Talk Deli to Me


My husband and I were having people over a few weeks ago for a house concert by the Steel Blossoms.  I didn’t have time to make hors d’oeuvres so I decided to order them from the local chain grocery store deli. I picked up the catering brochure a week before, filled out the order form, and returned to the store three days before the event to place the order.  I covered all the bases-so I thought.

I approached the well-lit deli counter with my order in hand.  The only caterer was helping someone in the bakery, so I waited. Finally, the deli lady, who really wasn’t a deli lady at all, yelled to me that the deli was closed.  “Funny,” I thought, “the lights are on, it’s 6:15PM, and you are back there, yet nobody’s home?  I’m gonna try that at work one day-sit at my desk, lights on, computer up, and tell people I’m not in. Maybe I’ll be able to get caught up on a few things.”

As I pressed on, I learned that she was only skilled in the bakery business and hadn’t yet been cross trained to taking high level deli orders. Reluctantly, she agreed to venture into unknown territory and take my order. I liked the fact that she was willing to go the extra mile and help a customer out. She had gumption and we just don’t see enough of that these days.

The first items on my order were sandwiches-half with turkey and half with ham. As she read the order, she tapped her pen on the metal deli counter, eventually gave a nod, and moved on.  The next item was a medium shrimp tray. Another tap, tap, tap, nod, and she moved on.  I could tell there was a problem as soon as she read item three.  It was the chicken trio tray, but with a duo-I wanted half plain boneless fried chicken tenders and half buffalo boneless fried chicken tenders. Her eyes opened wide and she began to fidget with her hair net. Her pen tapped faster as she said, “Oh, so you want General Tso’s chicken?”  “No ma’am,” I replied while pointing to the item I had circled with black marker in the brochure, “I want buffalo chicken tenders.”  She persisted, “Oh, you want General Tso’s chicken with buffalo sauce?” I also began to fidget and tap, tap, tap on my forehead as a leaned forward on the counter. “Who is this General Tso,” I thought, “and why is he messing with my chicken order?”  “No, I don’t want General Tso’s, I want buffalo,” I said.  She began to scribble wildly on the order form.  It was as if we were speaking different languages.  “Are you talking deli to me?” I thought, “Does ‘General Tso’s’ mean ‘buffalo’ in deli-ese?”

Just when I thought we had come to an understanding, the situation became more perplexing. She, who knew nothing about the deli when I first arrived a few minutes ago, announced, “We are out of chicken tenders.  If the chicken doesn’t come on tomorrow’s truck, we won’t be able to fill this order.”  What?  We just did the buffalo-General Tso’s chicken dance for nearly 10 minutes and you don’t have any chicken?

I left the store uncertain about what was actually ordered and hopeful that the delivery truck would arrive. Otherwise, I would have to breakdown and make something from scratch for this event-not something I wanted, or had time, to do. I kept replaying the scenario in my mind as I rode home. Obviously, the words and photos that appear in the catering brochures are not what I should be using when ordering from the deli. I better practice speaking deli before my next trip to order food otherwise who knows what I will end up with. But the story doesn’t end there. Event day arrived and three hours before deli pick up time, the phone rings. It’s the deli lady. “The truck didn’t come in, so we can’t make your General Tso’s chicken. We can only give you buffalo chicken tenders.” Ah, now we were speaking the same language!

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