In the Weeds: If You Can’t Take the Joy, Get Out of the Kitchen
Like everyone else, I almost don’t notice when I receive poor service. Terrible customer service is so common in every industry that the best I hope for when interacting with a car mechanic, store clerk or – god forbid – the cable company, is simply to not be harmed during the interaction. And by harmed, I mean I hope to get through it without sighing heavily, rolling my eyes, cursing or crying. I’m about 57 percent successful.
The hubs and I marked our four-year wedding anniversary this week, and true to form, I had no gift or even a card to give him. Neither one of us is that gifted in the gifting department, preferring to just enjoy a dinner out and/or a bottle of wine or three. When he left for his 13-hour workday that morning, I tried my best to think of something creative, something different. And it hit me! We were married alone on a beach in Acapulco, Mexico and stayed for a week eating huevos rancheros for breakfast every morning.
I called the Mexican restaurant directly next door to hubby’s restaurant and asked to speak to the owner, an acquaintance that we’ve met a handful of times. I was told he was off but that the manager, Miss. X, would be happy to help me. I told Miss X my whole sweet story about how it was our anniversary, how I didn’t have a gift, how it would be so great if they could just have one of their cooks whip up some huevos rancheros (a dish so simple, even this white girl can do it), attach a little note from me and walk it on over to my unsuspecting groom. Of course, I said, I was happy to pay whatever you’d like to charge my Visa for all your troubles and kindness. She listened to my whole apparently pointless spiel and said in her most friendly restaurant manager tone, “Oh, I’m really sorry… but we don’t do breakfast.”
I had called at 1:30 p.m., purposefully after the lunch rush but well before the cooks would be leaving. I’m no amateur, Miss. X. But I smiled through my teeth and said, “Right, I know, but I’m sure you have eggs and tortillas and beans and red sauce. That’s all it is.” She says, “Yeah, but we don’t have anything like that on our menu. Sooo….” Me: “Mmmmmkay…..so you can’t do it? I’ll pay whatever you want. It would mean so much to both of us.” Her: “Yeah, no, we just don’t do breakfast. Sorry.” I was already well past eye rolling as I realized my bright idea was quickly fading to black. I hoped I wouldn’t cry after hanging up. I called my sweet chef instead and told him about my plan and how his sucky neighbor restaurant had ruined it. We had a laugh about that. He came home late that night with dark chocolate and cabernet. Now that’s service.
People say hospitality gets into your blood. If it’s your kind of thing, you just love doing it…you get a high from going those extra few steps to really make a difference in someone’s experience. To me, it boils down to people wanting to be heard, to be noticed, to be made to feel special. It’s so easy and so challenging at the same time. I came into hospitality later in my career and had only intended on staying long enough to make a few car payments. That was in 2002. I’ve known no greater professional satisfaction as the feeling of joy I get by bringing other people joy. The best moments are simple and surprising. I’ve written “Lucky Dog” on to-go boxes meant for pets. I’ve hidden a bag of coffee grounds in a to-go sack for a man who said he wished he could find coffee as good as ours. I’ve stood tableside with tears in my eyes after presenting an engagement ring inside a glass of champagne or watching a couple look at their ultrasound pictures for the first time. I’ve flat out cried after learning that my guests had lost their son a year ago and were finally out to celebrate his life. We shared a sincere embrace when dinner was over. These are the moments that make me want to continue in this industry despite the split checks and Europeans.
By the way, I haven’t found my groove behind the bar and if you know of any places that would relate to or appreciate any of the aforementioned moments, please holla.
Now, this column jumped the funny tracks this week, so let’s close it out with a little animation sketch comedy. Forgive me, but this is an inside joke for all my former Capital Grille coworkers. I miss you all. You were what made the moments…the moments. Enjoy.