Thursday, February 18, 2010

Always Leave People in a Better State

Always leave people in a better state because, while people may not remember what we said or did, they do not forget how we made them feel.

I would like to share two unforgettable restaurant dining experiences. One is memorable because it made me felt very good, and the other got stuck in my mind because it made me felt very bad.

We had an especially memorable experience at an Arby’s restaurant in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.

My family and I were at the restaurant early in the morning, and we were hungry. My wife and our two children went straight to the seats while I proceeded to the counter to make the orders.

The details are hazy now after over twenty years, but I could not forget the wonderful feeling.

I scanned the menu board above the counter, and proceeded to make several orders. The cheerful young lady, who took my orders, was probably a student doing part time work.

I then went back to join my family, and waited for the food to arrive. Shortly afterwards, a smartly dressed gentleman in coat and tie came over to our table with a tray of sandwiches, fries and beverages which we had ordered. He presented the tray to us with outstretched arms, and then apologized profusely for being late in serving us.

On the tray was all the money I had earlier paid for the food. I declined the money, and explained that they had not been late at all. But the gentleman, who turned out to be the restaurant manager insisted. He told us that the restaurant has a policy to refund the customer in full, if they failed to serve us within a certain time – I think it was 10 or 15 minutes (I can’t remember exactly). On his insistence, I accepted the refund unwillingly.

The funniest thing was as we were leaving, I took another glance at the menu board, and I realized that I had ordered lunch items at breakfast time! I was the one who caused the restaurant to fail in serving me within the stipulated time.

Despite it being my mistake, the restaurant insisted on honouring their policy.

Arby’s earned my respect with that encounter, and whenever conversation drifts to exemplary standards of service, I would retell this happy story as an example of service excellence.

The refund from Arby’s amounted to less than $20 but I had repeated this advertisement for them many times over the last 20 years.

Arby’s is returning to Singapore (where I live now), and I certainly look forward to dining at Arby’s again.

A Well Known Café Which Shall Go Unnamed

The second service story is more recent, and occurred in downtown Singapore in a popular café in Bugis Junction Shopping Mall.

I was at the café with a group of friends for lunch, last year. It was just past the lunch time peak hour. There were about 20 customers, including the 6 of us, in the café which has a capacity of about 100. There was around 6-8 staff, all looked like young student part timers.

A young lady took our respective orders of pastas, lasagnes, and rice baked with cheese. The food started to arrive after a while. As I did not receive my food after all my friends got theirs, I reminded the waitress about my order. She assured me that my order is on the way.

My friends were half way through their lunch when I informed the waitress again that my food has still not arrived. Again she told me that she will look into the matter.

When my friends were about to finish their lunch, I signalled the waitress and enquired about my order, the third time. Again she replied that she will check and get back to me.

Several minutes later, the waitress returned and offered me a suggestion. She said, “Sir, your friends have almost finished their lunch. Would you like to cancel your order?”

I was lost for words for several moments before I finally replied, “Please get me my order because I am really very hungry”.

To cut the long story short, my lunch did finally arrived, albeit many minutes later.

That was my first time in this café, and not surprisingly I have not been back since.

Since then, every time the conversation turns to bad experiences in restaurants, this episode comes to my mind, and I would retell the story. It has never failed to amuse my audience.


The restaurant staff involved in both of these incidents must have forgotten about them. For them, it is just another day at work. But I still remember them because of the delight in one case, and disappointment in the second.

People often equate memorable events only with big things that happen in their lives. Often, the memorable events are the little things that happen to us. Things get stuck in our minds because of the feelings we felt when these things happened. It could just be a smile, a kind word, a moment’s silence, the smell of mother’s cooking. It could also be just one unkind word, an angry glance, and one thoughtless act.

So, do remember to always leave people in a better state, because people may not remember what you did or said, but they always remember how you made them feel.

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