Give ‘em What They Want

Faith-Sundae
The best sundae at the Big-E according to Faith

A friend of mine asked our waiter to wrap the leftover portion of her lunch. The waiter said “it’s pretty small.” My friend was taken aback and asked, in a little more demanding tone: “could you just wrap it to go?” Later, the waiter looked at the little portfolio with the bill and my credit card sticking out and asked: “do you want me to take this?” As he moped back to the cashier’s desk, my friend and I talked about the fact that he probably needed a different job, one that didn’t involve people.

You might think that there aren’t many qualifications required to be a waiter, but that’s not true. Customer service requires skill and a sense of what to say and not say. I’m not sure I’d be a good waiter, but I know a good waiter when I see one and I know a bad waiter when I’m unfortunate enough to have him at my table. No slight to women intended, but since my examples involve men, I’m going to stick with masculine pronouns.

Sometimes, being a customer also involves knowing what to say and when to say it. We didn’t complain about our waiter. His tip suffered, but not miserably and the next time we go to lunch, we might remember that experience and try the restaurant 100 yards up the road. When required, I will speak up.

My daughter and I once went to a plaza in our town to watch the Memorial Day Parade. We went early, so I could park my truck in the back row. We put lawn chairs in the bed – yes we looked like the Clampetts – so we could easily see over the crowd. Since we were early, we decided to get something to drink at Friendly’s, a local fast food restaurant famous for their ice cream. We stepped up to the take-out counter. I ordered coffee and my daughter ordered a chocolate milkshake. The waiter said:

I’m not making a milkshake at 8:00 in the morning.”

I saw the sad expression on my daughter’s face and I motioned the waiter aside. I pointed to a sign that said “Happiness – One Scoop at a Time” and I said:

You’re not only going to make her a milkshake, you’re going to deliver it with a smile.”

Opening Day
As seen last year at the Dairy Cream in Windsor Locks

In contrast to the Friendly’s store that was ultimately closed during one of the times the chain was in bankruptcy, we have a soft-serve ice cream store in town. This place is family owned and always; always, always, always, serves ice cream with a smile. It can be 100 degrees, the line can be out to the street, and you can order a Banana Split and the clerk will be thrilled to make it for you. In a few weeks, I’ll start driving by this place to see the sign announcing Opening Day. I will post that on Twitter and several friends will instantly feel better. That’s how powerful good customer service can be.

BRC
The former home of Bridgeville Recreation Center

I learned good customer service from my dad. He managed a small bowling alley in the town in which he and I had been born. I set pins there for a while and then I started helping him behind the counter. Whenever I would buy myself a bag of chips, my father would tear it open and place it on the counter. “never eat in front of the customers without offering to share.” Every request, from new towels by the hand-wetters, to a freshly sharpened pencil, to a refill on their cup of coffee was answered with a smile. Whatever it took to make them happy, lest they take their business to the bowling alley across town.

Gateway Clipper
Almost every night for 14 months, I was on that boat.

I also learned this lesson the hard way when I worked for the catering company that provided food to the Gateway Clipper Fleet in Pittsburgh. Estimating the size of the nightly dinner dance crowd was far from an exact science. One night, I arrived at the boat with one less tray of rigatoni and au gratin potatoes than we were likely going to need. My boss told me to watch the portion size and if anyone asked for more, to suggest that they come back for seconds. One such customer approached my serving station. When I suggested that he return for seconds, he signaled to my boss. After a brief discussion, my boss looked at me and said sharply: “What’s wrong with you? If the customer asks for more potatoes, give him more potatoes!

The customer left, happy, satiated and probably thinking “that kid needs to find a job where he doesn’t have to work with people.” He was right. I’ll save my struggles with customer service for another post. Until then, give ‘em what they want.

60 thoughts on “Give ‘em What They Want

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  1. You just reminded me of my old days. I started my career in a kitchen of a 3-star hotel, worked up my way to room service department, followed by banquets and then I moved to restaurants where I moved from ordertaker to customer relations guy. I had no formal training about customer handling, but as a kid I used to visit my father’s shop and his shop wasn’t a big one, but still popular. He used to tell me that people come in because he sells genuinely good food products, fresh and delicious. He doesn’t lie to them or sell stale stuff and he always talks to them with a smile and this works every time. When I entered the hospitality industry, I did the same. For me customer’s concern was my concern and I at times went an extra mile to keep my customers happy. I’m not boasting here, but I gradually became more popular with regular visitors than my manager. One of the regular visitor at the restaurant once told me – You know Sharukh why I come here every weekend with my friends? Its the same old food and decor, but I still visit. So I asked him, Why? he said because you make me feel special. Recently, I visited the same restaurant with Sarah (I walked in after 13 years) and some of the old staff was so delighted to see me.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That must have been a very good feeling. I go to the same bar/restaurant most every week, but I go the days that one bartender is on duty. The others are good, but this one is just so nice, I feel much better being there when she’s on duty. I have to say, I’m not surprised by your story. Even in your writing, you go the extra mile to provide the perfect photo or best explanation.

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  2. There are so many restaurants here with slow service and arrogant wait staff… Allow 20 minutes between each stage of the meal process: Order taken 20 minutes after being seated; at least 20 – 30 minutes to have the meal in front of you; at whatever point you *try* to get the check, allow another 20 minutes to get it; then 20 minutes to get your card back. And this is at *lunchtime*! It’s as if the management believes that’s a sign of status — poor customer service and arrogance.
    Looks like a good day to brown-bag it. :D Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. There are a few places in walking distance where I can call-in an order (many of them don’t even allow that — you have to go inside and place the carry out order and wait there for it; defeats the purpose). I pick it up and take it back to my desk.

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  3. This topic could probably cover several posts. We have a couple of favorite spots, and when I see particular waitstaff heading our way, I know it’s going to be a good experience. I never send anything back because I’m too concerned about extras I might receive when it is returned, but I do decrease the tip and in some cases send the restaurant a private message detailing the issues. :-)

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    1. I have identified the best staff at the places we visit regularly. Some places seem to attract a good group of people and only the bad ones stand out. Other places seem to be full of people who just don’t care. I complained to the manager of a local Dunkin Donuts because I got a gruppy attitude when I was buying Munchkins. He said: “Yeah, the guys hate counting those out, maybe you should just get donuts.” – I couldn’t believe it. I avoid that store as much as I can.

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  4. I’m dying that anyone in food service would deny a kid a milkshake! Good grief!
    I was a miserable waitress, always dropping things and bumping into people, but I sure was hospitable.
    We recently started shopping at a new grocer, and the people there are so freakin nice, I feel like I’m on Candid Camera. I took the girls last week and they both said the same thing. I’ve found I’ve even been inclined to spend a bit more there, because it means avoiding other places where people aren’t as nice, so my shopping experience isn’t nearly as pleasant. I want to have pleasant experiences :)

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    1. It does work. When you make people feel good, they want to come back. I agree, a little kid gets ice cream, but especially when your brand is built around ice cream! I don’t care how much stuff my waitress drops, as long as she’s nice to us, we’ll be nice to her.

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  5. Good service needs to be encouraged more than it is. So many of us, myself included, are quick to point out when the service is lacking but not nearly as quick to praise it when it is truly exceptional. I think we’d start seeing more of it if it was well rewarded.

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    1. Well said. Good service needs appreciation. However, as a waiter I still have to see the larger picture and not just my tips. If I provide a poor service it is going to bring bad reputation to my organization and that means less customers and that eventually means I might be laid off or I might get less tips. Most waiters are bothered about their immediate income – tips.

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    2. I try my best to call attention to good service Norm. I certainly reflect it in the amount that I tip. I was at my local bar on Saturday and I met a friend. I commented that I hadn’t seen her on Saturday before. She said that she just found out that our favorite bartender was on duty. We both tend to visit that place when this one girl is on duty. She makes you feel special. We treat her very well and I’ve let the owner know that she’s responsible for a good portion of his business.

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  6. It seems so basic in my opinion….we have many choices and most of our decisions are based on the quality of customer service. I agree with Norm’s comment, I do notice better service whenever I’m a little more open with my “thanks” and “appreciate it”….

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    1. That’s very true Kirt. I tend to make sure people know that I appreciate their service. I’m probably less likely to point out bad service (I just don’t go back) except when my kid was involved. Nobody is going to make a little girl sad if I can stop it.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Sadly, customer service is not what it used to be, Dan. I LOVE your story about how you got Faith her ice cream. High five! I was in the restaurant business for a long time and I KNOW service with a smile and light appropriate chit chat (ONLY if the green light to do so was on ….) guaranteed a happy customer usually (cannot please them all, that too I found out!) and for me a nice tip (again usually ….). What happened to “The customer is always right?” Hubby and I recently went to a restaurant to have dinner and right next to us a station was closed. In comes one of the workers with a pail and mop and begins to mop the floor while customers are eating and not only that it was BLEACH! Needless to say, many customers made such a stink the kid stopped mopping! And later when we complained to the manager, this woman gave US a face and an attitude that we could stuff our complaint well, where the sunshine don’t shine. Really? BLEACH?? The Health Department ought to talk to that manager! I always seem to have stories that I leave here. LOL Hope you don’t mind.

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  8. I have to believe we have lived parallel lives. I worked all through college in restaurants. It is so easy to be a good representative of the management if the management is good. So many times poor customer service comes from poor management. When I was in forecasting I used to use Friendly’s as a leading indicator (one of many). I would visit the store on the same day each week and make note of which ice cream bucket had the frost. (frost equals low use) I then converted the frost into consumer confidence and established a baseline. Frost on Vanilla = high confidence. Frost on Rocky Road or some other experimental flavor = low. I did it for four years and had the best actual to forecast ratio of the three areas of the country. (I used Bradlees parking lot the same way. Open spaces = poor consumer sales. No room to park = Higher consumer sales.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so cool John. What an interesting way to forecast. If I were visiting Friendly’s once a week I’d weigh a lo more. Between the ice cream and the cheeseburgers on toasted bread – oh my. Bradlees are nothing but open space these days.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I am still having a hard time with the waiter having the gall to say he was not going to make a milkshake at 8 in the morning. Wow. Who hired him?? I stop going to places who are not nice to people. Seriously, life is too darn short to put up with stuff like that. Your line (“..and make it with a smile.”) is so Clint Eastwood–I love it. Faith has one awesome dad.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Lois. It’s easy to be a tough guy when some idiot is about to make your daughter cry. We stopped going to that Friendly’s and it eventually closed. I’m not saying those events are related. The other Friendly’s in town is still in business.

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  10. Nice post, Dan. I am craving a milkshake. It’s 8:00 am somewhere.

    When dad was still living, we started going to a restaurant in their city for lunch on Saturdays. This restaurant was easy in and easy out for someone (dad) in a wheel chair. I’ve continued to take mom there when the weather is nice and I would guess we’ve been steady customers for a good eight years. Even though most of the wait staff and hostesses know us, there are two very special people. The one hostess used to work in a nursing home, so she is always eager to help with mom…open the door and get her to the table. And she always asks how mom is doing. Waitress Noel is the other awesome person. After a long absence during the polar vortex winter, mom and I made our triumphant return to the restaurant and Noel was our waitress. Without hesitation, she knew mom wanted a brandy manhattan, extra vermouth, no fruit or veggies, easy on the rocks. She remembered this after four months of not seeing us. Excellent customer service.

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  11. My first lessons in customer service were when I was fifteen and working for A & W, THE root beer place of the 1960s. I took to it from the start, although my feet hated pounding the pavement in the parking lot. I doubt it’s all that different in a restaurant and empathize with the service staff. Anyway, the jobs I’ve had since then in which I was being of service to someone in some way or form have been the most rewarding for me.

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  12. I worked for Macys whose motto at one time was “the customer is always right” – sometimes it was miserable as the customers were not right! I think they’ve since changed their motto.

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    1. I was told by the company catering the Party Liner that “the customer is not always right but they are always the customer.” That was supposed to assuage my feelings about being yelled at for doing what I had been told to do.

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  13. I have worked in restaurants, two country clubs, Cedar Point first hot dog stand under the Sky Ride and then, the CP hotel. My last 4 years of being a 4 star Cracker Barrel “red apron” (brown ones are under the red ones in level.) I found nice people everywhere but three “bad” ones are memorable. A lady who felt I didn’t give her enough condiments (hot dog stand) literally scratched me and drew blood on my arm and wrist. :( No, I didn’t even think to fight back nor call security.) A man at a small country club said something sexual about me, as I walked away from his golfing buddies. I turned and gave him a nod of the head and went to the manager. Not only was he escorted out, he was told he would have a 3 month “club restriction.” I was totally worried his friends would be rude or make snide remarks but they apologized and called him a “jerk.” My last example of “The other side of serving” was this little old couple who asked for my table for 50 Fish Fry Fridays a year x 4 years at CB restaurant. They would say in a sweet voice as I ran to get them extra biscuits, drinks refills, free birthday desserts more than once or twice a year, “We will leave our tip on the credit card.” Little did they know all servers at major restaurant run cards through machines to place orders and we know exactly how much someone gives us. Zilch, zero tips for all my trouble. I just tried to think of karma and was nice to them despite their stingy ways. I always was like your Dad and went the extra mile since I do like people! :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m trying to figure out which of those is worse. The sweet couple stiffing you or the woman making you bleed. At least you got some satisfaction on the pervert at the country club. I have a country club story that I have to tell at some point.

      I have to say, I’m thinking about biscuits right now – thanks for sharing your experiences Robin.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. This post did, by the way, make me sad since we lost the Westlake, Ohio Friendly’s! Mom and I went there on her 8th b’day when it was 85, three years ago. Sorry about rude server they are rare, overall. Lazy boy! :( Glad you are such a great Dad. Happy mid week to you, Dan.

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    1. Thanks Robin – We lost the Friendly’s near where I work, which is the reason my friend and I were in the restaurant that wouldn’t wrap her stuff. Friendly’s tried to be a different kind of restaurant, but that didn’t work. Now, they say that they are going back to basics. I’m always amazed when companies ruin a good thing.

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  15. That Friendly’s waiter, did he smile when he served the ice-cream to your daughter? Especially after he was so rude?
    Anyway, I like what you told him. He must have forgotten their own motto. I’ve been to so many places like that. Where customer care is exceedingly poor. One day I went to a booking office and found the woman on the phone. From the way she was laughing–you know, coquettishly–I figured she was not talking to a customer. But, man! She ignored me throughout. I had to leave.

    And Dan, from the things you have said of him, I think your father was a great man and you were a great son.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I don’t think I’d be a good waitress, but I’m a very good customer to those who are good at it. We have several favorite restaurants we go to that we love because the wait staff are wonderful to us in addition to having good food. They’re like friends. One favorite Chinese Restaurant closed after 20 years; the owners retired. We’ve mourned the closing since. It’s been over 10 yrs now. We’ve not found another Chinese place we like as well, and we miss Joe, and Betty our favorite waiter and waitress.

    I love that you spoke up and got Faith that milkshake! Way to go DAD!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. When you spoke to the waiter about Faith’s milkshake, I’m imagining you saying it in a Dirty Harry voice: quiet, but low and growly — and unmistakably threatening.

    Please tell me it happened that way, Dan — I’m really enjoying that mental picture.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. During high school I worked afternoons and weekends at the Utah Poultry and Farmer’s Cooperative, weighing grain trucks, entering invoices, and dusting shelves of supplies for irrigating and sick animals. And each and every day, I daydreamed about the glamor of being a waitress, a dream that never materialized.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I went from working on that boat, where the food service portion was the worst part, to working in a machine shop where the entire day was the worst part. That CoOp job sounds like pretty had work. It sounds like the kind of job my father would have said “builds character” – thanks for adding some perspective today.

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  19. Ditto. My first job having been at McDonalds and back when folks still knew who Ray Crock was and what he stood for, I was very proud of what I did. Or perhaps it was the work ethic I’s been taught. Whatever job is yours, you do it with excellence and dedication. I fear that this is a dying philosophy in general wait staff across the board. My husband and I niw find it the excaption, rather then the rule, to get outstanding service at a restaurant or store where help is required. This new age, blaise, “I’m only here so I can pay for my itoys” attitude really gets under my skin. I didn’t raise my guys this way either. BTW, I had a similar incident as Faith when I tried to order a frozen coffee drink in the Omaha airport coffee shop one wintry early morning. And it was COFFEE and on the menu. Because she was alone I got it, I understood. It was just the way she delivered it, venting all of her work frustration onto me. Needless to say I didn’t order anything. I noticed last time I passed through that this particular venue was gone. Hmmmmm…..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was raised to do everything as well as I could and attempt to be the best (whatever) I chose to be. There was no complaining. I wrote, and others did as well about my other pet peeve, the people that clean the equipment an hour before closing. “I can’t make you a deli sandwich because I just cleaned the meat slicer.” And, it’s 8:05 and they are open until 9:00.

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  20. Yes. And being so angry with anyone who comes in less than 30 min before closing. I get it. I used to work in fast food. But we were told money is money and that is how we got paid. I hate to use the word spoiled but I really feel that is the problem. Everyone gets paid by some big corporation and gets paid whether they do well or not. No rwerds for excellence. No consequences for mediocre performance. Too many owners never go near their venues to make certain they are being run properly. Oh let me get off this soap box before I really get going….

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  21. Sheesh. I can’t believe some people. SO glad you stood up about the milkshake and set the guy straight. That is truly galling that he’d say that. People really DON’T seem to understand how important GOOD customer service is. I really don’t think they do. The first waiter you mentioned should never have been hired. Being polite and accommodating is a skill just like carrying a tray full of food is. It SHOULD be considered a qualification, a requirement, in any hospitality field — mandatory, not just suggested. I must admit that I loathe the practice of tipping, period, so the guy wouldn’t have been getting any extra out of me anyway. But that day, I probably would have thrown in a dirty look, just for him. There’s your tip, pal. This job is really not for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure I do dirty looks well. I wish waitstaff just got paid enough so that tips weren’t part of the deal. I know they aren’t, so I tip but minimal for this clown. You’re absolutely right, service is a skill, and one this guy is lacking.

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  22. A friendly waiter or waitress will make an okay meal much better, while an unpleasant one will spoil even top food. Customer service in the USA impressed me a lot when I moved there from France. I’ve heard it’s not what it used to be. I’m stili in awe most of the time. For one bad experience there are dozens great. I smiled when I read about the opening sign for ice cream. I saw the closing sign in Maine late fall and will miss the opening one. For people who live in colder weather it must be exciting. Enjoy your first sundae or ice cream cone of the season!

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  23. Great to ‘see’ you, Dan, as I’ve been shamefully neglectful of my WP buddies (altho’ I DO think about you). Customer service AND customer behavior have both deteriorated in my opinion. I had to chuckle at your closing anecdote where your boss threw you under the bus! Some dats you can’t win for losing 😊

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