Justin Ricklefs


On Ground Up Tennis Shoes, Cockroaches, and Radically Orienting Around Your Customers

“You’re not funny dad, you’re actually literally annoying.”

I hear a version of that daily. The dad jokes are funny, to me, at least. But they’re not resonating with my intended audience.

I come by it naturally. From every dad who has read the same book. My own included.

“Why are you sprinkling ground up tennis shoes on your pizza?” my own old man has trademarked in the Book of Bad Dad Jokes.

That’s what he calls parmesan cheese, at least the sawdust consistency type that comes table side.

Hilarious, huh?

A few weeks ago, we rolled into a pizza joint we’ve frequented often in our “what’s for dinner” conversations that lead to “forget it, let’s grab pizza…”

We have a favorite national brand (PJ by a mile), but have local spots on rotation when we want the sit down and eat variety.

Drinks came. Side salads next. Then our two large pizzas. The ground up tennis shoe shaker gets destroyed when our family comes to visit.

Loads of cheese on top of loads of cheese. By the time it came to me, I was fourth in line. The first three already pounding their cheesed-up pizza.

“That’s weird, what’s that black thing,” I thought.

I gave it a good shake, thinking it might be an olive or something.

“Shit, it moved.”

A cockroach in the cheese shaker.

Look, this isn’t a hammer the local restaurant review. I respect the hell out of this group and everyone who is trying to keep the lights on, the doors open, and the customers happy in any business.

The fact is we all have a proverbial roach crawling around at times. It’s unavoidable.

However, the bitter pill for me, was when we went to pay.

“Hey, I heard about the situation at the table, I’m going to take a drink off for the trouble.”

“Umm, thanks, but we basically threw out a whole pizza that we’d already dumped cheese on, and honestly, know it wasn’t your fault, but it kinda ruined our experience.”

“I’ll take that whole pizza off then. You guys have been in a lot.”

I checked our credit card last night, $63ish was still our bill, after the removals.

I’m just wondering what it would look like, as we all own and acknowledge the roach-like experiences we offer our own customers (not intentionally of course, but they’re bound to happen), if something like this would have left a slightly less roach-y flavor…

(comes to the table while we’re still sitting there)

“Geez, what a terrible experience. And disgusting for you all. Obviously not going to make you pay a penny for anything tonight. Our team deep cleans this place every night, but obviously we can’t control every single bug, nook, and cranny here. But regardless, you all have been in a ton, made a bunch of great memories here, and I’d love to keep you coming back forever. Please accept my awkward, embarrassed apology. Geez.”

Radically orienting around our experience would likely lead to deep trust.

But instead, it was likely our last $63.

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