When I go to work out at FFC, I usually don’t wear my best clothes. Because I like to shave after a turn in the steam room and hot tub, I’m usually unshaven. I carry my shoes, shorts, etc., in a beat-up backpack with a busted zipper.

Recently, looking like I maybe slept under a bridge the night before, I walked into Book Table. I couldn’t help but notice the man at the desk gazed at me just a nano-second longer than usual and subjected me to the slow elevator gaze, probably because I looked like I might be, you know, homeless or indigent or transient, and so without funds or other commercial interest for the store.

When I walk around Oak Park in this pre- and sometimes even post-work out attire, I get a lot of nods from some of the actual homeless around the library, Walgreen’s, near the parking lot across from FFC, etc. I always nod back, because it’s polite, and because I understand that, for just this one moment, I may very well appear to be one of their tribe. I’m totally okay with that, of course, and it does spare me the need to hand out spare change. Still, appearing homeless – whether you actually are or are not – clearly has its drawbacks.

Chipotle is a place I’d previously pretty much enjoyed.

Last week, looking indigent, I stopped by Chipotle for a carnitas burrito. I wanted to make sure I was asking for the right meat, so I stretched my arm over the serving table and pointed down, asking “Is that carnitas, and [pointing to another bin], what’s that?”

The young woman behind the counter looked at me sternly, without answering my question, and said, “You’ve got to stop putting your hand over there!”

Now, I understand why fast food places can’t have customers reaching over the sneeze screen, but as I am a gentleman of a certain age, being publicly chastised by a person probably one-third my years was rather embarrassing. I kind of recoiled when her reprimand seemed to imply that counter-overreaching was a regular problem of mine, perhaps some strange compulsion typical of an apparent public nuisance such as me. She was contemptuous; she didn’t even bother to answer my last question. She just scolded me and then went on with her work. I had to ask again for an answer. I’m assuming her apparent dismissal was because I looked like a low-value customer.

I’ve done contract work with McDonald’s Corporation for some years, and I’ve done a lot of service training for them. One thing I don’t think you’d ever hear a McDonald’s employee say to a customer is “Don’t” or “Stop” or other command, certainly not without a “Please” and “Thank you.” It’s just commonsense polite and reflects a correct service orientation.

I’ve got to believe the Chipotle staff is trained to be similarly polite to customers…at least regular customers.

The chastisement I received from the young woman at Chipotle, mild as it may seem, kind of diminished whatever enjoyment I might have gained from the food.

The overall experience made me feel that I never really wanted to go to Chipotle again.

If I do, though, I’ll know to dress for the occasion.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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