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When Service Gets Stale

Went to dinner with a client pal in one of those upscale, plush steakhouse chains where the wait staff wears little butchershop aprons. The tables were far enough apart for a sense of privacy and luxury; the menus were so big they could have substituted as game boards. Given both her demeanor and her well-practiced patter, our wait person was — and perceived herself to be — a seasoned professional.

We had a wonderful meal — tasty food, an excellent bottle of wine, and lots of thoughtful, substantive, and entertaining conversation.

There was an interesting bobble, though.

Making Lemonade Out of Limes

We had agreed on sparkling vs. tap water. I asked for lemon, and my host did the same. What we got was a square glass dish holding two plump wedges of lime. My host, who has heard me through many years of candid critiques on every subject from the international political scene to his company’s sales, service, and staff asked, incredulously, “Aren’t you going to say something?”

“No, I don’t want to put her off her stride.” I could live with the lime — not a big deal — but you could tell that our server prided herself on her skill and correctness and that she would be both rattled and chagrined if she were found guilty of a mistake. I didn’t have the energy to disrupt my evening for her reaction — or her recovery. Easier to switch my citrus!

Don’t Leave a Sour Taste

Patterns are great for maintaining efficiency, but don’t always hold up so well when you need to address non-standard requests. Have you ever been a passenger — or maybe you’ve been the driver — and instead of turning the way you needed to go today, the car took its standard route, the way an old horse turns to the stable and the familiar oats? It’s not so much a mistake as being submerged in the habitual pattern.

Lime is the default option for sparkling water. Sometimes we don’t register the out-of-the-ordinary specific because we’re so “in mode”. Has anything about your customer service gotten patterned or stale? Do you ever find yourself lost in a fog of habit? How can you wake yourself (or your staff) up again?

Onward and upward,


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