On 11 Feburary 2005 at 9 o’clock in the morning, I walked into the Red Ribbon Bakeshop Iligan City branch, with the intention of ordering a birthday cake for our daughter Maia’s party two days hence. I stated my need to one of the attendants who promptly took the appropriate forms and asked me to sit down at one of the tables so she could get the appropriate information. Before saying anything else, I asked if the cake I was about to order would be ready by lunchtime of Sunday, 13th of February, and she said yes, that there would be no problem.
After the usual name, address and contact numbers, she asked me if I wanted to pick the cake up or have it delivered. This was a pleasant surprise for me, and I said, “Oh good, you deliver?” anticipating limits in the areas that they do deliver to.
The attendant looked up at me blankly and said, “I don’t know.”
I told my blood pressure to stand down and told the attendant, “I want to talk to someone who knows what she’s doing, please.”
That would be the branch manager, as it turned out, another girl not much older than the attendant who had first talked to me. This one had a bit more confidence though, and she took me through the rest of the form questions. When I had satisfied all her information requirements, I asked again if the cake would be ready by 11:30 a.m. of Sunday the 13th. She told me not to worry, and then proceded to enter the delivery time in her form as 9:30 a.m. I told her that was much too early, as my reservations at the venue were at 11:30 a.m. She said she put in 9:30 a.m. as the cake was to be manufactured in Cagayan de Oro and delivered here to the Iligan branch.
Maybe I should have cancelled my order right there and then. Cagayan de Oro was a mere hour’s drive away, but anything can happen en route. And if anything did happen on the road, Red Ribbon will not be responsible for it, as it would fall under the clause “circumstances beyond our control” as stated in the terms and conditions at the back of the order form.
But this was Red Ribbon, one of the Manila-based stores that had just opened in Iligan City, a bakeshop whose products I had always preferred over Goldilocks. I once again asked the manager for assurance that the cake would be on time and she said, “Rest assured ma’am, we’ve never been late.”
For someone who blogged about Murphy’s Law and its corollaries, I should have known better. But I decided to gamble on this store manager’s confidence and proceded to sign the order form, all 5 copies of it, and paid my bill in full. And with the sureness of one who has never been disappointed by a supplier, I walked out of the Red Ribbon Iligan City branch to worry about other things for the party.
Fast forward to 13th Feburary, 11:00 a.m. I dialled the Red Ribbon Iligan City branch phone to ask if the cake I ordered was ready for delivery at Tatay’s Grill as agreed. The person who answered me excused himself for a few seconds to find out, and then he was back with the three words I had dreaded to hear:
“Wala pa Ma’am.”
I took four, maybe five really deep breaths and asked for the store manager. When she came on the line I said my name and asked if she was the same store manager who took my order last Friday. I had to make sure I was talking to the right person, as what I was about to unleash would be too cruel for someone who had nothing to do with what I still hoped was just a misunderstanding. “Yes, ” she replied, she was the one I had spoken to.
“I asked you,” I said in rising tones, “I asked you if the cake could be ready today, I said I was worried because it was a Sunday and it was rather early for deliveries from Cagayan de Oro, but you told me, you assured me that the cake would be ready. You told me ‘Ma’am, we’ve never been late’!”
“Yes Ma’am,” was all she could say.
“I want you to find out where my cake is. I want you to call me back in 10 minutes and tell me where my cake is. Do you understand me?”
I put the phone down and took ten more deep breaths. When I was calmer, which definitely took more than 10 minutes, I called Red Ribbon Iligan branch again. Their line was busy. Which was a good sign, I thought, at least she was still trying to find out where the effing eff my cake was. After 10 more minutes had passed I decided to talk to the store manager in person.
She was still on the phone when I got there, frantically dialling numbers that apparently were not as responsive as she had hoped. When she saw me she turned to me but after five seconds had passed and she had not said anything, I said to her, “Where’s my cake?”
She was still trying to contact Cagayan de Oro production, she said. The cake may already be in transit, but no one seems to know the driver’s mobile number, if he indeed had one. She asked if I wanted to sit down and wait, but I said no, I preferred to stand and walk around and let off the steam that I will be directing at her should my cake prove to be untraceable. After several more minutes had passed, the store manager came up to me and asked for my mobile number. I said, what for? She said Cagayan de Oro production wanted to talk to me. I heaved a deep and very angry sigh and gave her my number. I took out my mobile phone and stared at it, waiting for the call to come in. When it did, it was another hapless Red Ribbon employee who did not introduce herself. What she did say was this:
“Ma’am, kadto man gud nga mga ingredients sa imong gi-order nga cake, sa Manila pa nako ga-orderon, unya wala man ma-abot… sorry jud kaayo, ma’am…”
I could not believe what I was hearing. Here is this person telling me that the cake WAS NOT EVEN MADE AT ALL. That was it, nothing she could do, the ingredients did not arrive from Manila, the cake was never made.
This was the most indescribable depth of incompetence I had ever encountered. They had three days to let me know that my order had proved to be impossible. They had three days to offer an alternative to the chocolate mousse cake I had ordered, mocha or plain chocolate would have been fine, but no . . . no one bothered to call me. No one.
I said all that to the person I was talking to, in increasingly loud Cebuano, as people were starting to come into the place. It was Sunday after all, people were going to their after-mass brunch/merienda. They all politely avoided looking at me, but I knew they were listening to every word I said. “Do you have any idea,” I was telling Cagayan de Oro production, “of what is happening here? I have guests waiting at the venue and I am standing here being told that the cake I ordered three days ago was never made! You have customers coming in here who are realizing that ordering a cake here may prove to be an experience they might not enjoy!”
This was when my husband, always the calm one, touched my elbow and said, “Ask for a refund and we’ll just go find a cake somewhere else.”
I asked for a refund.
“Sige ma’am, I’ll ask the store manager to give you a refund, and then I’ll still send a cake over to your house tomorrow.”
I really didn’t care what she did after giving me a refund, and I told her so. The store manager came over with the amount I had paid and handed it over to me with her own apologies. I was not mollified.
“You told me you’ve never been late. You just broke your record. I’m never going to buy anything in this store ever again.” Which was really something for me, as I was just getting used to ensaymada and mamon over again.
I walked out of that store vowing never to go back. I told the guests I had riding with me about the incident, and by the time we got to the venue, I had pretty much calmed down and managed to retell the incident from a self-deprecating standpoint. There was to be no cake, which was just as well, as most of us were on low-sugar diets anyway. But I was determined to call Red Ribbon main office in Manila to report the incident, first thing Monday morning.
The party went on. And on the next day we all went on a road trip and were out most of the day. When we got home late in the afternoon there was the cake I ordered, on our dining table, a day late and 10 pesos short, as my order included a number candle which this one did not have. This one did have “Happy Birthday Maia” written on the hastily iced, chocolate mousse slab. I decided not to call Manila office for the report, but I did promise myself to write about this and tell other people about it as well. And in case there is anyone from Red Ribbon who may be reading this now who says my story is not true, here is a scanned image of the order form, of which I still have a copy.