“What is your late night?”

Some grocery chains ask this of their department managers. Including the produce manager. Many others don’t press the issue. 

After all, it’s a tough order. 

Produce managers by nature tend to be early risers. They will say they need to be in the department long before the first customer darkens their door. There are displays to build, inventory to assess, and orders written and transmitted by strict deadlines. To suggest a produce manager work late pulls him or her away from some pretty important tasks. 

Hurt as it might, working an occasional late shift is a real eye-opener for the produce manager.

For starters, it helps to pick a good late day to work. Planning on working a late Tuesday, for example? That won’t be much of a challenge, as this is typically a quiet night. Unless, of course, you use the time to build your Wednesday ad displays in the process. 

A better night? Try Friday. Going into the weekend, a Friday late shift (at least after the dinner rush is through, or later) is a good day to set the pace for the busy weekend. When a produce manager works late on a Friday night, you can bet that the displays he wants to be topped off for Saturday will happen. All the little extra display touches will certainly have the follow-through that he envisions.

In short, the produce department will be dialed in for Saturday morning. By working a late shift, the produce manager can also use the opportunity to spend time with the closing part-timers who otherwise have minimal face time with the boss. This is a great period for the produce manager to include a bit of training, show the closing clerks exactly what is expected, and working alongside them generally keeps them on their toes too. 

The most memorable remark I heard while working late with the closing shift? “Thanks for showing some interest and spending time in my world.”

That world, after all, was once part of the produce manager’s routine. 

Working the late shift also opens the produce manager’s eyes. Perhaps he’ll discover there isn’t enough prep work done to support the late shift. Or he may see there isn’t enough inventory, or labor hours to get it all done. He sees a different kind of customer, and they in turn see him.

I don’t advocate a produce manager has to work a late night every week. That may be asking too much, and he is a vital presence in the early going. 

Given my druthers, I’d suggest the late night duty happen once a month. It’s a humbling, interesting and learning experience.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years’ experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail him at lobatoarmand@gmail.com.

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The produce night shift

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