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A Diamond in the Swamps of Jersey

When people think of New Jersey, they often think of Turnpike exits, the smell of the refineries, the Sopranos, the cast from “The Jersey Shore” and the musicians who have come from that state – Frank Sinatra, Bon Jovi, and Bruce Springsteen. Often, the state is used as a punchline and is reduced to a caricature for others to laugh at.

The swamps are an image many associate with the state of New Jersey

Morning Jolt

So, it is with minimal expectation that I pulled into a Panera Bread site in Wayne, NJ just barely able to suppress a yawn before my early morning meeting with a client.  Having already been in the car for over 2 hours and not even 8am yet; my eyelids were mere slits as I stumbled to the counter.  While ordering a caffeine fix and a pastry, the woman behind the counter delivered a much more impactful eye-opener than anything poured hot from the urn.

I was greeted by the following in rapid-fire succession:

  1. Hello, my name is Denise – what is yours?  (not in an accosting way – in a true attempt to form a relationship and be friendly)
  2. I have not seen you here before – are you in town for business (said, as she greeted and called other customers by name as they walked in the door and kidded with them about having the “usual” or turning to her other counter employees to alert them to get a particular food item or beverage ready so that when it is that patron’s turn to order, it would be ready and waiting for them
  3. As I placed my order, she asked if I had a Panera Bread card (I did not).  She immediately told me that if I would register right there and then, she would be able to “comp” my order.
  4. Noticing the briefcase on my shoulder, she asked if I wanted to connect to their free Wi-Fi or preferred to use their kiosk set up for that purpose.

So friendly, helpful, and truly focused on making my visit to her store (and that is how she viewed it – she awakened at 4am each morning to open HER store – even though she was an hourly employee.) that I actually modified my plan to take my coffee and pastry and return to my car for the rest of the journey to my client. Instead, I took my order to a table and opened up my laptop, connected to the internet, and observed her interact with others.

Denise continued to greet people, joke with them, hawk their loyalty cards, and upsell products left and right.  She was a pleasure to watch and a true gem of an employee.  Like an Emcee up on stage, she integrated and weaved the efforts of the kitchen baking goods, other counter personnel, and the customers into a human drama that was replayed over and over.  People with scowls, sleepy looks, and distracted or lost in thought shuffles up to the counter left with smiles, a lift in their step, and a laugh.


Front line employees are the diamonds in any business that attract customers.

Most Important Person

With a genuine, “Good Morning” and an upbeat personality that really loved what she was doing, where she worked, and the people she came in contact with; this employee changed the start of the day for nearly every person she came in contact with that day (and likely every day she works).  Her Manager made a great decision in hiring her, but an even better decision in letting her personality shine and sparkle.  Her banter was constant, and while she never lost professionalism, her personal approach with each patron ensured that they felt that she was there only for their benefit and had waited for them to walk through the door.

She made each customer feel like they were the most important person – but from the business’ perspective, she was the most important person in that entire store/restaurant.  If the other locations are as well staffed as this one, you would be doing yourself a favor by stopping in and observing the importance of front line employees –

David Zahn