This simple bit of grocery store advice will spare you a lifetime of regret. Give you back hours in your week. Bring sanity back to your everyday life.

I met a woman from Denmark last week. She’s been living in the United States for about a year. I asked her what she liked best about our country.

Her response (paraphrased as best as I remember) was immediate:

You're not going to believe it, but it's Stop & Shop. And all the grocery stores like it. In Denmark, we spend half of our weekend shopping for food. Bread from the baker. Meat from the butcher. Produce from the grocer. It's ridiculous. You Americans put it all under one roof. I can finish my shopping in less than an hour. It's an amazing innovation, but I still watch my American friends drive everywhere for their food. This at Whole Foods. That at Trader Joes. Stew Leonard’s. Stop & Shop. Farmer's Markets. It's ridiculous. 

I couldn't believe it. I finally found someone who agreed with me on this grocery store shopping insanity happening all around me.  

I watch my friends and family members drive all over town – seemingly everyday – for their groceries. 

Meat from Whole Foods
Produce from Stop & Shop
Coffee from the artisanal coffee roaster
Paper goods and cleaning supplies from Costco
Prepared foods from Trader Joes
Pet supplies from Petco

This is not an exaggeration. At a dinner party recently, a friend lamented that more than half of her marriage has been spent with she or her husband shopping for food.


People tell me that it's outstanding quality and low prices that they seek. This place has the best meat. That place has the best fruit. This place has the best prices on paper towels.

It's insanity. And it’s a mistake. A terrible, nonsensical mistake, for two reasons:

1. If I conducted a double-blind taste test of food quality between these stores, no person could reliably tell the difference. If I prepared a dinner of roasted chicken, asparagus sprouts, wild rice, and an apple pie for dessert using food purchased from Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, and Stew Leonard’s and asked you to tell me which one came from which store, there is no way you or anyone else could consistently tell me the difference.

It feels good to think that you are improving the quality of your family's food, but it's an improvement that exists almost entirely in your mind. 

2. More importantly, even if there was a discernible difference in quality or taste between stores, this marginal difference is not worth the time spent shuffling off to each of the stores for what my friend described as half of her married life.

This is what the woman from Denmark understands but Americans have forgotten:

Time is our most precious commodity. It should be guarded at all costs. Valued above all else. Spent with enormous care. 

There was a time when America was dotted with bakers and butchers and fishmongers and green grocers. Like Denmark, there was a time when the bulk of Saturday was spent going from shop to shop, purchasing food for the next week.

Then we built massive grocery stores and put everything under one roof, and for a time, we were happy. My mother would do all the grocery shopping in an hour at Shop-Rite while we clung to the cart and begged for sugary cereals. 

Then something changed. Americans decided that this was no longer good. We decided that the marginal improvement in the quality of our green beans was worth the hour spent driving across town in order to purchase them. We decided that even though all of the stores have organic produce, this store's organic produce must be more organic because it costs more. We decided that it's better to buy olive oil from a store that only sells olive oil (a real thing) and pickles from an artisanal pickle maker even though we never cared about pickles very much before. We decided that the more time we spent gathering the food for our meals, the better we could feel about ourselves.  

We constantly lament the lack of time that we have with our families. We bemoan our lack of sleep. We yearn for the time to read a book or watch a movie. We dream of the day when we can write a novel, learn to skateboard, take a nap, paint the living room, or simply lie down in the grass and stare at clouds.

You have that time. You spent it driving to Trader Joes because you like their crackers.

You spent it driving to Whole Foods for their salmon.

You spent it driving to Costco to save $2.86 on paper towels.

When you're lying on your deathbed, you won’t be wishing that you had eaten more flavorful green beans. You won’t be lamenting the lack of quality quinoa in your life. You won’t be regretting a lifetime bereft of farm fresh eggs.

You’ll regret the hours spent every week driving all over town in order to marginally (and probably indiscernibly) improve the quality of food in your home at the expense of time spent on better things.  

Stop the insanity.

Place time spent with friends and loved ones ahead of the desire to optimize every food item in your cupboard, refrigerator, and freezer. 

Prioritize the things you truly care about - hobbies, exercise, books, films, those project you never seem to have enough time to start - ahead of crunchier celery, more flavorful barbecue sauce,  or cheaper toilet paper. 

Accept the fact that a large amount of the difference between these products are marginal at best and likely only exist in your mind.

Time is the only real commodity in this world. It's the only real thing of value. The sooner you embrace this reality, the happier you will be.

Incompetent customer service saves Amtrak and Boston Market a total of $33.03 and costs them customers and reputation as a result.

Last week we dealt with two incredible acts of customer service stupidity by two large companies. As a person who has worked in the customer service industry as an employee, a manager and an owner of a business, I understand how little it takes to impress a customer and win him or her for life. 

When the DJ client who I met with yesterday requested a change in meeting time twice in a 24 hour period, I immediately obliged, assuring them that it wasn’t a problem.

When they entered my home for the meeting, the first thing the bride did was thank me for my flexibility and tell me how much it meant to her.

It doesn’t take much to please a customer.  

I also understand how little it takes to disappoint, anger and ultimately lose a customer, and how quickly and easily this negative experience can be passed onto others.

This is why these two acts of customer service stupidity astound me so much. Both could have been so easily avoided.

First, Elysha took our children, ages 5 and 2, on an Amtrak ride from Windsor to Hartford so the kids could ride the train. It was an activity recommended to her by another mother, and the kids loved it. My son loves trains, and my daughter is always up for a new adventure. It should’ve been an inexpensive way to spend an afternoon.


When they arrived in Hartford, however, Elysha was told that the returning train was delayed by more than two hours. It wasn’t going to be possible for her to wait at the Hartford train station for more than two hours with two small children, so after exhausting all other alternatives, she took a $33 cab ride back to Windsor. It was a stressful trip since she had no car seat for our son or daughter and was forced to hold Charlie in her arms.

Amtrak refunded the cost of the return ticket, but when she called customer service last week to request a refund on the cab ride, she was refused.

When she asked for a $33 credit for a future train ride, she was refused.

At one point, the customer service representative told her that because she had already accepted the refund on the return tickets at the station, it was impossible for him to compensate her in any other way.

Company policy.

Once compensation has been made, no other compensation is allowed.

I know. Ridiculous.

During their train ride, Elysha sent me photos from the train, and I tweeted one of the photos with a comment about how much fun my family was having on their short trip. Amtrak immediately tweeted back, pleased to hear that my kids were enjoying themselves.

When I tweeted a little later that things had not worked out like Elysha had hoped and that my family was stranded in Hartford, I heard nothing from Amtrak.

When we were refused a $33 refund or credit, I tweeted at Amtrak again, questioning their decision. Amtrak tweeted back at me almost immediately, recommending that I call customer service and providing the phone number. When I tweeted back that we had just spoken to customer service and refused compensation, Amtrak did not respond.

For a $33 credit, this company could’ve wiped away a frustrating and stressful afternoon from my wife and won a customer for life. My wife knows hundreds, if not thousands of people (not an exaggeration), and frequently champions the businesses that treat her well. When her credit card would not work at Whole Foods last year because of possible suspicious activity on the account and she was already late picking up our daughter at preschool, Whole Foods gave her more than $100 of groceries free of charge.

Just handed her the bags and told her not to worry about it. 


Elysha told this story to everyone she knew for months and is a lifelong Whole Foods customer now, even if I sometimes wish she wasn’t.

Even I have given Whole Foods credit for their outstanding customer service.

Now she will be telling a different story. It will be a story about how a train company would not refund her $33 that she was forced to spend on a cab ride when their train was delayed by more than two hours.

Such a stupid way to do business.

On Thursday night, we were heading home from a speaking gig in Massachusetts when we stopped at a rest area on the Mass Pike for drinks. I ordered a soda at Boston Market and asked for cups for water for my kids. The employee gave me two small cups, but I discovered that there were no lids for the cups.


I went back to the counter and asked for cups with lids because we would be back on the road and I didn’t want my children to spill on themselves or the car.

I was informed that I could not be given cups with lids without paying for them.

I understand the company’s concern that I may use these cups for a beverage other than water, but this was a stupid decision. I clearly had two small children with me. They were standing beside me. Give me the damn cups and hope for the best.

Instead, I will not be doing business with that particular Boston Market, and perhaps all other Boston Markets, ever again. Moreover, I’ve already told this story to half a dozen people, and with this blog post and the subsequent Facebook posts and tweets, thousands more.

For the cost of two small, plastic cups, Boston Market has lost a customer.

What are these companies thinking?

Here are 11 of the best customer service stories ever.

Not surprising, Amtrak and Boston Market did not make the list.

Fat employees receive fewer benefits at Whole Foods

There are a lot of problems with Whole Foods’ policy of awarding larger discounts to employees with lower blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI.


There is the issue of privacy, of course. In order to determine what level of discount has been earned, an employee is required to subject him or herself to a physical examination and surrender private medical information to his or her employer. 

There are also genetic conditions and illnesses that prevent individuals from achieving the blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI levels that Whole Foods requires for the highest discount possible. While Whole Foods has attempted to mitigate these concerns by offering specialized consideration for legitimate medical issues, this would require employees to disclose even more medical information to their employer.

Once again, privacy concerns abound.

There is also an apparent disregard to the connection between a healthy diet and the amount of money a person can spend for food.

The research is clear:

The more a person can spend on food, the more likely his or her food choices will be healthy ones. Offering larger discounts to employees who are already exhibiting healthy eating habits only serves to perpetuate the chasm between those who can afford healthy food and those who cannot.

But all of these concerns pales in comparison to the real problem with Whole Foods policy:

It sounds like an incentive policy created by a bunch of condescending, judgmental jerk faces.

The title to this blog post is “Fat employees receive fewer benefits at Whole Foods.” While this sentence was admittedly chosen for its inflammatory nature, it’s factually accurate. It contains no exaggeration.

Fat employees, or employees with elevated blood pressures and levels of cholesterol are granted fewer benefits as a result of their physical condition.

Not good.

Even if an incentive plan is logical and based upon irrefutable scientific research, it can still appear mean-spirited and elitist.

This one does. 

Whole Foods needs to ask itself:

Is rating our employees based upon specific physical attributes and then assigning them levels (designated by a gold, silver or bronze label) sound like a nice thing to do?

No, it doesn’t.

Furthermore, there are so many other ways for Whole Foods management to incentivize their employees to lead healthier lives that don’t involve weighing them, sticking them with needles and dividing them into metallically-labeled levels of achievement.

Rather than a 20% discount on everything in the store, Whole Foods could offer a 40% discount on fruits and vegetables only.

They could offer free consultations with nutritionists and trainers or discounted memberships to local gyms.

They could subsidize the co-pay on an employee’s annual physical.

But categorizing employees by weight and blood pressure for the purposes of offering varying discounts on food purchases?

Even if it works to improve the overall health of the workforce, it’s just not nice, and it doesn’t project the right image for a company that is all about image.

Why our Thanksgiving Day table was better than Whole Foods will ever be.

Like Whole Foods, our Thanksgiving table, located in the home of my brother-in-law’s parents, was piled high with delicious, attractively displayed  food.


Unlike Whole Foods, there was also Diet Coke on the table, a product which Whole Foods will not deign to offer its customers.

Best pizza in town, yet I can’t get a Coke to wash it down. It makes no sense and is just one reason why I avoid shopping there.

I prefer my food without the side order of pretention.

Bloomingdale’s sucks. Whole Foods does not.

On Tuesday my wife was in Bloomingdales in Manhattan, attempting to make a purchase, when our debit card was declined. It turns out that the bank put a hold on the card because of possibly fraudulent activity. When the card was processed as a credit card, it went through fine, but if it was processed as a debit card, it was declined.  

The woman at the register in Bloomingdales was impatient and impolite to my wife, making her feel as if she was trying to pass off a stolen credit card.

She was too kind and forgiving to mention this to anyone, but I am not as kind and not nearly so forgiving.

Contrast that experience to the following day, when this happened, written in my wife’s own words: 

This afternoon I was at Whole Foods picking up some groceries. Before checking out I went to buy a latte and discovered that my credit card wasn't working. I knew it shouldn't be the case so I stepped to the side to call the bank. I was on with the bank for quite some time, and the bank employee kept telling me it should be fixed and to try it again, but each time to no avail.

I had Charlie in his carrier and a carriage full of groceries that I knew I was going to have to leave at the market soon. It was snowing and I had to pick Clara up from preschool. At this point a Whole Foods employee came over and asked if I had any more shopping to do. I said that I was also going to get a rotisserie chicken. She walked away and returned with two chickens and asked which one I would prefer. Then she began bagging up my groceries.

I was still talking to the bank so it took me a minute to realize what she was doing. When I looked up she said, "Don't worry. We've got this for you."

I said, "Wait, what? You are giving these to me?"

She answered that she was, and of course I got all teary told her she didn't need to do that. She said, "It's no problem. It's snowing. We've got it."

So there you go. Some pretty awesome kindness from Whole Foods.

You can be sure I'll be making a nice donation to their charity next time I check out.

Customer loyalty is not a difficult thing to earn.

For years, I have been critical of Whole Foods for their outrageous prices, limited selection, and the sheer weight of preciousness and pretension that the company and their clientele exudes. It’s a store that sells some of the best pizza in town, and yet they will not sell me a Diet Coke to go along with my pizza. Instead, I am forced to purchase a soda-like product that tastes as if it was extracted from the bark of a tree (and probably was).

It’s stupid.

Not deigning to sell otherwise ubiquitous items like Diet Coke or batteries only forces customers into the inane (and exceedingly popular) process of shopping at multiple grocery stores, which only serves to waste time and money.

And it makes you seem like a bunch of self-righteous foodie bustards in the process.

But after they way they treated my wife yesterday, I will be decidedly less vocal about my opposition to Whole Foods. I love their pizza but am not a fan of their business model, but the company employs good people who know how to take care of customers in need, and for that reason, I will give them the credit they deserve. 

Well done, Whole Foods. Thank you for taking care of my wife in such grand fashion.

Hybrid snobbery

The grocery store that will sell me damn good pizza but cannot deign to provide a soda that wasn’t squeezed from the bark of a tree has decided to offer preferred parking to the owner of hybrid automobiles, presumably to reward them for their contributions to the environment.


This, of course, is incredibly stupid, not only because it alienates a large percentage of the customer base, but because the idea that a hybrid is the best and only ecofriendly vehicle that a person can drive is a myth.

While a hybrid vehicle may reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, the CO2 costs involved in the manufacture and transportation of a new vehicle can account for as much as 28 percent of the CO2 emissions that will be generated during the life of the vehicle, making the purchase of a used car or the choice to continue driving an older car an equally (if not more) eco-friendly decision.

And don't forget that the new hybrids‚ despite lower emissions and better gas mileage‚ actually have a much larger environmental impact in their manufacture, compared to non-hybrids. The batteries that store energy for the drive train are no friend to the environment‚ and having two engines under one hood increases manufacturing emissions. And all-electric vehicles are only emission-free if the outlet providing the juice is connected to a renewable energy source, not a coal-burning power plant, as is more likely.

I currently drive a 2003 Subaru Baja. I could have purchased a new car long ago but have opted to continue driving my nine year old vehicle because it’s still doing its job. It’s reliable, fuel efficient and in decent shape. To purchase a hybrid at this point would make no sense in terms of the environment.

Yet Whole Foods and other businesses catering to hybrid drivers ignore this scientific reality.


I’m guessing that rows of shiny new hybrids abutting their businesses do more to enhance the store’s image than a row of ten year old vehicles.