Several years ago, I spent a day behind a busy cheese counter, just for enlightenment. My dad was a retail merchant, but I apparently did not inherit that gene. The cheese store’s customers drove me crazy. I left with renewed respect for the smiling cheese-counter people who put up with our annoying requests and quirky behavior. Today, it’s their turn. I’ve asked a few key retailers about the customers they like best and how we shoppers can improve our cheese-counter manners.
Fairfield Cheese Company and Greenwich Cheese Company
Fairfield and Greenwich, CT
The greatest customers put their trust in us and are willing to take our advice. If they come in asking for a specific Brie, for example, but are open to our suggestion, they will leave with the best cheese at that moment. Nothing makes a cheesemonger happier.
Customers expect cheese to always be the same. I had one customer tell me that a cheese she liked “wasn’t good” when she bought it again. I explained that it was just riper and she may prefer it younger. And I encouraged her to always take us up on a taste.
We love serving the customer who eats cheese as part of daily meals. I wish more Americans would allow themselves a nice piece of cheese every day rather than just for parties or special occasions.
We love when customers are not single minded—i.e., if they come in looking for Manchego but we have a different sheep cheese that is just singing, they are willing to taste.
We love when a customer doesn’t need that “flavor of the moment,” just what’s best, even if it’s a classic. Having the customer’s trust is a great gift. “Pleases” and “thank yous” are a bonus.
San Diego and Del Mar, CA
A good customer is someone who will engage with the monger. I always try to do this when I'm a customer. Instead of asking “What is the best cheese?” ask “What is something you really like right now?” Be open minded. Try new things. Taste.
San Francisco, CA
I love customers who report back and tell me what they liked or didn't. “How did you like the Oma? You should try the Foxglove this week!" It's good if people don't assume that we will remember their purchases from last week (though we often do).
I like customers who are considerate of others when it's busy. Sometimes we can have a 15-minute talk, but when we are slammed, we need to work quickly.
Customers who trash cheeses they don't like can be off-putting, even if I agree with them. That negativity rubs off on the interaction.
Janet Schaus and Joe Schwab
Our favorite customers are enthusiastic about trying new things. We love it when they give us an idea of what they like and what they are doing with it. “I love Manchego. Do you have something similar?” That gives us a direction. What doesn’t work as well is when they look through the case asking to taste random cheeses. Let the cheesemongers guide you; that’s their job.
Communicate what you did or didn’t like about a sample. You liked the texture but not the aftertaste? Too mild? Too hard? We really dislike it when people ask for cheese by color. (“Do you have any orange cheese?”) We don’t sell cheese by color.
Market Hall Foods
Oakland and Berkeley, CA
We like the customer who comes in with parameters—a theme for a party, a bottle of wine they want to celebrate with—and lets the monger take them on a journey.
San Francisco, CA
Great customers interact. They are willing to try new tastes, listen to suggestions and go out of their comfort level. They are inquisitive, adventurous and excited to learn.