Big city and small town service
You wouldn't think that New York City has anything in common with the small town, but one commonality stands out: restaurant service.
When you walk in the small-town cafe, Agnes the waitress does not introduce herself and announce that she'll be "taking care of you this afternoon."
When she takes your order for a hot beef sandwich, Agnes does not cheerfully chirp, "Awesome choice!"
After she brings the food, Agnes does not immediately return to ask, "How are the first few bites?"
After all, a hot beef is a hot beef and you had the same hot beef last week.
In New York City, the restaurant service is just as good, even if you weren't there last week.
The ethic in New York: Everybody assumes you are in a hurry. Everybody assumes you have better things to do.
No waiter or waitress imagines you need to know their name.
No matter what ethnicity the food in New York, Abdul, Francois, Fujisama or Humberto are trained to get you the food, not become your new best friend.
Agnes is much the same. Sure, she'll engage in friendly banter if she suspects you're lonely, down and in need of a chat, but if it is clear you are in the cafe to visit with a particular person, she honors your privacy even when other diners sometimes don't.
The perceptive and competent service in the small town and New York City is the exception in this crazy world.
Most restaurants in this country are suburban chains, companies that have decided their key to success is training their waitrons to grovel, pester, interrupt, introduce, be clever, sell desserts, and generally make a nuisance of themselves.
One particular chain has great food, but when I go in for the great food, I quickly am reminded why I left with indigestion the time before.
The servers, as they are sometimes called, are trained to annoy.
Usually, they are of college age. Too old to be cute and too young to be interesting, they try to be both.
Corporate headquarters has mandated that they use catch phrases like, "how are we all doing here?" at least once every five minutes.
Corporate headquarters never tells the servers that it is rude to interrupt a conversation.
Corporate headquarters also has no clue that if something was not OK, a perceptive server would notice immediately without having to ask.
Last week, I slipped away from the tour group and ate alone at a Lebanese restaurant near the White House in Washington, D. C.
I wasn't only alone at my table, I was alone in the restaurant.
My server, whose name I wasn't told, had plenty of time to nag me about this or that detail of the meal.
Instead, he stood up front and merely kept an eye on me.
When my glass needed filling, I just raised it an inch. He was right there to fill it without a comment.
The waiter never once asked, "Is there anything else you need?" He knew that if I needed anything else, I would have the brains and gumption to catch his eye.
Usually in the big city, and in the small town, you don't have to catch the server's eye. The good ones have have a sixth sense, not only to detect when you need something, but often to know exactly what you need.
Agnes the small-town waitress and Abdul the big-city waiter realize that their job is not to be the center of attention, but to deliver the goods.
In the suburban chains, these lessons are lost, and canned corporate training only makes it worse.
In fact, some of the corporately-trained servers are so chained to their corporate training manuals that they forget basic matters like greeting customers as they come in the door.
No, that's not my job, they seem to think. Amanda's the greeter. It is her job to smile at the new people.
If Amanda's busy, the people can just stand there until Amanda returns. It's policy.
Abdul from New York City gets tips for doing a good job. He needs the cash to pay the rent.
Amanda's colleagues in the suburbs get tips whether they deserve them or not. They need the cash to pay for tuition.
But poor Agnes, working to supplement her Social Security.
We take her for granted.