Be vigilant when buying a sandwich at Whole Foods

Eating a Whole Foods Sandwich: A Cautionary Tale

A Man Goes to Lunch and Nearly Gets Arrested

A True Story

I usually go home for lunch, but every so often time gets tight and that doesn’t work out. This happened the other day, so I decided to take a stroll down to the local Whole Foods and get a sandwich.

Whole Foods Sandwich Receipt

I’m typically not a sandwich guy, but the Whole Foods has a nice turkey & avocado (plus bacon) sandwich that’s pretty tasty. Not too long ago, they used to make a few of them in advance and stack them up on display with some other sandwiches. I liked this. I could step up to the counter, ask for that sandwich right there, have it wrapped up, and be on my way. Quick and easy.

They don’t make the turkey & avocado (with bacon) on spec any more, and the other pre-made sandwiches aren’t really to my taste. They’ll still make the turkey & avocado (with bacon) sandwich, but now it’s called the Mt. Lowe (after one of the local mountains) and you have to order it special.

Sure, getting a hand-made sandwich sounds nice, but it’s kind of a pain in the ass. Often, especially during the lunching hour, there’s a long line for sandwiches. Everyone’s getting custom-built creations, and the line moves slowly. Pretty much the opposite of quick and easy.

However, on this particular day, I got a little gift—there was no line for sandwiches. So I stepped up to the idle sandwich-making gent and ordered myself a Mt. Lowe.

Paying in Advance

But he didn’t start making it. Instead, he punched some buttons on the sandwich scale; tore off a sticky, barcoded ticket; handed it to me; and said, “Here, let me give you the tag. You can pay for the sandwich while I make it.”

First impression: that sounded reasonable, and I appreciated his concern for my time. So I walked over to the temporary, special lunch-time cash register to pay for a sandwich that didn’t yet exist.

The Paid Sticker

And this is where the trouble began. Every time you buy something at Whole Foods and consume it on the premises, they slap it with a “paid” sticker. Bottle of electrolyte-fortified water? Paid sticker. Gluten-free energy bar? Paid sticker. Bag of organic, non-GMO, cruelty-free potato chips? Paid sticker.

Problem was, after I handed over my sticky, barcoded ticket to the harried fellow behind the cash register, I didn’t have anything to slap a paid sticker on. So I didn’t get my paid sticker. I did get a receipt, though. I started to feel slightly uneasy about buying a yet-to-exist sandwich, so I stowed the receipt in my pocket and walked back to the sandwich counter …

… where my sandwich was being hand-crafted as promised—but a different guy was hand-crafting it. The first guy was no where to be seen. I watched sandwicheer #2 create my sandwich with exacting care; wrap it up; cut it neatly in two; wrap it again; punch some buttons on the sandwich scale; tear off a sticky, barcoded ticket; slap that onto my wrapped sandwich; and hand it to me.

Now that I had the sandwich I pre-paid for, I just needed to find a place to eat it. The lunchtime crowd was in full effect, but I managed to find an open chair at the communal table between the sushi bar and wood-fired pizza oven. I sat down, unwrapped my sandwich, and started eating.

There were a few Whole Foods employees hovering about me. Some said, “Right over here,” as they gestured around the table I was sitting at. I didn’t think much of it at first. I assumed they were talking about moving the furniture around, which they seem to do every few weeks.


But right about the time I finished the first half of the sandwich, I noticed a Whole Foods Boss-Type near me. I could tell he was a Boss-Type because he had a collared, button-front shirt and carried a clipboard and pen. He seemed to like pointing with the pen, and it seemed to be angled in such a way that it pointed at me. He nodded his head at someone behind me.

This is when I started to feel a creeping paranoia setting in. Were they talking about me? I’m generally paranoid by nature, so I tried to shrug it off and enjoy the second half of my sandwich while I flipped through some news feeds.


Soon enough, I finished my sandwich, tossed the wrapper in the trash, and headed for the escalator. I’d only taken a few steps when I heard, “Excuse me, sir.”

I turned around to see a Whole Foods employee, dressed in one of those white smocks, standing there. He looked ready for a fight. Or at least an argument. “Yes?”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“Did you pay for that sandwich?”

Ah, so I wasn’t being paranoid. They really were out to get me. “Yes,” I answered.

He gave me a look that told me he thought I was full of shit. So I pulled the receipt out of my pocket and handed it to him. I had paid with cash, so there was no record of my transaction other than this sheet of paper (tip: always use some sort of trackable payment method at Whole Foods).

He looked over the receipt, trying to figure out if it was a receipt for the sandwich I just ate or if I was devious enough to keep old Whole Foods receipts on my person so I could steal sandwiches. As he puzzled over this, I gave him a brief version of how I came to be in possession of this receipt yet somehow didn’t get my paid sticker, then said, “Let’s go over and talk to the guy who rang me up.”

He eyed me up, clearly wondering if a guy in a suit and tie who eats a sandwich at Whole Foods can be trusted, then said, “No, it’s fine,” and handed the receipt back. “We’ve just had some trouble with this, that’s all.”

I nodded and left, knowing that was my last Whole Foods sandwich. Pity, because it is tasty.

A Better Solution

Even now, though, I’m left wondering why anyone didn’t ask me, politely, while I was eating my sandwich if I’d paid for it. Here, let me help with a little script:

“Excuse me, sir [or ma’am, as appropriate], do you have a receipt for that sandwich?”


“Pardon me, my good man. I couldn’t help but notice you don’t have a paid sticker on that sandwich. Just a quick reminder you that we ask you pay for your food before you eat it. Oh, you have a receipt? Jolly good, then.”

It would have been less confrontational. And it would have saved a lot of Whole Food employees time trying to figure out if there was a paid sticker on my sandwich wrapper. And why did the Whole Foods Boss-Type send a flunky to confront me? That’s just cowardly.

A History of Accusations

Funny thing is, this is the second time Whole foods has accused me of theft. Previously, they thought I was stealing a bag of ground coffee because I put it my cart — a cart that was full of other groceries. This one still mystifies me.

It even generated an exchange of tweets with the Whole Foods Arroyo twitter account.

All coffee must be paid for before grinding @WFMArroyo, even if I continue shopping. WTF @WholeFoods? #annoying #inconvenient

— Tom Fassbender (@fordsbasement) April 26, 2011

When coffee grinding is outlawed @WFMArroyo, only outlaws will grind coffee. @WholeFoods

— Tom Fassbender (@fordsbasement) April 26, 2011

Yet if you choose whole bean coffee @WFMArroyo, pre-purchase is not necessary. It must be easier to steal the same volume of ground coffee.

— Tom Fassbender (@fordsbasement) April 26, 2011

Then, more than a month later, Whole Foods Twitter Person responds and the discussion begins. Whole Foods has since deleted all individual store twitter accounts, so this seems one-sided now, but here’s my side of it:

@WFMArroyo So, if I understand correctly, you are saying the desire to steal coffee comes only after one has put beans through the grinder? — Tom Fassbender (@fordsbasement) June 1, 2011

@WFMArroyo and there I am with a cart filled with groceries. Yet you assume I will steal a pound of ground coffee? — Tom Fassbender (@fordsbasement) June 1, 2011

@WFMArroyo Not the same. Juice bar products are typically consumed in-store. A bags of ground coffee is not. — Tom Fassbender (@fordsbasement) June 2, 2011

I haven’t bought coffee from Whole Foods since June 2011. And now I won’t be eating lunch at Whole Foods anymore (a pity, because that sandwich is pretty tasty).

In fact, I’ve only been in a Whole Foods maybe three times since that incident — and only for incidental purchases (like snacks). As author (and noted shopping fanatic) Douglas Coupland wrote in an article at the Financial Times: “Once the trust is gone at a store, it’s over.”

Parting Advice

I’m going to leave you with four pieces of advice in case you ever buy a sandwich from Whole Foods:

  1. Don’t pay for the sandwich before you have it in your hands.
  2. Pay with credit.
  3. Keep your receipt.
  4. Get that paid sticker, no matter what.

Similar Posts