Learning to Apologize

I work at Panera and I work on the catering end of things. I had an interaction today with a customer that helped me see somethings about apologizing that I think I needed to see that I’ve avoided for a long time.

We had two early morning breakfast orders to deliver on today. I start work at 7:00 a.m. and the first order had to be delivered between 7:15-7:45. The catering coordinator and myself had basically 15-30 minutes to show up to work, set up, and then get the food made and delivered to a customer who’s office was almost 10 minutes away. The two orders weren’t abnormally large, but with enough items that it was gonna take some time. Add to this fact that there were things that happened that made if very difficult to fill the order in time. To make a long story short, I didn’t get out the door till 7:50 — 5 minutes after the latest time the food was supposed to arrive.

To make matters more interesting, this was my first solo delivery. I’m not super familiar with the delivery area that we have, and on top of that, I’ve never been to the business that I’m delivering too – it was gonna take some extra time to simply figure out where I was going and who I had to deliver to.

I finally got to the business I needed to go to, asked some random person where the delivery location was, found some other random person who seemed to know where I was supposed to go, went in, dropped off the food, and then I had to find the person who needed to sign the receipt. It was almost 20 minutes now since I was supposed to have this food delivered. Their meeting had already begun and people were going to get food from the on-site cafeteria because we were so late.

I finally found the lady who was supposed to sign the receipt. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but figured that she would probably be upset.

She was.

She approached me briskly, and asked me rather sternly if I knew how late I was. I affirmed to her that I knew. Somewhat frazzled and frustrated she informed me how it was embarrassing to put on a meeting for medical conglomerates, who are on tight schedules already, only to have to delay her meeting because her food order was late. She stated that she had contacted the office twice and got the run-a-round, which she was visibly upset about. She continued, trying to communicate her frustration and disappointment in the service provided. She then said she refused to pay for the meal. The service was unacceptable.

I responded. I told her that I was sorry the food was late, that we had a busy morning but that we should have had it to her on time. I told her that there wasn’t anything I could do regarding the charge of the order but that I would make sure that the issue would be resolved appropriately. Lastly, I told her I understood why she was upset.

Still frazzled, but moderating herself, she thank me for understanding. I told her we would contact her as soon as possible to resolve the issue and then left back for work.

Good times.

The fun didn’t end there though.

I got back to our store and spoke with one of the supervisors about it, which this person informed me that he spoke with the lady and stated that he wouldn’t apologize to her. He said he didn’t want to say he was sorry for what happened when he didn’t know everything that went on. Really, it sounded to me like he was covering his own rear. I told him that sometimes we need to apologize, even when we don’t know all the facts. If somebody’s been wronged, we need to apologize. He disagreed.

It made sense to me now why this lady was so upset. Certainly she would be upset about the order being late. But I didn’t understand why she was as upset as she was when she came and talked to me. The real reason was that, to her, because of the person at my store that she spoke with, we wouldn’t apologize for what happened. What refusing to apologize did is it devalued her feelings and minimized what had been done. She was rightly upset, and by us not apologizing, it told her that we had done nothing wrong and so her response to us was out of line. No wonder it only made her more upset.

That was lesson #1

Lesson #1

When we refuse to apologize for wronging people we are really telling them that we think what we did is not wrong (and therefore right) and that their feelings and response to the problem are out of line. The thought is: “Why are you so upset if we did nothing wrong. You shouldn’t be angry with me. Your response is really an overreaction.”

We need to actually (verbally) apologize to people when when we’ve wronged them. As much as apologizing is about us being me being honest, it’s also about the other person. It’s about them knowing that we know that they are right for being angry and upset at us. Their anger is justified and we need to own it.

I would be lying if I said that this is where the story ended. The above is easy for me to tell because really, it looks like it wasn’t my fault. It looks like it was somebody else’s fault for the food being late, not mine – I am just the worker, I just put it all together and make sure it gets to the customer. It really wasn’t that hard to apologize to the lady because I could make it seem like it was someone else’s fault for the food being late, I was just the liaison. It didn’t cost me anything to say, “sorry” to her, because, realistically, I couldn’t do anything about it. It ultimately wasn’t my responsibility.

Or so it seems…

My manager came and spoke with me afterward about the incident, trying to gather the facts. She asked why the order was late. It ran through my head that I could feed her a line and just say, “well, we were really busy.”

I said, “Well… honestly?

“Yes.” she replied

“Well, there are three things I think why the food was late. 1) We were understaffed. 2) We didn’t have enough time between the time I arrived and the time that the food was supposed to be delivered. 3) There were stocking issues beyond our control that affected our ability to fill the order,” I replied.

All of the above were true.

Then she had to do it.

“Did you know about the order yesterday?” she asked.


“I don’t think so,” I replied.

I lied.

I had known about the order.

In fact, I had looked at the scheduling sheet the day before and even told our catering coordinator that I thought I should come in a half-hour earlier so that we could fill the order and have it ready to deliver on time. I told her because I thought we might be understaffed, I thought we might not have enough time, and I wanted to make sure that we would have all the food ready and accounted for – all the reasons that I gave to my manager why the food was late.

My catering coordinator said she didn’t think that I needed to come in early and that we should be fine. I thought I should come in, but I’m the new guy and I didn’t want to press the issue. Maybe we would be fine – it didn’t look that way to me, but I wasn’t gonna get in a stink about it. Plus, I wanted to go home and I didn’t really want to wake up 30 minutes earlier to be at work. Ultimately, I was being selfish.

All this ran through my mind at the speed of light when my manager asked, “Did you know about the order yesterday?”

I knew I deceived her.

“Actually… yeah, we did.” I said. “I saw the order yesterday but we thought we would be okay to fill it in time. That was my fault. I’m sorry.”


Really, I’m not better than my co-worker who refused to apologize. I was more sly about it and cordial, but still afraid to admit my fault in the matter.

The reason I was afraid? (Now there’s a life question…)

I didn’t want to take responsibility for my actions because there might be negative consequences to them. I lied because I knew that, at least in some degree, I could have taken steps to try and prevent what happened, but chose not to. I didn’t want to be inconvenienced.

There were several factors as to why this all went wrong. Several people contributed to the situation. Was it that big of a deal? I won’t lose sleep over it. I can think of a lot of more important things to be worried about. In the grand scheme of things this situation isn’t all that big of a matter. But then neither are the million other little situations that we find ourselves in. The issue is that they eventually all pile together and form a picture. What may seem like a small matter now, if not confronted, will permeate through the whole painting. If your paint is to watery, it will begin to run and eventually ruin your painting. Something that is easy to fix, adding more base, can quickly change the course of the painting. But neglecting such a small matter, like adding base to your painting, will ultimately prove to be ruinous.

Sometimes its the small things that matter most. Those little things we do that we don’t think all that much about.

The second lesson I learned?

Lesson #2

We need to apologize because we must take responsibility for our actions. Yes, there may be a million reasons why things happen the way they do, but where we knowingly wrong another, we are knowingly responsible. To refuse to apologize is to refuse to accept responsibility and face the consequences of our choices. When we refuse to accept responsibility and face the consequences, we show our immaturity and cowardice.

If we don’t learn this lesson in the small things, then there is little hope that we will learn this lesson in the big things.

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”
Luke 16:10


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