We had just finished a lovely Valentine’s Day meal, celebrating the day after Valentine’s Day since we can never get a table at a decent restaurant on Valentine’s Day, and our server brought the bill. I placed my credit card on top of the bill accompanied by a two-for-one coupon. The server said, “Hrrrumph, you have a coupon? Well, I’ll have to go back and redo the bill. Hrrrumph.”
Before I go on, let me explain the background of the coupon in question. As a fundraiser, our local hospice sells booklets of coupons. The coupons are for restaurants in the area and are typically valid Sunday through Thursday when the restaurants are not as busy. Each coupon entitles you to one free entree when you purchase a second entree of equal (or more) value. Of course, if you buy a second entree of lesser value, then that’s the one you get for free. If there’s one thing these folks know, it’s algebraic coupon equations.
Now just so you know, there is no requirement to inform the server that you plan to use a coupon. You simply give it to them when you pay for your meal. It’s not like they will give you worse service or smaller portions because you’re using a coupon. It would be quite a scandal if a restaurant owner said, “They’re using those stinking hospice coupons. Make sure you give them terrible service, less food, and then spit in their water.”
I’m pretty sure that doesn’t happen.
But there is an interesting twist when it comes to tipping. Apparently, in previous years, customers were tipping the servers based on the discounted price of their bill rather than the original price. So the coupon company adjusted their tipping policy and now, the restaurants automatically add a 20% gratuity based on the pre-discounted price of each bill. That way, the servers don’t get slighted.
And finally, just to be clear, the servers don’t have to do any additional work when someone uses a coupon. They hit a button on the cash register that says “hospice coupon” and it automatically deducts the discount, adds the 20% pre-discount gratuity, and calculates the final bill.
So, I’m not exactly sure why our Day-After-Valentine’s-Day server was so annoyed at having to process the coupon since it really took no more effort than a regular bill. But clearly, her gruff response suggested that there was something problematic about it.
As I considered my response to her hrrrumphing, I figured I had a couple of options. First, I could have “accidentally” knocked my water glass off the table. I decided that was not the best approach as it would have made me look like a toddler protesting his parents’ discipline. Second, I could have confronted the server when she got back and asked her why she had a burr under her saddle. Honestly though, I really didn’t want to get into an altercation on an otherwise wonderful Not-Exactly-Valentine’s-Day evening. Lastly, I could have said, “Thank you” as pleasantly as possible without showing any of the sarcasm that was already building up inside me.
The waitress returned, in a much better mood, and appeared genuinely grateful when she said, “Thank you very much. Have a wonderful evening.”
I took my hand off the water glass, thanked her kindly, and left without incident.
But the interaction bugged me. There was no need for her coupon attitude and as I thought about it later, I realized that this may be the new norm. We live in a world bursting out of its seams with disrespect. Most people can’t resist flaunting their indignant attitudes on social media. The news services are always trying to expose somebody for something they did sometime to someone. Many politicians, corporate executives, entertainers, and athletes act as if they are above the rules of respect and courtesy. We seem to have forgotten what we learned in kindergarten about how to treat our neighbor.
My friend and colleague Larry Winget once referred to all of the books, seminars, and classes on the topic of customer service and said, “How’s this for a novel approach to customer service—just be nice!”
I love it.
Just be nice.
I was raised in the south. And one of the great benefits of growing up in a rural part of the country is that many people encouraged me to be nice. They called it maynnnuhs (or “manners” for those of you in the rest of the country). My parents, my teachers, my scout leaders, and others routinely reminded me about the importance of being nice to others. Here are a few things they emphasized:
Say please. This simple word is often neglected, especially when we’re being served by someone else. You’ll hear, “I’ll have a glass of water”, “Could you hand me the salt?”, or “I’d like to check out of my hotel room early.” But you don’t always hear “please.”
Just because someone is in a role where they are providing a service for us does not mean that we should treat them with less respect than anyone else. The word “please” suggests humility rather than a demanding arrogance. Plus, it’s just a nice thing to do.
Say thank you. One of the new ways that service staff respond to “thank you” is to say, “of course.” I like that much better than “no problem” but it almost feels like they’re rejecting our “thank you.” However, I still believe those two words are a powerful sign of gratitude regardless of whether the thankee feels they need to be thanked. And sometimes, when you see the surprise in someone’s eyes because they didn’t expect it, it feels great. And again, it’s a nice thing to do.
Open the door. Chivalry may be an outdated term but I don’t think chivalrous gestures should be. Chivalry refers to the behavior of medieval knights that included courtesy, generosity, and valor. My parents were not knights but they taught me to open the door whenever someone was walking into a building behind me—whether it’s a man, woman, or child. This principle even applies when letting someone in before you allows them to get in line ahead of you. Opening the door is chivalrous and a respectful thing to do. Oh, and it’s also nice.
Show interest. In a world full of human beings, we must live, work, and interact with other people on a regular basis. And just as we appreciate it when someone shows interest in us, we should also show interest in others. Sincerely asking people how they are and inquiring about their life shows that we care. In a world full of negativity, care can be in short supply. And of course, it’s also nice.
Whether you’re talking about customer service or a simple interaction with a server on Valentine’s Day (or the day after when you can actually get a table), being nice is a good policy. It’s a positive and effective way to connect with other humans. And don’t you think we could all use more of that?