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What's the meaning of those 'Attention service desk, 201' announcements heard in Vons and Safeway stores??

Question:   What's the meaning of those "Attention service desk, 201" announcements heard in Vons and Safeway stores?

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, September 2009]

Sometimes while shopping at Safeway grocery stores I hear "Attention Service Desk 201" on the intercom. I asked an employee but they said they were not allowed to tell me.

Origins:   Anyone who has done a fair bit of shopping at an outlet of the Vons or Safeway grocery chains (the former is a division of the latter) has probably noticed that the intercom systems at those stores periodically broadcast a recorded message announcing the words "Attention service desk, two zero one. Attention service desk, two zero one." As captured in the video clip displayed below, at times shoppers will hear this announcement repeated practically ad nauseam:

A good many shoppers (including yours truly) have pondered the meaning of this cryptic message. Surely the announcement has some substantial significance to store operations to be issued so often, but what is that significance?

Many curious customers who have ruminated on this issue have assumed the message is some form of code, a short
form way of alerting store personnel to a sensitive situation without making shoppers aware of it — something along the lines of: "We need more checkers up front because there's a bunch of impatient customers waiting in line," "Someone just threw up in the produce section and it has to be cleaned up right now," "There's a shoplifter in the store," or "Tell the manager to come to checkout line #2 because some obviously underage kid with a fake ID insists on buying beer." For me, at least, none of these explanations seemed plausible, because I often observed that no unusual activity was apparently going on in the store at the time of "Attention service desk, two zero one" announcements: there were no customers waiting in lines or quarreling with checkers, no (visible) part of the store was in disarray or in need of cleaning, and no shoppers seemed to be acting in a suspicious manner.

Eventually, some of these curious customers resorted to the simple and direct expedient of asking store employees what the meaning of the "Attention service desk, two zero one" message was and learned that the answer was a rather prosaic one: it's simply a system for informing various store departments about phone calls. "Attention service desk, two zero one" means there's a call for the service desk waiting on line 1, just as the announcement "Attention bakery, two zero two" would mean there's a call for the bakery waiting on line 2, etc.

Not that we would advocate any such thing, but one could verify this explanation for himself by visiting a Vons or Safeway store, calling that store on his cell phone, selecting the menu option to be connected to a particular department, and then waiting to hear the resultant "Attention ... two zero ..." announcement over the intercom (assuming no one in that department picked up the phone promptly).

Last updated:   27 August 2013

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