While on my recent trip to California, I visited a couple of liquor stores — the venerable BevMo, of course, and also the little diamond The Coach House, in Cupertino, where one can find Tequila Los Abuelos. While at the latter facility, I stumbled across a bottle of Amaro Nonino, perhaps my favorite Italian amaro. I considered bringing it with me, but I knew that Nonino was available via Special Liquor Order — aka SLO — in Pennsylvania. “I’ll just order it when I get home,” I said. “It’s been years since I’ve special ordered anything. Surely they’ve improved the process by now. How painful can it be?”
I had a few items that I wanted to special order. In an effort to give the LCB (and myself) every possible advantage, I did some homework before visiting the store. First, I picked a store where I knew the staff was helpful and polite. Second, I visited the PLCB’s website beforehand and wrote down the SKU numbers for the products I wanted, so we wouldn’t have to spend time looking them up at the store. Lastly, I visited the store about 20 minutes before they closed, to give the staff that extra incentive to get it done quickly.
The initial encounter went well. I told the manager that I was shopping for a few items (including a bottle of Grand Marnier’s new “Navan” product, about which I’ll have more to say later in the week), and that I also wanted to special order some things. “I have the item numbers right here,” I said. “Great,” said the manager. “Just give those to me and go do your shopping, and I’ll meet you back here when you check out.” I was the only customer in the store. This certainly seemed promising.
I spent about 15 minutes making my choices, and came back to the desk. “Umm, go ahead and pay for those things,” said the manager, “while we get this paperwork finished.”
As I paid for my booze, I kept an eye and ear on the process for completing an SLO in the store. It goes something like this. On one computer, the clerk or manager types in the SKU number of the product you want. That computer then displays the product name, bottle size, and so on. Then, there is a second, separate computer for actually entering the special order. You type the SKU number into that machine, and then read the name off the first machine, which is loads of fun if you’re ordering something with a long, complicated name. You type the name into the second machine. You also copy the bottle size and some other data from the first machine as well. Presumably, connecting these two machines together, or allowing the second machine to do the lookup itself is beyond our primitive Earthling technology.
After a while, they were ready to take my deposit for the specially ordered booze, but had forgotten to tell the system what the deposit amount would be. That can’t be changed at the register, so they had to go back to the special SLO machine, cancel the first order, create a new one (typing all of the information in again), and put in the deposit amount.
Elapsed time from the time I gave them the three SKU numbers to the time they were ready to check me out: 40 minutes. This is beyond bad. This is pathological.
I want to emphasize here that I’m not slamming the employees who were processing my “Special” Liquor Order. The people checking me out were the competent ones. Imagine if I had gone to a store with a more typically unhelpful PLCB employee (say, the Squirrel Hill store with the nasty old crone who cards everyone, even if they’re 60 years old?) Imagine how long it would have taken if I hadn’t collected the SKU numbers in advance, and needed the have them look it up? (I tried that once at the “Premium Collection” store near Whole Foods, and was stunned into silence as the nice but bewildered clerk began pawing through a drawer containing big books of dot-matrix printed paper in order to figure out if it was even possible to SLO the product I wanted.)
The PLCB has an online store which, in theory, allows you to use a series of tubes called “the internet” to place an order yourself and have it show up at your local store. Exactly none of the items I wanted to order are actually available via that store.
Now I get to wait for a few weeks, at the end of which I will get a call, go to the store, and probably find out that they’ve shipped me the wrong products.
So, in summary, Pennsylvania has managed to create a liquor sales system where it is actually less emotionally painful for me to fly to California to buy booze than to special order it in my home state.
Way to go, guys. Way to go.
We’ve written many other articles about how Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board is simply horrid: