The Reading Terminal Market, Philly’s gustatory mecca, has launched a new “Ambassador” program to help shoppers and diners navigate the aisles.
In response to research that revealed a need for more customer assistance in navigating the market floor, and a wish to connect customers with the market’s extensive programming, management has assembled a corps of volunteers.
Ambassadors receive several rounds of training about the market and its program offerings, how to respond to various inquiries, safety protocols and, in the end, we conduct a scavenger hunt to demonstrate our mastery of the content. It’s fun, low stress and informative.
I walk the floors on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There are plenty of routine inquiries about finding the rest rooms, an empty table, the Amish donuts and pretzels, how to validate parking cards and where to get the best sandwich.
On the latter, like any good ambassador, we try to remain balanced, and direct the patron to the nearest provider of the requested item. There are also opportunities to educate the customer on the market’s new programs, merchants and innovations.
Recently launched programs include:
- Shoppers concierge service: This allows shoppers to leave bags in a secured, refrigerated location with market staff while they dine or buy additional items.
- Curbside pickup: After storing bags with the concierge service, shoppers can drive their cars up to the entrance near 11th and Arch streets and have their bags delivered to the curb.
- New free Wi-Fi system.
- Book nook story hour: This partnership with the Free Library of Philadelphia offers a selection of books in Piano Court for shoppers to enjoy with children while visiting the market. In addition, there is a read-aloud story hour with a librarian or one of the market merchants every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
- City kitchen program offers free tastings every Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. featuring ingredients and dishes from market merchants.
- Day stalls provide a variety of locally produced, artisanal products, such as biscuits, liquor and other items.
Some particular highlights of my experience, thus far, include:
- A tourist from Korea, a young woman traveling alone, came to try a cheesesteak.
- A visitor from West Virginia who accidentally broke the key to one of the phone charging stations not only found me to report his indiscretion, but tried to insist on paying for the damage. We did not allow it, but thanked him for his honesty.
- A lady who took a break from touring the Philadelphia Flower Show came into the market for lunch, approached me and said, “Table for two, please.”
- Serendipitously running into a high school classmate who was in town with her tween son. Unaware, I approached when I saw a women looking at a map and offered to help her find something. When she turned, she leaped on me with a big hug. Her son was mystified; “It’s nice that the lady is going to help us find DiNic’s, but do you have to give her a kiss on the cheek?”
- We are all equipped with walkie-talkies so the supervisor can contact us when needed and vice versa. They use code names over the airwaves; mine is 007.
- Helping a group of individuals with disabilities who visited the market find the chef’s tasting event and sample a variety of fresh-pressed juices.
But the overwhelming delight in the experience is seeing the cross section of our city and positively interacting with them around food.
Everyone from the mayor to those down on their luck, to tourists and conventioneers and families and professionals from all backgrounds, ethnicities and neighborhoods are welcomed and included. This concept makes it a unique and special place. We, as Philadelphians, are blessed to have it in our midst.
And the inevitable question: How far do I walk during my shift? The answer, generally, is between two and three miles. Sneakers are a must.
For information about the Reading Terminal Ambassador Program, contact Layla El-Tannir at [email protected].