The following story concerns (not) accommodating all people with special diet needs, and as importantly, is about customer service. This thread, with the added compelling New YorkerMagazinecartoon above, will tell the whole story of my recent (and only: Love the Met) misadventure at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The great majority of my readers have expressed an interest in how the story ends (at least I sure hope this is how the story ends!), so here comes.
My letter sent to Amy Romero at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
I recently met a friend at the Met, and I must say, for the first time in over thirty years that I have been a member and very frequent visitor of the Museum, I had a very upsetting misadventure that everyone I shared it with urged me to share with the Met’s Powers That Be. I did a little research, which led me to you. Let me quote directly from the post I put on Facebook.
Yesterday at the entrance of the Metropolitan Museum, I had to endure the snobbyness and contempt of a bitchy new supervisor. I was asked at the check-in counter what’s in a foil-wrapped bag in my pocketbook, and I candidly answered, sandwiches. I won’t soon forget her voice dripping with scorn when she said to me with a thick Russian accent “So? You never heard we don’t bring food to museum?” She made me feel like a hillbilly, which was precisely the intended goal. I even asked her if I could leave them in the coatroom, and she said nonononono, I have to get rid of them somehow before I come in. My friend and I were mortified as we sat on a bench outside and ate our sandwiches. I have been a member of the Met for over thirty years, never had a problem ordering coffee and sitting at the cafeteria with my sandwiches. Just curious: What if I was carrying food for a child or an elderly diet-restricted person??? Foooeyyy on you, lady!
The response to this comment was overwhelmingly: Let the Met Supervisors know, let them do something about this. Even the rare comments that mentioned policy and proper decorum also said, an Institution as venerable and as gigantic as the Met must be prepared to discuss some non-one-size-fits-all cases. Here is what I wrote in response to some of the FB comments:
Commenting to several of you. I am indeed tempted to take it a step further because it was plain wrong. I will certainly share that episode if and when it takes place. If I do, I do not intend to say a word about any specific diet restrictions. GF. Or DF. Or diabetic. Or Kosher. Or Halal. Or baby food. Or vegetarian. Or Vegan. Remember: that hostile supervisor knew nothing about my diet needs, that was not the gripe. her gripe clearly was, what kind of a redneck are you to bring food from home? So: Either not a word about special needs diets per se, or listing ALL special needs diets. I might just do the latter. Besides, and this is I think the crux of my argument, a cafeteria, unlike a restaurant, is by definition a place where customers get their own food, self service. So, if I get coffee, a granola bar and an apple at the counter, I AM a customer and i AM patronizing the cafeteria. That I whip out something more is totally irrelevant and violates no etiquette. Again, not as in a restaurant!
When the museum is small and you are in and out in a couple hours, no excuse whatsoever for worrying about food. But when it is the size of yours, which takes days to visit, the question does arise. If everyone could chomp on your delicious looking sandwiches and hot dishes, life would be dream. But we know perfectly this is not the case.
This episode begs a few questions:
- First and foremost: How does an Institution like yours hire a woman of that caliber? Devoid of any grace and diplomacy, she looks and sounds much better suited for the Post Office or the Mexican Border. Any of your wonderful and genteel employees and volunteers (including a couple very dear friends who worked there in past years), at the information desk or registration desk could blow her out of the water.
- I have visited the Met hundreds of time. Contrary to what your supervisor abundantly expressed as much with her speech as with her body language, I AM perfectly used to Museums and other fine settings, and I am perfectly aware of the decorum. I used to go regularly with a dear elderly friend and Patron of the Met (who passed away a few years ago), who was on a special diet and simply had to bring his food with him. We always went to the cafeteria and ordered everything…. but the actual piece de resistance, always in the form of a sandwich to keep it simple. Never a peep from anyone. In a world beset by allergies and other ailments and dietary burdens, how could you not understand that?
- The choices I was given at the door was a. dispose of your sandwich immediately, or b. leave. Could either of these alternatives sound satisfactory to you?
Let me please hear your thoughts about this!
Miss Romero subsequently called me, and we had a nice chat. I should tell you it was just a few weeks after Oprah Winfrey’s misadventure in some snotty boutique in Switzerland, and even though I am nobody compared to the great Oprah, the mention of the episode with that obnoxious saleslady (“I don’t think you can afford this!”, she told Oprah. Big Mistake! Duh!) was a useful added prop to drive my point home, which was, in essence, don’t mistreat any customer anywhere anytime; if not out of common decency, then, quite simply, out of fear of the unknown for who might walk in the door. Believe it or not, I don’t even mean the stranger might be powerful. I mean the stranger might want, like me, to set a precedent.
Following my talk with Ms Romero, I received the following message from Ms Rebecca Schear, Associate Coordinator for Public Affairs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Please see the attached letter from Harold Holzer, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in response to your comment. We apologize for the delay in answering you, but the volume of comments is so large that we are sometimes unable to respond as quickly as we would like. We do make it our goal to respond to each and every comment we receive.
Letter from Mr Holzer: Dear Ms. Kirschenbaum:
Thank you for the comment you shared with us following your recent visit to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Such observations give us the very valuable opportunity to better serve our audiences.
Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience you experienced while attempting to bring food into the museum. For many years, food and drink have not been permitted to be brought into the Museum and may not be checked at the coat checks for several important reasons, with the safety of the art and avoidance of pest issues chief among them. However, exceptions are made for dietary concerns and for visitors who keep Kosher. Visitors with questions should be directed to a supervisor, and I do apologize that the security guard you encountered did not adhere to this policy.
The utmost priority is placed on training our staff to be knowledgeable, courteous, and helpful to the Metropolitan’s visitors, and we emphasize the importance of setting and maintaining the highest professional standards at all times in the Museum. We regret that your encounter with our staff did not rise to our high standards of excellence and apologize for any unpleasantness this may have caused you. I can report that the appropriate supervisors have been informed of the incident so that it may be avoided in the future.
We greatly value your loyalty to and support of the museum, and want to thank you again for taking the time to send your comments to us. We look forward to seeing you in the galleries again soon.
My answer to Ms Schear:
Thank you so much for your response, it makes me feel much better to get closure on this matter, with your added assurance that I – and the sizeable community of people with special dietary needs – will be taken into account. While anyone would understand that institutions your size could not possibly accommodate the mind-boggling range of special dietary needs which exist nowadays for an infinity of reasons, it is comforting to know that the public will be accommodated going forward, in a very specifically designated space: the cafeteria, which is all we ask for.
So y’all: See you at the Met! Have sandwich, will travel! In case for some reason it is not obvious to you that we are not picnicking in the Impressionists Gallery, let me remind you: We only eat at the Cafeteria!