Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Service with a Smile

Service is a relative term.  Car service, room service, military service, tea service, religious service, food service—many kinds of service, but it’s all relative.  What exactly does service mean anyway? 

I once took my car to have a new battery installed.  When they told me it was ready, I looked over the paperwork and discovered I had received an oil change, new wiper blades, and new brake light bulbs—but no new battery.  When I complained, they told me I needed to make another appointment for the battery since I used up all my service time on these other things.  Well my car needed the things they did to it, but I still needed a battery.  I went somewhere else because I wasn’t happy with the service.

I like waffles, so while in Atlanta decided to have my breakfast at a locally famous cafĂ© with a reputation for good waffles.  When I received my order, I received pancakes.  Although I like pancakes, I was on a waffle hunt, so I sent them back to be replaced.  The waiter thought I was being picky and managed to tell everyone in the place his feelings about me.  When he finally brought my waffles to me, they were the original pancakes but they had spent some time in the waffle maker.  Actually a lot of time.  A lot of time.  As I was leaving, he shouted, “If you don’t like the service, don’t come back!”  I didn’t.

When dining in a rather upscale restaurant in another city I traveled to, my waiter wasn’t the most highly trained, and he was also in a bad mood.  Grumpy would be an understatement.  Maybe surly would be a better description.  When I was being seated another gentleman was also being seated at a table a few feet away.  The waiter first went to him and then to me to take our orders.  Later he brought out a tray and served the man at the nearby table.  A few bites into his meal he realized he had received the wrong order and informed the waiter.  The waiter stood looking at the man’s plate for a few moments, before picking it up and placing it before me.  Hmm…  I left with the other gentleman, and we enjoyed a great evening dining at a nearby tavern where the service was supurb.

I was having a business dinner with a few of the company’s managers at a very posh restaurant in a major city when suddenly the dim lights dimmed even more, and a spotlight focused on the maitre d’.  One of the highlights of this restaurant was the presentation of flaming shish kabobs on silver swords.  The maitre d’ whirled and twirled these flaming swords as he was escorted to the diner’s table by a bevy of aproned waiters.  Very impressive except for the fact that every whirl and every twirl was lobbing a chunk of lamb or onion or other vegetable into a flaming arc across the dining room.  The problem went unnoticed by the maitre d’ until it was time to remove the morsels from the swords to the diner’s plate.  The replacement dinner was made with much less fanfare.  One of the pieces of lamb landed on our table, but the manager to my left was faster with his fork than I was.  He said it was good. 

Recently I had an afternoon lunch with some of my friends at a Chinese all-you-can-stand-to-eat buffet.  Believe me, it was nothing special, and it was also not busy, which was the main reason we went there.  In fact we were the only ones there.  We wanted to just spend some time talking and catching up on things.  We had a good time just being with each other, and we also each made an occasional trip to the buffet tables to search in vain for something good to eat, but we usually just settled for a few bites of what ever we were standing closest to.  One of the guys, Charlie, somehow got hooked on the cheap canned chocolate pudding and went back time and again for more.  And then our time was up.  We didn’t set any particular time to leave, but the manager did.  Apparently we were allotted two hours to complete our meal and get out.  Suddenly the manager was standing at the end of our table shouting “TIME UP!  TWO HOUR!  TIME UP!”  I think Charlie summed it up perfectly when he said, “Thank God!  I don’t think I could stand any more of this chocolate pudding.”

Sometimes the best service comes when least expected.  Rachael and I had been married about a year and were living in a small town about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.  One evening we decided to have dinner at one of the local Italian restaurants.  We drove around the old building a couple of times checking it out.  The two dogs on the back porch next to the screen door to the kitchen didn’t win any points, but we could see the inside and it looked spotless.  So we went in (the front door).

It was good Italian food, but it was not great Italian food.  We enjoyed our meal and were about to leave when the owner came up to us with coffee and dessert.  Suddenly we were his special guests, and we were treated like royalty.  When it was finally necessary for us to leave, Rocco the owner refused payment.

About a week later we were driving by the restaurant with our still fresh memories, and to our dismay the building was gone.  Bulldozers had destroyed it to make room for a fast food chain restaurant specializing in heat-lamp burgers.

I’ve never forgotten the service that evening, and to this day I use it to compare all other restaurant service.  Rocco was already well past retirement age when we were there over 35 years ago, so I’m certain he is no longer with us.  But wherever he is, someone is getting great service.

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