I know that I am an irascible, short-tempered and cantankerous grumbler at times. As I told a good friend yesterday, I understand this, and I’m trying to be a new me. But I really don’t know how, and it doesn’t work very well. Maybe I can be judged on progress rather than perfection. And yesterday was a bad day.
It began well enough. I went to my pharmacy to pick up a prescription. This ought to have been a pleasant task on a beautiful day. The lady at the counter said my insurance had changed. I replied that, yes, I’m now retired and that Medicare would cover it. She asked to see my card and I showed her a copy of my card from my smartphone. She said,
“I need to see your Medicare CARD.”
And you see, I don’t carry cards. I don’t like the absurd waste of weight, paper and time. I don’t like a fat wallet that feels like a billiard ball when I sit down, and this is the twenty-first century, not 1955. But I was trying to be the New Me, so I didn’t say any of that. What I did say was,
“You ARE seeing my Medicare card.”
“No, I mean I need to see the CARD.”
“You ARE seeing the card.”
“We need to have a copy on file here.”
“Do you have e-mail? I’ll get you a copy. No charge.” When I don’t know how to be the New Me, I switch to old traditional sarcasm because I’m better at it.
“No, I need an actual copy.”
“But that would be an actual copy.”
“No, I need a copy that I can put in the file.”
“Oh, you mean you need paper.”
“Do you have a printer?”
I could repeat the rest of this conversation, but it ended with me making two round trips to the pharmacy, apparently because I live in the twenty-first century but parts of the Belt Highway are in 1955.
I don’t suppose that, in the end, I really care if business owners think the 1955 rules will continue to work for them. It doesn’t matter to me if they understand that young people laugh at e-mail because it’s old-fashioned and slow. That in a few very short years, if you can’t transfer documents and purchases digitally, and I can’t get it done from this phone in my pocket, you won’t have a business. That electronic transfer is statistically safer than paper, in the same way that flying is statistically safer than driving. It’s an irrational and wasteful fear. For those who enjoy profit, the handwriting is no longer on the wall; it has already crawled across the floor, up your leg and around your neck. I’m no tree-hugger, but I do hate wastes of paper, time or anything else that occur because of a lack of logic. But I’m the New Me so I won’t say it.
So then, I went to lunch.
Let me say first that waiting tables is an incredibly difficult job. I have actually done this (once) and was absolutely and completely awful at it. It’s really hard to do it well, and good service should be rewarded. Even poor service should have a tip, because it’s still a hard job and poorly paid. And I really do appreciate good service.
I know, in my gut, that restaurants want, above all, to please their customers. That’s because they want them to enjoy their experience, and come back again to spend more money. I also understand that the service I get at a local, reasonably-priced eating establishment is not going to be the same service I get in New York at a five-star restaurant when I’m pretending to be wealthy. I get that. But I would like to sit in on the meetings in the corporate training sessions of major restaurant chains to find out how they train their waitresses or waiters or baristum or whatever the term would be.
Why do we go out to eat, be it an Applebee’s or Sardi’s? Sure, we love good food. But we also love the social aspect of eating. The conversation. The “being with” of it all. I think this holds true for all generations, though younger peoples’ idea of a good time is much louder than mine.
So if it is true that conversation is important, here are my rules for
- Never interrupt a conversation between paying customers (unless there is a fire.) If you think something needs doing, then do it. Believe me, I’ll let you know if I’ve had enough coffee or water. You’re a nice person, but I didn’t come here to talk to you. Be nice, be friendly, but unless I know you personally, don’t over-ingratiate yourself. There’s a difference. I came here with a purpose. I didn’t pay for this meal because it’s the only way I can get people to talk to me.
- This is an adjunct of the “Don’t Interrupt” rule. Do not ask if everything is OK. When a waiter comes to the table and asks “Is everything OK?”, it always makes me think there has been a serious problem in the kitchen. If you’re proud of your product (the food) then assume that it’s very good. I will tell you if I’m unhappy. Well, the Old Me would tell you.
Why do restaurants think this is a way of providing good service? I’m sure that, behind it all, is some sort of training that says “Don’t let your customers think you’ve abandoned them. Stay in touch with them.” There are lots of ways to do that. Just walk by, smile and let them know you’re there, and keep your eye on all your tables. Any customer with a need or a problem will grab that opportunity like a quarter on the sidewalk. The New Me would do it respectfully.