Work friends and I sometimes went out to lunch at a family-run BBQ joint. I call it a “joint” because “restaurant” did not come to mind in this former auto body shop. As strange as it sounds, people didn’t just go for the food, they also went for the experience of being treated like one of the family, albeit a family that didn’t waste time on niceties. “Make up your mind,” said the hulking daughter to any customer in line who hadn’t decided what to order. Then she’d shift her gaze to another customer and say, “Next.”
The father’s specialty was moving through the picnic-tabled eating area carrying toothpicks in one hand and a stainless steel bowl in the other, while shouting like a carnival barker. “The Man here. Who wants The Man?” The Man was spicy BBQ sauce, the kind that would make your nose run and mouth burn for hours after eating it. Someone from the office once made the mistake of saying, “Just put a little dab at the edge of my plate.”
“With a grin on his face, the man serving The Man would say. “You know the rules. Nobody gets a dab and nobody gets it on the side.”
Contrast this to something that happens all too often these days. Last week, the clerk at the post office circled a website on the receipt and handed it to me. “You can go on-line and take this survey. My name is Margaret.”
Margaret isn’t alone in asking for feedback. “Tell us how we’re doing” seems to be the focus of every business. Our bank emails us surveys, because they’re eager to know more about our minute-and-a-half experience cashing a check. The dentist wants to know how we felt about our root canal. The medical clinic is interested in every step involved in our last visit, from check-in, to the taking of blood pressure and X-rays, to the physician’s bedside manner.
The store or restaurant you do business with doesn’t have to ask for feedback. Yelp, Travel Advisor and others encourage you to share your satisfaction level for any service or product at any time.
My blogger friend Jackie told me a story that illustrates one reason some of the people you do business with are ultra-friendly. She and her husband have a time-share condo. She and others in the community were charmed by the gardener there. He learned their names, told them how important their happiness was to him because it allowed him to have a good job, and handed out dried fruits when he saw them. These warm and fuzzy experiences pleased them, until they found out that a competition was going on for the friendliest employee. The prize was a free trip to Disney World. Who’s to say that the man mowing the lawn wasn’t naturally friendly? But most of us would like to know that some sincerity, and not a free trip, is behind the not-so-random attacks of kindness we routinely experience.
After a death in the family the BBQ joint closed. But luckily, I can still turn to The Grouchy Chef, a lovely restaurant where the chef/owner gives a lecture before taking your order. He tells the women not to wipe their lipstick on his linen napkins, cautions diners not to clink the crystal glasses against each other, and loudly refuses service to anyone who does not have a reservation even if half his tables are open. It would never occur to anyone to question his sincerity.
I’m not looking for cranky people in every encounter, but occasionally I’d rather not confide in grocery store checkers and bank tellers about how my day is going and what plans I have for the weekend. Give me the occasional blunt entrepreneur and I’ll be happy.
PS. No one should interpret this as a sign that I support Donald Trump.