Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Being Ready

Sitting in a well-known spot downtown noted for business activity, my client and friend discussed details of a major upcoming contract. We called no names, only spoke of numbers and services. We both go there often for such meetings and find the food great and service wonderful. Except this particular time the service was lacking, although this was not immediately apparent.

We both took notice of our waiter right away. He attended to us well, smiled graciously and nodding warmly from the moment he introduced himself. We were pleased, though neither of us had seen him there before. I mentioned to my friend that this guy's a keeper, knowing he would relate as he looks for talent everywhere. He has so far found gifted and hard-working talent in the most unlikely places. He said, "It's great you saw that. I noticed him too." We resumed our conversation.

The waiter had come back and forth respectively bringing our salads, refilling our water and bringing our meal. But then he said something that dumbfounded me and he could not recover. But it wasn't that we we didn't allow it. Rather, it was that he himself could not simply respond appropriately, re-adjusting and seeing that he was clearly out of line. Instead, he got increasingly worse. It's bad when our pride gets the best of us.

"Do you have time for me?"

Hmmm??? What a strange question in this setting.

"May I ask you something? "

"Yes," I said.

"I've been listening to your conversation..."


"...and you guys seem like you really got your stuff together. "

AND!!! Did you just say you were listening in on our conversation!!!

"I gotta ask you," he continued. "How do you make that kind of money?"

I was flabbergasted. Had no one trained this young man of 23 or so at home or work?

"I appreciate your question," I said, holding myself together enough to teach and not scold. "We're in business, but excuse us please. I am in part doing what I do right now and this conversation is somewhat a hindrance to my business. Perhaps later"

He walked away annoyed. I didn't like this. There was something offensive and inappropriate about his demeanor that I did not appreciate. After all, we were there on business and he was intruding. He was oblivious or simply didn't care. I left not really knowing which was so.

My friend wanted to help the young man. So, when he returned he engaged him in conversation. Giving him great pointers. I added a few points myself. But the young man could not receive them graciously. He proceeded to tell us that he understood where we were coming from but we did not fully understand him; he saw things differently.

The advice given was general and in most terms could not be objected to. Instead of being appreciative of the fact that we were taking time out to give him what he apparently needed, he assumed the posture that he knew best. He spoke with a kind of arrogance and ignorance often associated with youth, but you would think that he would have been trained properly to hold himself at least on the job.

"You know this is really not a good time," I added.

OK," he continued, "All I want to know is what ..." I cut him off. He looked sincerely puzzled. I was incredulous.

He continued as if he was repeating a line from the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness" when Will Smith's character's asks a guy who jumped out of a red Ferrari, "All I want to know," he says, "what do you do?" It was a good line in the movie, but it was not a good line as my client and I sat for lunch discussing business.

Someone a few tables over was beckoning for the waiter. I gently pointed to him that someone else needed him and that he should take care of first things first. This young man actually looked me in my face and said..

"I'm going to get to him but I will be back to discuss business with you."

"No, we're done here for now. Thank you."

This young man was relentless, inappropriately so. He didn't have a clue about the negative impression he was giving. But my friend and client felt compassion for him and I could see in his eyes that he wished to assist this young man. I too felt compassion but I must admit to feeling more incredulous. I'm a first things first girl. His first role was that of a server. We were his first priority; he was serving us.

When he returned my friend briefly told him about what we did and gave him some good advice and encouragement. But this wasn't enough. He could hardly let me friend tell him anything, as he was so eager to show us what he knew. He was so eager to tell us all about him. He was not eager to listen. We listened and encouraged him, hoping that he would move on. He didn't. Finally, I said...

"I'm really sorry but we have business to attend to." He left.

He actually did not come back post haste, but did return. When my client and friend got up to meet others we both knew, I did not join him, taking the opportunity instead to give this young man some needed advice:

1. NEVER! NEVER! NEVER! listen in on those you serve and NEVER tell them so.

2. Only ask questions that you want sincere answers.

3. Listen once you've asked a question, especially if you regard those whom you've asked the question to be of interest.

He seemed to understand, taking in the advice. But perhaps not. As we got up to leave he came and thanked us for the information, saying...

"Thank you for your help. I will uphold my end of the bargain. I hope you will uphold yours."

We smiled and thanked him, leaving a handsome tip.

On the way out, my client and friend turned to me and said...

"I guess he gave us our answer. Here is a guy we were both considering hiring. He clearly is not ready."


John O'Leary said...

Judith, your stand for customer service inspired my latest diatribe against my bank in Boston on www.RockandRollLessons.blogspot.com/

Banks are such easy targets these days I almost hate to pile it on. Kinda like criticizing the current administration in Washington. But in both cases the lack of service demands reproach.

judith ellis said...

My partner and I have in essence become a bank in these very difficult times. (Perhaps more on this later.) When there is such unrest, there are always opportunities.

When there is lack in ethics and customer service that is obvious to all, this is even the more reason to be the change we wish to see. Standing above the rest will be obvious.

Erik said...

you may need to find a new restaurant. you might also think about the fact that other waiters are in fact listening in on your conversations and not telling you. maybe you need to speak softly. somehow this reminds me of the pitcher and catcher in a baseball game speaking to each other through their gloves so no one on the opposing team can read their lips. i'm not suggesting you invest in a baseball glove, but well, people are nosy. or curious, if you want to see it in a more positive light.

John O'Leary said...

20 years ago I was eating at the long-departed Open Sesame restaurant in Brookline, Mass (my home town) - a vegan restaurant famous for its great food and less-than-great service. After dinner my date and I were literally chased down the street by the waitress demanding to know why we didn't tip her! (It turns out we did but she didn't see it.) I don't remember her apologizing and I think we were too dumbfounded to be outraged in the moment.

judith ellis said...

erik...thanks. You make good points and I will most certainly adhere to them. We go to this particular restaurant often; the owner and my friend go way back; and we were very cognizant of others as we spoke.

Being aware of these things, we called no names and only spoke of numbers. Maybe the numbers blew the waiter's mind. In any case, your points are will taken.

John...someone should have told her that unless the gratuity is included in the bill, it is not mandatory. (I usually tip handsomely unless the service is awful.) I would have probably not have held my tongue.