (and mom of four), Kristin.

“Really? McDonald’s didn’t give us two milks today and when I told the staff, they couldn’t have handed them to me any faster!”

The next day, sitting with two FedEx retail store managers, I told the Jimmy John’s story. They stared. Finally, one said, “You’re making this up, right?”

Sadly, no.


Is it possible the owner of this sub shop and his manager don’t know that hungry American consumers have more eatery options than anyone can count?!?

Nah … they must know that.


Which leaves this QBQ! author and sandwich consumer extremely baffled, but pleased to know the Outstanding! book’s chapter titled “Never Forget Who Pays the Bills” is still totally on target.


So you know, we did have our pickle handed to us during all the yellingbut it was never about the pickle. In your opinion, what message(s) did this franchise send to its customers?

Outstanding! 47 Ways To Make Your Organization Exceptional


52 Responses

  1. It’s amazing to me how petty some people can be. A pickle. Seriously? It would have been so easy to just hand you two pickles and be done with it. Instead, they chose to create a “former customer.” Who makes that choice? How can they not know that when you get great service, you tell a few people. When you get bad service, you tell everyone.

  2. I guess customer engagement is not important to that store. I would have just apologized and gave y’all the silly pickle slices.
    These folks were beyond ridiculous.

  3. Wow! That’s all I have to say. I would definitely contact the owner of the company (the entire company). Relay this Perfect Pickle Predicament and see what happens. It isn’t about the pickle…it isn’t about the weirdo at the doors wanting to see your receipt when you are walking out with arms loaded and obviously in a hurry…it isn’t about either of those things. It’s about how can you make your customer feel like the most important person there that day. Why is that such a tough lesson?

  4. Funny, I only comment when you can get something for free. As a simple condiment, the old saying,
    “The customer is always right” comes to mind. Yet to have the whole store on edge and calling you a child and then lambasting you to his other customers without you present was purely poor judgement. Poor customer service is never good for business. I would have to ask a simple question, was the store that busy that they simply could not remember a previous customer? Should of kept your Pickle Procurement paperwork filed. Just send my autographed book to this store. It would be a helpful donation.

  5. REALLY? While I don’t doubt your pickle tale, I sincerely wonder where the manager and owner got their training – if indeed they received any. It is a shame you experienced this kind of “service”. What’s worse is you probably were not the first and, unless things change dramatically, won’t be the last.

  6. I had a similar experience with Jimmy Johns with a completely different outcome. After ordering dinner one night, and still not having my sandwiches after an hour and 10 minutes, and 2 calls to the store, I cancelled my order. I ended up tweeting about the lack of “Freaky Fast” and not only the Regional Director called me but the store owner called me personally as well! They couldn’t have been more apologetic and offered me not only a free meal at my local store, but a gift card for a future meal as well. They certainly made me a customer for life! The sad part? The person who I spoke with to cancel my order in the first place was the MANAGER, who could have done this himself and saved a lot of grief!

  7. Shame on the owner. Whatever happen to manners and being polite. Business owners should and can be more welcoming, Unfortunately, the It’s my business and i can do whatever i want attitude is running rampant. Luckily, i also have choices and a voice.

  8. I’m glad you identified the offending franchise, as I thought it was Firehouse Grill. I’ve never used Jimmy John, but after your experience, I probably never will. Thanks.

  9. Really a sad story , but I’m sure it is happening all over ..The other very sad situation , to me , was the other customers didn’t come to ur rescue , even when u left & the manager made his snide remarks ..SAD ,?

  10. I worked in a local pizza restaurant for 10 years, during and immediately after college, and learned many valuable lessons about customers, customer service and customer perception. Arguing over a simple item like a pickle shows a lack of respect for the customer, and as you pointed out in your post, a lack of trust in the cashier who verbally confirmed you did, in fact, order the pickle. I have never been wowed by my few experiences with this particular franchise, which is probably why I don’t go there often, and I certainly will think twice about it now. However, to be fair, perhaps this particular franchise owner has dealt with customer fraud in the past which has soured him to taking customers or employees at their word. While that would be sad, it’s still not an excuse to belittle and berate customers in his store.

  11. ARGGG! I need the end of the story. Did Mike order a pickle for his wife when he ordered her sub? And did he get it? Did he share the pickle with you in the truck? Was the receipt ever found on the system? Was it a good pickle if one was ever provided?

    As far as a message – the owner and the manager have clearly stated that his green pickles are more important than greenbacks and customers. Very strange strategy if they want to stay in business. But maybe he REALLY likes pickles and was having a hard time parting with them. Perhaps he raised them from little cucumbers and spent his own time pickling them and was just to heartbroken to part with even a single one.

    The store owner really put you into a pickle of a situation.

    Ok I will stop now.

  12. Just another reason to skip Jimmy John’s. I find their menu options to be limited. (i.e. white bread sub or whole grain bread … I want my sub on a whole wheat sub) But the WORST part of your experience in my opinion was the disparagement of you after you left. People who walk into a business establishment deserve respect!!!

  13. That Franchisee is terrible, of course.
    I was at a different Jimmy Johns, I know it was different because they were different. When I ordered my sub sandwich and didn’t get my 1/4 pickle log the employee didn’t give me 1/4 pickle, he gave me the whole pickle and apologized. It was fantastic.

  14. WOW! All that over a pickle. They obviously don’t care about customer retention or satisfaction. It not only looks bad on that one store, owner, manager but for the whole framchise. I doubt corporate would have that same frame of mind.

  15. I operated a concierge company for a number of years, and one of the biggest things I trained my employees to understand is that the customer isn’t always right… WHAT????? A total opposite of what every company out there teaches, and I specialized in a 100% customer satisfaction business… What I told my employees was this – The customer is isn’t always right, and it is our job to make sure they understand why, and then gave them the tools and techniques to be able to tell people they weren’t right, and have the customer leave more knowledgeable and happier for having interacted with us.
    For example, a Customer came into one of our concierge offices and asked for tickets to game 1 of the world series for the Colorado Rockies… No small task – especially the DAY BEFORE THE GAME… We called our ticket brokers and got 10 options for tickets. The Concierge informed the customer and went over the options… Of the 10 options, none of them were under $1,000, and 8 of them were over $5,000… This is when the customer began yelling at the concierge because we were trying to price gouge them… After some very skillful conversating (yes – I just used that word), the concierge put the customer in touch with the ticket broker, we educated them, and they walked out bummed they couldn’t go… but three days later they came back in with a laundry list of things for us to do… He told the concierge that they obviously know their stuff, and he appreciated that we chose to educate rather than to give some canned “I’m sorry you feel that way ” speech… He turned into one of our biggest clients.
    Moral of the story – don’t give away the pickles, educate why the pickle is so protected and use viable solutions and work with the customer to resolve the situation.

  16. What the Manager failed to realize is that he did not represent a stand alone sandwich shop, he was the face of the franchise and when he took down his own sandwich shop over a pickle, he took down the thousands of other employees of the same franchise with him. You can’t fix stupid!

  17. Mike is very fortunate to have you as a father and great example of sticking up for what is right. It’s not about the pickle, it’s about serving a fine product and making every customer happy. I know if I had been there, I would have stood up for you especially after you left. We know the profit does not rest on the pickle stock, but the stock of people that drive the sales. In this day and age where the service does drive your next visit, each and every establishment needs to stand out and make the very best impression on every customer or there is no reason to return. Kudos to you, John!

  18. Look like they put you in a pickle.

    The story left me with a sour taste in my mouth!

    In thinking of customer service, it always go back to when I worked in retail in high school, “The Customer is Always Right.”

    You won’t see me at one of their stores.

  19. What message(s) did this franchise send to its customers?

    This franchise sent the message that the customer is less valuable than a pickle. They would rather defend themselves by putting other down(to include their own cashier) than make something right.

    There was a Hibdon Tires where I used to get all my tire work and oil changes done. They didn’t always do the best work, but every time they made a mistake they went above and beyond to make it right. For that one reason, I was loyal customer for about 10 years. Then the manager(Tiffany) left. The new manger would address problems to make them right, but he had a sorry attitude and I felt I had to work and almost argue to get mistakes corrected. After two times of going through that, I asked one of the employees where did Tiffany? He said she was moved to the bigger store about 10 miles away. She enjoys a fast pace and that store was the busiest Hibdon in the area. So now I drive an extra 20 miles round trip to get work done, and they always make things right.

    That is crazy that they argued with you over a pickle.

  20. Your experience highlights how the mentality starts at the top. Sad to see people in a service industry completely lose the plot.

  21. It tells the customers hat they don’t matter. It tells the customer that no matter what is written on their walls and no matter how fast they are, the customers don’t come first. Not only do they not come first but they will be made “an example” if they speak up. I will be using this when I next lead our Monday morning Mgmt meeting. It is never about the pickle. It is always amazing to me how many people just don’t get it. Thank you so much for your books and crusade. I have learned so much and applied so much to my own life.

  22. I’ve had Jimmy Johns once and didn’t like their stale bread (maybe it only happened on the unlucky day I ordered for my office staff). We have found a really good sandwich/pizza/salad/soup place close by which we now patronize regularly. We vote with our feet. In our business we never argue with a customer.

  23. Now that I’m reading your story I can only shake my head. But it reminded me suddenly of a story/philosophy that our customer service team at a large corporation I worked for embodied as part of their strategy for better customer service. Their team used to alway say “Give em’ the pickle” It is your story all over again :). Here’s the link:


  24. This story is about the pickle in a sense: this symbolic catalyst revealed something ugly about a service provider and some of those he or she “trained”: the belief that customers owe them even when they have not provided what they should have.

    This story is also about the receipt: It is also a powerful symbol and the requirement of an absurd policy where policy trumps people.

    The truth behind the story is that this sub shop owner and manager obviously did not “believe” the customer should be “believed.” Trust in the customer’s word was replaced by a legalistic and managerial procedure which demanded a receipt. In the owner’s eyes, the only person worthy of such trust was self. His or her manager and employees must follow procedure because he pays them. We clearly see this when the boss did not take the employee’s word and simply give the customer the beloved and coveted pickle.

    The owner obviously forgot the people who pay him: the customers. Because of his lack of esteem for those he served, he never effectively communicated to his manager or employees that it was not really him paying them, but customers paying him so he could pay them. The object lesson opportunity the owner had was lost and never shown to the employees. What a shame!

    In life, the customer is not always right, but he or she should be treated as if they were. When such is not the case, we the clients must walk away and never pay that enterprise again.

  25. You never know who’s in your store ordering food or using your service.

    What a great story in forgetting who pays the bills. Even if the customer is wrong, just give em a pickle. The staff should have known better.

    Do more than what people expect… No matter who’s watching.

    This reminds me of Bob Farrell, Just give em a pickle… http://www.giveemthepickle.com, you can check him out on YouTube too. Mr. Farrell is awesome and sends the right message.

  26. Simply they don’t listen to their employees(cashier remembered you ordered the pickles) and MGMT hierarchy has no regard for customers and humiliates these same individuals who provide them their livelihood.
    Bunch of knuckleheads!
    This business is doomed to go bust.

  27. I don’t know if this was said before, but I have heard it said many times: “if something happens good, you might tell 50 people, but if something bad happens, you will tell 250.” I think you told more than 250 though.

  28. This store clearly needs your services! I would charge them a reasonable amount and then double it!! No just kidding, but I would turn them into your client and I believe they will be giving you sandwiches for free for a long time!

  29. This business sent a message to their customers that they don’t care if they are satisfied or not. And doing so in front of their employees encourages them to treat customers badly.

  30. It is sad to say that this is the norm and not the exception in the “It is not my fault” culture of today. The sad thing is that this one store’s failure at customer satisfaction affects all of the other stores. The store will fail and the owner will blame the economy. It is a lesson to all of us in the people business of what not to do.

  31. I guess you’ll just have to “dill” with it.
    What do you call a pickle sale? A sweet dill!
    How do pickles enjoy a day out? They relish it.
    How does a cucumber become a pickle? It goes through a jarring experience

  32. The QBQ is why would they have a policy that assumes the customer is trying to rip off the company? OR, is business really SO tight that the owner is obsessing over every 3 cent pickle? This kind of thinking sets the tone for how employees view and treat customers. In this instance, clearly the wrong example.

    You don’t have to worry about going back. This Jimmy Johns franchisee won’t be in business much longer anyway.

  33. To the self-absorbed owner of this sub shop I say – stop making excuses and make it right! It’s a pickle and your inability to admit a mistake will take you, your employees and your business to places you do NOT want to go!

  34. Went to our local Denny’s and ordered an open face roast beef sandwich. When it came I politely inquired where the second piece of bread was. At home Mom always served open face sandwiches with two slices of bread, each with beef and gravy. Well the server told me the error of my thinking in no uncertain terms. I said I would be willing to pay for the additional slice. It came on a saucer which she literally threw on the table. And charged me a dollar. All I know is that that particular branch is no longer in business. Seems like some servers just need to find different employment.

  35. Funny, just an hour ago at Jerzeys Mikes, I placed my order:
    ME: I’ll have a number 13, reg size, white bread. Counterboy puts on gloves,
    HIM: OK What was that?
    ME: I’ll have a number 13, reg size, white bread.
    HIM: White Bread?
    ME: YES, I’ll have a number 13, reg size, white bread.
    HIM (cutting Bread) Did you say reg or giant?
    ME: I’ll have a number 13, reg size, white bread.
    Enter New counter girl
    HER: What are yo making
    HIM: Umm I think a 13?
    HER:(Rolls eyes, looks at me)
    ME: I’ll have a number 13, reg size, white bread.
    HER: (Dumps a gallon of vinegar & oil without asking) and says to me “Here”

  36. John, I really saw you as a JJ Gargantuan kinda’ guy.. Still, sandwiches of all kinds are usually best with pickles. I can’t argue with you and how this was handled, but it sure might of been worth the money to hand the sandwich back to the owner and say “You need this more than I do” (it’s what my dad would have done, and as a result, me too) – right in front of everyone standing in line, of which none will probably ever see you again, but they might be on the lookout for this same kind of treatment from these employees, including the owner in future visits. Not everyone, if anyone, who was watching and listening would agree with how the manager and his employees handled this unfortunate situation. No one would fault you and Michael by just making the point that “If it truly was about the pickle, it was going to cost him much more than that in the long run”. Who knows???, but… this owner who has remained nameless in your piece, has just represented his “very strong” investment in his business, and the name of his Franchisor very poorly, and my guess – just a guess, is that this example may show up down the road in a presentation when the chapter about “Never Forget Who Pays the Bills” is covered.. You can donate my book, should I win, to the school library of your choice. I already have mine. OR,, you might sign a copy to Jimmy John himself, who is very involved in the International Franchise Group as a member and speaker on their behalf and send to him at their corporate headquarters at: 2212 Fox Dr, Champaign , IL 61820 217-356-9900. From reading the comments in their customer service site, they may want to incorporate this topic in to their franchisee owners training.

  37. It’s sad how many people don’t get it. Good customer service brings customers back. Bad customer service sends them to the competitor. It shouldn’t be so difficult to figure out!

  38. It is amazing to me that the service industry either forgets, or perhaps never even knew from the get go about who is paying the rent. I travel the world and I see failures in customer service, but many of these places, customer service is not something that they are known for. Many of my foreign associates comment on how America used to have wonderful customer service, but that is a lost art now. It is much cheaper to keep a customer than paying to find a new one.

  39. It is never about be right – or wrong; its about doing the right thing for the greater good of the organization, the patrons and staff. In this sad situation, Owner, Management and Staff demonstrated the wrong values and actions… thank you for sharing this situation so that we can all learn from it!

  40. People lose sight of the long term goal for the sake of a short term win. We eat at the same restaurant a lot. Their menu clearly says that you have to be under a certain age to order a kids meal. My wife asked the manager if she could order a kids meal and his responce was “I would much rather sell you a kids meal over and over”. She has eaten a LOT of kids meals there.

  41. I’ve had the same experience many times with franchises. Even when you want to go back to try again you can’t help but feel like you are wasting your money and money, all while expecting another issue to occur.

  42. Well I never liked Jimmy Johns anyway and now I have a better reason to not go there. Terrible service and to mock the customer after he leaves is shameful. I would not have bought another lunch from them, they did not deserve your business.

  43. What a fine pickle we find ourselves in here. Don’t trust the staff or the customers. When in doubt alienate, dominate humiliate. When they can’t do the simple things right they cannot possibly do the complex things correctly.

  44. I think the “pickle” can be a defining moment in their company mission, philosophy, and hopeful response to your scenario/concern. The customer is certainly is not always right, but certainly always the customer. John, you may want to send them a copy of “Outstanding” for a Christmas gift, pay it forward right! haha
    Hopefully the owner or manager can send you a voucher for a pickle over the Holiday Season. In the meantime, we can hope and pray there are other customer “pickle stories” out there from Jimmy John’s…

  45. A pickle costs what? 50 cents maybe?
    For every one bad customer service experience there are about 10 people told. And now this single franchise owner has negatively affected all the other franchises. Pride….the refusal to admit we made a mistake…….is expensive.

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