On Pastry Displays and Disappointment

June 11, 2011

This morning I hefted myself out of bed, making myself presentable at an early hour, in order to take myself down to the farmer’s market and pick up a few things for the weekend. Ok, only one thing was for the weekend, everything else was purchased for immediate consumption.
My first stop was to my favorite bakery to get a loaf of ciabatta. Upon approaching the stand, I saw that they also had beautiful ham and cheese croissants, and knew I wanted one for my own. The rolls of golden-brown dough were fully puffed with hundreds of layers flaking themselves delicately around the melted cheese and crisped ham. Whenever a croissant was removed from the display, a promising stamp of oil was left behind on the tray, a quiet testimony to the quality of the goods. Just gorgeous. I put in my order for both the ciabatta and the croissant and waited most anxiously for the buttery pastry to be in my hungry hands. A moment later, I was presented a small, dense, well-wrapped bundle. Curious that it felt different than what I saw displayed, I opened it to reveal a ham and cheese croissant that was small, dense, and less than inspiring.
Sigh.
I looked up at the dear man helping me with a confused look. He looked back at me with an equally confused look. I didn’t know what to say. Had I seen this specimen of croissant, I wouldn’t have been so eager to purchase it. In fact, after seeing it, I had absolutely no desire to eat this croissant at all. Understanding the basics of baking, I knew the pastry in hand was underproofed, and half the magic of a croissant is its fluffy, buttery, flakiness. But if I said I no longer wanted this croissant, I would look like the flaky one…or worse, a spoiled brat (not saying I am neither of those things, I’m just not really keen on fessing up to the fact).
Anyway, the man read my face like a book, and said he knew what the issue was, and selected a croissant from the much fluffier display. We finished our transaction and I went on my way.
As I carried on down the street nibbling my breakfast, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. Why couldn’t I have just accepted the croissant he had selected? Why did I have to insist on getting what I wanted? Gah, what a sinking feeling to be confronted with your own childishness and in such a public way.
But, dwelling on one’s own shortcomings is only profitable to a point. Yes, it is true I am very particular about the food I spend my money on, and often to a fault. At the same time, though, I was a paying customer and had felt tricked. It’s like that story in the Old Testament where Jacob works for years to marry his bosses beautiful daughter, only to find out at the end of the wedding ceremony that his new father in law had instead given him the less attractive daughter. Are you familiar with the story? Can you see the similarities? What? Are you saying my comparison is overly-dramatic? A slight exaggeration, you say? Well, yet another fine example of one of my many character flaws at work…
At any rate, in an effort to nurse my pride, my mind began to turn to what I would have done at my bakery if something similar had happened. And I think I learned a life lesson, perhaps not the one the universe intended (like: take what you’re given gratefully, without being self-centered), but a life lesson, nonetheless:
If you are displaying your best, don’t try and sell your worst. If you are drawing people to you with your finest offerings, then give them exactly that. This is the only way you can meet or exceed people’s expectations. Once all your best products are gone, if you are still attracting people with your seconds, and they are still willing to pay, then good for you, keep on selling! But you’ll be better off if you don’t sacrifice your integrity by advertising one thing, and delivering another.

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