Monday, August 31, 2009
A few times each year a friend and I meet for lunch at Romano’s Macaroni Grill, conveniently located about halfway between our two offices. Last week we enjoyed our latest visit, and along with the bread and pasta we learned a valuable business lesson.
The lesson came as a result of the service we received from our waiter. He was attentive. He kept our water glasses full. He got our order right. He even asked, at the end of our meal, if everything had been to our satisfaction. Not being privy to the Macaroni Grill training manual, it sure seemed to us that he did everything by the book. That, however, is not the lesson.
What was reinforced to my friend and I that day is that it doesn’t matter how technically excellent you are if you forget that business is about rhythm and pacing. While our waiter’s interaction with us was technically correct, his timing and sensitivity left quite a bit to be desired.
It began shortly after we sat down, when he asked us if we were ready to order before we even cracked the menus. Recognizing that he may think we were in a hurry, we politely asked him to give us a few minutes. When he came back a second time, he cut off my friend in mid-sentence–an interruption that happened at least twice more during the meal. When we were finished, he asked one last time if we wanted additional water. We said “no thank you” and soon after he returned and began filling our glasses. Through these and a handful of other examples, we noticed that the young man was simply not paying attention to our needs. His insensitivity was so noticeable that we ended our time together reflecting on it–and now it’s the topic of my blog.
What our waiter didn’t appreciate is that people don’t dine together merely to eat, they dine together to relate with one another. There is a rhythm and pacing to a meal, just as there is to a song. It is the job of the waiter to sense the tempo and become part of the melody, gracefully moving things along if his patrons are in a hurry and trying to escape notice altogether if they’re not. In this case, the stakes were pretty low since I was having lunch with a old friend. But if I had been dining with a new (or prospective) customer, the experience would have left a bad taste in both of our mouths.
I was a waiter in college, and it provided wonderful training for what I have since experienced in business. Not only did working for tips help me grasp the connection between performance and income, it taught me how to sense my customers’ needs and relate to them accordingly. Hopefully, the young waiter that served us last week is learning the same lessons. Sometimes the fastest way to succeed is to slow down, and the best way to be appreciated is to stay out of the way.
* With apologies to Billy Joel