Posted on October 2, 2008 by Dennis Snow
Exhausted from a long day of traveling, I looked forward to a quiet dinner in the lobby restaurant of the hotel where I was staying. I was in Montana for a speaking engagement, and planned to have a quick meal, then return to my room and put the finishing touches on my presentation.
Arriving at the restaurant's hostess station, I saw several employees standing around joking with each other (loudly), ignoring the diners, and ignoring me. I stood there for a few minutes and just watched, wondering where the restaurant manager was and why he or she allowed this kind of behavior. As I watched, it slowly dawned on me that one of the employees horsing around was the restaurant manager.
One server, however, was doing a great job. As I watched, she was attentive to her guests and stayed busy cleaning tables, straightening chairs, and generally doing what a good manager would hope a good employee would do. I'd guess she was only sixteen or seventeen years old, but she was the most mature, responsible employee in that restaurant.
As luck would have it, I was seated (eventually) in the section staffed by the attentive server I had been observing. She was very nice, introducing herself as Rachel. She went through the specials, took my drink order, and left me to look at the menu. Just a few moments later she returned with my drink, asking if she could answer any questions about the menu. All of this was happening while the other employees chatted, laughed, and generally irritated the restaurant's customers with their rude behavior. I could tell Rachel was embarrassed by the performance of her "colleagues" - although they were hardly in the same league.
Apparently the indifference extended to the kitchen, because my meal took quite a long time to arrive. Poor Rachel kept returning to my table, apologizing, and refilling my drink. She was extremely courteous and embarrassed at the same time. I mentioned to her that I was fine, I wasn't in a rush, and she told me how much she appreciated my patience.
The moment I finished my meal, Rachel appeared with a dessert menu. I said, no thanks, I was full from my dinner. But she said, "Please, dessert is on us. I feel so bad about how long everything took." She was so sincere I would've felt guilty refusing the dessert, and forced myself (right) to enjoy a large slice of cheesecake. I paid the check, leaving a nice tip, and made a beeline to the hotel's front desk to let the hotel general manager know about my experience in his hotel's restaurant and what a great employee he has in that one server.
Two things about this experience stand out for me. First, was this sixteen or seventeen year old server who was more professional and caring than any of the other "more mature" employees in the restaurant. If I lived in that city and was in a position to hire someone for any customer facing job, I would've offered Rachel the job on the spot. You can teach someone the technical skills a job requires, but that kind of professionalism and care can't be taught. I have no doubt she will excel in any career she chooses.
The second thing that stands out was the simple offer of a dessert "on us" for the inconvenience of waiting for my meal. The restaurant manager clearly didn't direct Rachel to make the offer, she chose to offer the dessert because it was the right thing to do. And I appreciated the gesture. Little touches like that go a long way in smoothing over a negative customer service situation. What a difference between being offered service recovery and having to ask for it. Employees who are empowered, or empower themselves in this case, can turn an unpleasant situation into something so positive that the customer is willing to blog about it.
The business world needs more employees like Rachel.