I was fortunate to take a mini-vacation this past week. Four and a half days of fun, sun, sand and surf in Florida. It was lovely and restorative. I could use this post to go on a diatribe about how too many of us don’t take enough time off to refresh and reboot, and how important it is to occasionally unwind. But I’ll hold off until I’m successful in taking my own advice and manage to take any further days off in coming months.
I could also wax on about how every sunrise, even over the ocean, is fresh and new and different, and how we need to take those hints as to how we should live our lives… but sunrises are deeply personal and amazing things we all need to experience and consider on our own.
I will instead offer up a topic that is more relatable no matter whether on vacation or not, because it has to do with personal interactions. One of the activities we do while on vacation that my family rarely does in our regular lives, is go out to eat. In our day to day lives, eating out was one of those things that was taken off our list of normal routines in an effort to save both our budgets and our waistlines. But when on vacation, other than stopping at a local market to pick up a few things for the mini-fridge in the hotel room, pretty much every meal is eaten in some form of restaurant. With some form of wait staff.
The restaurant business is hard. Waiting on tables and patrons is not for the faint of heart, nor really is any form of direct customer service. Yet that interaction between customer and service provider can totally make or break an experience – not to mention greatly effect tips. In the space of just four days, we interacted with the good, the bad, and the….huh?!
We had lunch at a sidewalk café on a beautiful weather day, in a cute touristy town. The waiter, who’s name I have long since forgotten, could not have made it more obvious that the last place he wanted to be was there assisting us with our meal. He did not smile, not even once. And rather than look at us, even when speaking, he would gaze out at the road seemingly planning his escape route. Mind you, the group I was with, all modesty aside, is a fun, friendly group. We have ALL played roles in customer service at some point in our lives. We are all tippers. We all appreciate what it takes to do what these folks do every day. You know, things like energy, desire and enthusiasm. None of which this guy exhibited.
Then there was Technology Woman on Speed. We went to one of our favorite seafood restaurants for supper, expecting a delicious meal and great service. We did get the delicious meal. And the Server was friendly and polite enough… however she was in rush mode, speaking at 100 miles an hour as if she needed us to hurray up with our decisions. She was armed with a handheld digital ordering device, which I dread to be the next generation of dining interaction, and which I suppose added to her need for speed as it was likely her direct link to the kitchen. She focused completely on her electronics and didn’t attempt any eye contact with us. Apparently looking at customers has become optional. She literally said “hold on” when she had to swipe, type, swipe, type to make a correction. I felt like I was trying to talk to the new robot that roams around my grocery store beeping and checking stock.
There are times of course when no matter how hard the Server tries, they just can’t save a bad experience. Such was the case with the woman trying to serve us lunch at a local chain restaurant. She tried her best, including being pleasant, accommodating and honest. She took back one meal when it was undercooked. She sent out someone from the kitchen who attempted to convince us that rubbery, hard, inedible chunks in our conch fritters were supposed to be there. She reduced our bill. She eventually commiserated with us that her friends won’t even come in because of all the bad Yelp reviews they’ve been seeing. Oh, sweetie, time to find a new job.
Happily, not all of our dining adventures were unpleasant. A crew of amazing women were serving up breakfast at one cute café, with friendliness, energy, humor, and efficiency. They made us feel welcome and comfortable. They were real women on a mission to treat their customers like they themselves would want to be treated. Imagine that.
The other stand-out was a young man by the name of Miguel, our server at a BBQ place. He was everything a waiter should be: friendly, accommodating, attentive, could make recommendations, and was efficient without rushing. He happily took our group photo when we requested it. At one point I called him a secret ninja waiter because I had just finished my last sip of my beverage when he magically appeared asking if any of us needed a refill.
We women especially appreciate great service because it is such a treat for us to sit and be waited on, rather than be the one doing the running around taking care of people. Trust us, we know what it is like to be tired, have sore feet, deal with difficult people, and be counted on to provide what everyone needs and expects. It can be a fabulous thing to be on the other side of that.
There, I believe, is the secret that all great waitstaff know. As with any variety of customer service, strength lies in POE: The Power of Empathy. Every person, alone or in a group, who walks through that door, is there for a reason. It could be a celebration like a birthday, anniversary, or wedding shower. It could be a reconnection of friends or family, a vacation, or a nervous first date. It could be someone in mourning, stopping in after a funeral, or grieving over a break up. It could simply be someone who’s had a really long exhausting day who just doesn’t have the strength or desire to cook a meal. The reason doesn’t matter, what does matter is that they need help. Not just for someone to robotically bring them food, but to be human and kind.
This is true in every part of our lives. That person who sat at your table, walked into your business, met you on the street or even came into your home is there because their sunrise that morning started them on a journey that led them to you. That journey could have been happy and delightful or more likely, challenging and tiring. Because we are all on our own sunrise-directed journeys. And a little POE can go a long way to serving up some warmth.