How to Behave at the Apple Genius Bar (From Someone Who Worked Behind It)

I saw my fair share of insanity at the Bar, including enough naked photos from customers willingly scrolling through their Photostream to last me a lifetime.
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Publish date:
April 10, 2015
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relationships, work, apple, iPhone, Apple Store, Genius Bar

If you’ve ever owned something with an Apple logo on it, you’re probably also familiar with the Apple Store Genius Bar, a magical place where condescending hipsters in blue T-shirts sometimes fix your electronics and sometimes just take one look at your utterly destroyed iPhone and give you a look that says, “This is why you can’t have nice things.”

It’s easy to vilify the Genii, especially because they’re often the ones stuck telling you that you’re three days outside of your Apple warranty, but there are real people behind the Genius bar. I used to be one.

For a year, I worked behind one of the busiest Genius Bars in the country (yup, the open-24-hours-a-day one). Before you ask, no, I wasn’t technically a “Genius.” I was an FRS, which is Apple’s name for Baby Geniuses—fine, sort of Geniuses in training—who are certified to work on iPhones, iPads, and iPods and troubleshoot minor computer issues, mostly of the software variety.

Still, I saw my fair share of batshit insanity at the Bar, including an exploding iPhone battery that forced us to evacuate half the store, two hour appointment delays in the wake of corporate changes to scheduling, and enough naked photos from customers willingly scrolling through their Photostream in front of my face to last me a lifetime.

I don’t really have any Apple secrets to give away, as those are usually reserved for people at the company who are not forced to wear a T-shirt to work every day, but there is a code of conduct that can make you much more likely to get off the Genius Bar Shitlist (which is entirely figurative but I assure you, the sentiment exists). Just like at a regular bar, there is a definite way to behave and not to behave at the Genius Bar.

The most important thing to remember is that free stuff doesn’t happen.

You broke your phone. You’re not getting a new one for free. Early in the days of the iPhone, despite the fact that physical damage is not included under the phone’s one-year warranty, Apple would give you one “freebie” if a rambunctious night of karaoke and mai-tais suddenly turned sinister and your phone wound up dead. This has happened to all of us, and Apple used to understand that.

But all of a sudden, around 2011, Apple grew up and started denying it was ever in a frat and used to make bad decisions too, and they stopped offering free replacements, no exceptions. Even Apple Store employees do not get free replacement phones; they have to use AppleCare+ or just pony up like everyone else.

This means whining will not help you. Flirting will not help you. Asking for a manger will not help you. Begging will not help you. Doing all four of these things in succession will definitely not help you. If you have somehow physically destroyed your Apple product, no amount of bribery of coercion will get you a free phone.

Employees actually get reprimanded if they get caught sneaking somebody a hall pass on an iPhone, so please don’t put them in that position. It’s the nice thing to do.

Speaking of nice things, if you dropped your phone in the toilet (or somehow vomited on it, which also happens more often than you would imagine) and it is no longer functioning, do not bring it to the Genius Bar unless it’s in a plastic bag. Apple considers it a “biohazard” and no one is allowed to touch it without gloves and it becomes a huge rigmarole as soon as someone says the word "toilet." So please just save everyone the trouble and do not bring your shitwater phone to the bar unless it’s sealed in some kind of shitwater prophylactic.

So let’s talk about the whole “appointment" thing. The worst part about working at Apple were days when we were an hour behind schedule and I would draw the short straw to be the person who checks everyone in for their appointments. Except Apple doesn’t call them appointments, they call them reservations, which somehow makes them looser in nature? I don’t understand the logic, but imagine telling a very imposing refrigerator-shaped man who just took a cab from the depths of Queens to make it in time for his 6:20 appointment (for some really simple procedure) that we are running approximately 60 minutes behind schedule. Chances are, this man is very, very displeased.

This is one of those “I’m sorry, I just work here,” moments, where I would actually say to people, “You know what? I also think it is ridiculous that you were able to get an appointment when we were running so far behind and have no way of informing you. But I don’t really have any other answers for you.”

People working behind the bar are expected to take a certain number of appointments per hour and limit each appointment to a certain amount of time. If you’ve ever felt rushed or saw your technician “multitasking” (aka feverishly juggling multiple appointments), that’s probably what was up.

I was never very good at multitasking, but some technicians were brilliant at it and seemed to not only get three or four customers helped at a time, but also had some kind of comedy routine to entertain all of them, possibly via actual juggling. I still envy those folks.

For 90 percent of the problems, the person fixing your phone or computer has heard it all at least 15 times before…that day. They know you’re annoyed, they know you want to talk ALLLL about how horrible Apple products are, but chances are they know within 30 seconds what the problem is and how to fix it. Just let them do their job, which will get you out of there much faster and reduce the wait time for everyone.

When your phone is fixed, you can use it to make a real therapist appointment instead of trying to unload your problems on someone who works in an electronics retail store.

Honestly, the Genius Bar isn’t really a place to learn things. It’s a place for fixing and replacing things. Sorry, no time. You’re better off asking the regular blue-shirted people walking lackadaisically around the store picking their noses. They have all the time in the world to spend explaining the Cloud to you while the people behind the Genius Bar race against the clock to save the universe, er, your corrupted files, and before you ask, no there is absolutely no contempt between the retail side of the store and the repair side.

Side note: If you have a female technician helping you, her name is probably not Sweetheart, Honey, or anything else you would call a child or pet. I can’t tell you how many times I had men resort to calling me condescending names, often to undermine me when I clearly knew more about an issue than they did or wouldn’t immediately give them what they wanted.

Of course there’s an Apple Store employee stereotype, and at the time, I probably fit right into it with my oversized glasses and thinly-veiled sarcasm. (I’ve walked into Apple stores in other cities or even other countries and accidentally said hello to the very accurate doppelgangers of my co-workers.) But remember that at the end of the day, they’re people who have very little control over the vast manual of corporate rules at Apple, and they’ve probably been screamed at by an entitled b-hole who said something to them like “MY CONTACTS LIST IS LITERALLY WORTH MORE THAN YOUR LIFE” (actual thing someone said to me) just moments before they had to take your appointment.

So if they seem a little condescending, or frazzled, that could be why. They could also just be perpetually condescending or frazzled. Nobody’s perfect.

One of my greatest memories working at the Genius Bar was when I was able to restore a woman’s contacts for her through iCloud after she thought she had deleted all of them. She had just lost her home and all of her possessions in Hurricane Sandy, was living out of a single suitcase in a hotel with her husband and daughter, and was using this phone as her one lifeline to the rest of her family.

As often as I operated under the eye-rolling mantra, “It’s just a phone, get the fuck over it,” this particular moment was a reminder that sometimes, it’s not just a phone. Learning to respect that, to put negative intent or blind objectivity outside of the conversation and empathize with every single person I encountered, was the most valuable skill I learned working at Apple.

So just be nice. Be kind. Be a person. And your Genius will probably be a person right back to you.