By Emily M. Akin –
“Decaf coffee, please,” I said as I stepped to the head of the line. The teen behind the counter looked puzzled, so I repeated my order.
“One decaf coffee,” he said, ringing it up. “That’s 60 cents.”
“But the coffee price is $1.00,” I said.
“Senior discount,” he announced, already heading for the coffee machine.
I looked around to see if anyone might have heard him. The man in line behind me smiled. I didn’t know whether to feel insulted, honored or lucky to save a few cents. Since I was holding up the line, I let it go and moved on. I felt like a fraud because I didn’t really qualify for the discount. But, what made him think I was a senior citizen? Was it the dozen or so gray hairs? Did I appear decrepit and therefore truly deserving of the discount?
Senior discounts are a good marketing tool, but they can backfire. That young man went out on a limb giving me the discount. He probably thought he was doing me a favor. What if I had taken it as an insult? I might have caused a scene in front of all the other customers. He forced me to let everyone think I was over the hill already—not a kind thing to do to someone teetering on the brink of seniorhood. What was just another order for him was a stark wake-up call for me. To him, I looked old.
Another time, I went to a buffet restaurant with friends my age. The server, who seemed new to the job, eyed the bald-headed man in the group. “Does anyone get the senior discount?” she asked in all innocence. To which the shiny-head replied, “One of us does.” After the meal, the server returned with the bill listing all of our orders on the same ticket. One of us got the senior discount. We had to figure out who it was before we went to the counter. Experienced or not, that server successfully avoided insulting anyone. She passed the buck to the man at the checkout counter.
A gray-haired friend ordered food at a drive-in window. The cashier gave the total, announcing that she had received the senior discount. She wondered why he thought she qualified. Did she have a doddering, elderly voice? She was depressed for several days thinking she sounded old, until someone suggested that there was probably a video camera next to the drive-thru speaker. Not much comfort. She didn’t sound old, she just looked old.
But what’s the solution? If the employees are trained to give the senior discount to anyone who looks old enough, they don’t have to ask. But, they also run the risk of insulting folks who look older than they are. It’s true, the customer is compensated for the insult, but it doesn’t make for repeat customers. Why don’t they start carding people for senior discounts? That way, if you want that discount, you have to admit your senior status publicly.
A restaurant in my town has come up with a solution. The sign at the register says, “Senior Discount Available. Just ask.” This puts the ball entirely in the customer’s court. The employees don’t have to risk offending anyone, and customers can get the discount if they’re brave enough to request it. A classic win-win situation.