No, not these goofballs again…the kind that goes on a Thanksgiving table!
Not a recipe, either – Lord knows there are plenty of those out there already. I’m talking about the before part; the actual acquisition of The Bird. A few hints and tips, from someone who spent the major portion of her adult life on the other side of the meat counter…
You knew that part, right? That, in the days before I was Queen of the Garlic, and Sovereign of Mt. Squashmore, I toiled in the trenches of retail food, bringing the freshest, tastiest meat and seafood possible to my customers…and compiling mental lists of The Things Your Meat Clerk Wishes You’d Do That Would Make Life Simpler For All of Us.
It’s a long list. Book-sized, even…with special chapters devoted to Food Holidays, and wonderful examples of what NOT to do. Some of them are pretty funny now that they’re in the rear-view mirror, but at the time had staff and customers alike caught somewhere between bursting into tears and committing murder…
Let’s try to avoid that this year, shall we? After all, it’s so much nicer to sit down to a holiday meal calm and dressed in your Sunday Best than to sip strained cranberries through a straw in a padded room…
So, what’s the first, best way to avoid some of the stress?
Order. Your. Turkey. Now.
Yes, even if you shop at a Big Chain, like Safeway or Stop and Shop, there is someone in the meat department that can order a specific size bird, put your name on it, and hold it until you get there…There’s nothing sadder than watching someone walk up and down the case on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, looking for something that isn’t there. It happens more than you’d think…Big Birds – over 20 pounds – are always in high demand, and short supply. Do yourself a favor and reserve one, if you need it.
Oh, and a reminder: these are birds. They grow. They’re not stamped-out with an industrial die to weigh exactly what you ordered. I bring this up (though it seems like common sense) because of a particular incident…A customer had ordered a 28 pound turkey. The we gave her the largest bird we could get our hands on that year: 27.75 pounds. She pitched a wall-eyed fit in the middle of the store over four ounces, and left without the bird. Her husband called back an hour later, to see if we still had it….
The Best way to order, as with most everything else, is in-person, at the meat counter, from the staff. That way, you can read-over all the details of the written order, and make corrections if necessary. If you have to call in, there are a few simple things that can save a lot of hassle on pick-up day…
Be sure you are talking to a meat department employee…
“Hey, you couldn’t get to that phone call, so I took the order for you…here.”
“This says ‘Tim’ and ’18 pounds’.”
“Yeah. Put it in the book.”
“Fresh or frozen?”
“Did you at least get a phone number, so I can find out?”
“Gotta go – they need me back on register!”
It’s worth waiting on hold, or calling back at a less-busy time. Most of the really big mistakes I saw were made when well-meaning front-end staff would take orders. Poor Tim… at least 18 pounds is a common size.
Speak slowly and clearly on the phone.
Ever walk past the meat room of the grocery store when the saw and wrapping machine are both on? Sounds like highway construction. Not the best place to have a phone conversation, but it is what it is. Sorry if I had to ask you to spell your name, but it’s better than the alternative. Yes, I DO need your phone number, so that I can get in touch with you if there’s a problem AND so that if more than one Mary Smith orders, we know who gets what…WAIT! Don’t hang up yet! Let me read it back to you…I might have missed something…
They’re not trying to get your information so they can stalk you. Promise.
You’re not that cute.
Changing an order
Repeat after me:
“If something changes, and I no longer need this order, I will call and cancel it.”
See, that way, when someone comes in at the last minute because their College-age son decided to surprise Mom and Dad two days before Thanksgiving by bringing home a girlfriend and 4 very large football players (“But, you always said, ‘the more, the merrier!’ They didn’t have anywhere else to go!”) the store can help save the day. Otherwise, your-ordered-but-not-needed bird will sit on a rack in the cooler and wait, right up until closing time.
Too late to be any good then…which is sad.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Picking Up Your Order, And What Does That Label Even Mean? If there’s anything you want to ask about the inner-workings of Turkey Day in the Meat department, leave it in the comments…