CEDAR RAPIDS, IA–Dave Willis, 24, a stock boy at Banjo's Food Ranch, was subjected to embarrassment above and beyond the usual humiliation of mopping, shelving, and parking-lot cart-collecting Monday, when he was forced to appear in the supermarket chain's latest in-house training video, Speak Up And Smile!
"It's bad enough that when I got hired here, I had to attend a demeaning, afternoon-long orientation session at which I was forced to watch these horrible videos," a visibly dejected Willis told reporters after the dignity-stripping incident. "But now, to add insult to injury, I've actually had to appear in one, as well."
The training video's "Speak Up And Smile" theme was chosen by Banjo's Food Ranch upper management as a way to communicate the importance of a "positive, customer-friendly attitude" to the chain's 1,650 employees at 40 locations throughout Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois. It remains unknown why Willis, along with 12 other first-shift employees at the supermarket's Cedar Rapids location, were selected to star in the video.
"I have no idea why they picked me. I guess I just happened to be working at the time. Who knows?" Willis said. "All I know is, at the end of my shift, just as I was about to head out to the break area by the Dumpsters for a smoke, [assistant store manager] Keith [Crofford] told me I had to do this stupid video they were shooting, and that I'd better get my ass over to Aisle 10 pronto."
Upon arriving at the aisle, Willis was appalled to discover that he had been assigned a speaking role in the video and would be forced to deliver a chirpy, upbeat monologue advocating employee courtesy and friendliness while smiling and holding a mop.
"They didn't even pay me anything extra to do it," Willis said. "All they did was let me stay punched in on the clock for an extra hour until it was done."
"Matt, Pete, and the rest of the guys were totally giving me shit about it after work," Willis said. "All I can say is, I sure hope nobody I know ever gets hired at some Banjo's someplace and sees it. I'd never hear the end of it."
"Aw, man," he added.
According to Banjo's Food Ranch sources, Willis' lines in the 14-minute video were: "When I first started working here, I was afraid to smile and speak up to customers. But, luckily, I had a manager who challenged me to, as he put it, 'break the ice.' So, one day, I came to work with a new attitude, and I greeted every customer I saw. And you know what? It was fun!"
At first, Willis attempted to distance himself from the demeaning script by mumbling his lines in a flat monotone. This tactic, however, was aborted when manager Mike Lazzo told him to "say it like you mean it, Willis, or we'll be here until you do," forcing him to project an air of joviality over the course of several deeply humiliating takes.
The video was created, Banjo's Food Ranch officials said, to help enforce a new chain-wide policy requiring all employees to greet each customer they encounter with a smile and an "acceptably enthusiastic verbal greeting." Examples cited in the video include, "Hello there!" "Nice day today!" and "How ya doin'?"
The video also encouraged employees to "personalize" their greetings to specific customers with such phrases as, "Nice shirt!" "What a pretty baby!" and "I see you're purchasing some window cleaner today! How about some paper towels to go along with those?" In addition, the video informed workers that they would be penalized with write-ups from departmental shift supervisors if they failed to observe these mandatory-friendliness guidelines.
"I mean, shit," Willis said. "I don't think they should be allowed to make a guy do that when they're only paying minimum wage in the first place."
Banjo's Food Ranch has denied any mistreatment of Willis. "When Dave became a part of the Banjo's family, he agreed to be a team player and put the good of the store and customer first. Pulling together with the rest of the team to make the store a better place is what this video and Banjo's Food Ranch are all about," a press release issued by the chain's corporate headquarters read.