First At The Royal Blue
I led a group of travelers into the breakfast room of a large, old-style hotel in Moscow in the days when the city was just opening to westerners. The room was a sea of classic linen. Sunlight filtered through sheer curtains on tall windows, creating a movie-set atmosphere. Not a single table was occupied. Four waiters sat smoking in the waiters' room near the entrance and looked at us with surly glances that said not welcome. One of them swept his arm across our view of the tables and said, "No room." They had no desire to be disturbed. A sizeable gratuity changed their minds, and we enjoyed a modest breakfast in a grand setting, assisted by a man for whom serving us was clearly a burden.
Michelle waited on tables at Royal Blue, an all-purpose diner where I used to have an occasional breakfast. A single mother, she worked the early morning shift seven days a week, needing extra hours to provide for herself and her daughter. Michelle was casual, friendly and efficient, gliding among the tables, coffee pot in hand, always welcoming, always welcome - even at the back table where the stern-looking owner and his cronies gathered daily to pass the morning hours.
One morning a group of women circled a table at the front of the restaurant. The conversation was loud and lively, much of it concerning the quality of service these days. There were comments to Michelle about the length of time it took to get the order straight and where was the busboy with more water and wasn't this the table where we found chewing gum stuck last week. Michelle saw that I had been overhearing and raised her eyebrows with a grin as she passed me on her way to the kitchen. "Customer's always right, ya know," she said.
Michelle knew it wasn't so. The customer is not right to presume superiority over one who serves. There are no distinctions of class - only of character. Example is leadership, and by keeping her cool while others were losing theirs, Michelle became their leader, worthy of honor. Neither is the customer right to think the power to purchase implies a right to be arrogant, impatient or sarcastic. Michelle's ability to maintain poise - and even a smile - put her first in line.
I left a larger than usual tip that day. Michelle had reminded me of the value of serving others with a willing heart.