Comment Of The Day : “Incident At Big Bowl”

John Billingsley has been participating here for less than two months, and this is his first Comment of the Day. He explores some of the broader labor, management and cultural  issues behind the curtain in my rueful account of  inept service at an airport fast food restaurant.

Here is John’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Incident at Big Bowl.”

I believe this is an issue that goes much deeper than it appears on the surface and Son of M and Tom M in their analyses have identified some of the issues at the root of the problem. Son of M said, “I don’t know that people at this level of employment have EVER cared or are ever going to.” There are some who care, and they can be identified when you are served by them, but I agree that most them appear not to. I think this is because our culture overall is not respectful of the people who do those jobs and so they have no reason to respect themselves as a person who performs that work.

I had the opportunity to live in Japan for about two years. That was over 40 years ago, and I still remember the complete professionalism of just about every service worker I encountered. Of course, it is a cultural thing. I wish people who provide services here could develop the attitude that it is not demeaning to be a service worker.

Tom asks, “Why is all of the blame on the employees?”

I agree. The culture of any organization starts at the top. Is the boss showing by his own actions that the job and how it is performed are important? Does the boss respect the employees? Are they provided appropriate training and examples? Are they being held to standards? One of my first jobs was as a dishwasher in a fairly upscale restaurant. The owner was back in the dishwashing area at least one or two times every night, he made a point of having at least some handicapped workers he paid the same and treated the same as everyone else, and he was willing to promote people who appeared to have potential. I was offered assistant manager job in one of his other restaurants. Everyone else was treated equally well. It was a very popular place, great repeat business, and extremely low employee turnover.

Tom says, “When one pays minimum wages, he can expect minimum effort from minimally skilled employees.”

I don’t agree. The employee knows what the wages will be and has agree to work for that. I advised my daughter who started in a food service job that she was paid what she was worth, to make sure she earned it, and that if she wanted to earn more she needed to demonstrate that she was worth more by her performance. If the employer expects minimum effort for the most part he will get it. As I stated above, there are people who do care about performing a good job and take pride in their work and if expected to perform to an appropriate level they will. Some will exceed that and be promoted or qualify for better jobs. Those who don’t meet expectations need to be fired.

I agree with Tom that someone who just flat doesn’t care about customer care cannot be taught it, and if accidentally hired their career in that field should be brief. Most people do not have an inherently bad attitude and can be taught to at least fake it and act appropriately, including taking responsibility and trying to make the customer happy. I don’t need everyone who serves me to be smiling all the time; I find forced bonhomie off putting, but I do need them to be polite, do their job competently and if they make a mistake to do what they can to make it right.

Contrary to what E2 says, I do think I deserve everything to go my way when that is what I am paying for. It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t, if there is some genuine attempt to make things right.

9 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day : “Incident At Big Bowl”

  1. Remember when ” the customer is always right”. I agree with John’s insight and might offer this: How often have we heard employees are our most valuable asset? Unfortunately, management has often sent mixed messages to employees. First is the idea that the they ( employee) are valuable by their mere existence in the organization and second we avoid confronting and releasing poor performers for various reasons; to avoid litigation or just plain supervisory incompetence. Nonetheless, culture development starts at the top.

  2. I have had two different instances recently where individuals cutting my hair conducted personal phone chatting while chopping away. These were not emergency calls, just “hey, how ya doin'” kind of chatting. In both, I waved my hand to get them to stop cutting, and proceeded to head to the door with half-cut hair. In both cases, neither knew what she had done wrong. AND, the latest one was the shop owner! I explained that if they were going to give attention to someone on the other end of the line rather than the paying customer in front of them, I would go elsewhere. Got big apologies, but will not be going back to either.

    • NEVER would such be accepted in my niche of the country. South Texans are big on customer service, and exercising their choices for services.

      Someone cutting hair while talking on the phone would at a minimum be looking for another job. In fact, it may violate their state license to cut hair (knowing how Texas is about such permissions)

  3. I agree. The culture of any organization starts at the top. Is the boss showing by his own actions that the job and how it is performed are important? Does the boss respect the employees? Are they provided appropriate training and examples? Are they being held to standards?

    These are the right questions to be asking. I am reminded of one of my favorite lines from Remember the Titans when Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst) and Julius Campbell (Wood Harris) were arguing. Julius said in response to Gerry, “Attitude reflects leadership.”

    This is exactly what you see in a restaurant — leadership (or lack thereof) reflected by the attitudes of the employees.

    I dine out a lot. My wife and I go out to restaurants at least once a week, and when we do, we sometimes encounter poor service. Unfailingly, we blame the management because it is always their fault. If an employee doesn’t have the temperament for interacting with customers, they should not have been hired. If they display incompetence, they are poorly trained. It is the job of management to not only to screen out bad apples prior to hiring, but to make sure the employees stay well-trained, come to work capable of executing their job well, and supervise and monitor that execution constantly.

    Any employee willing to put a dollar value on the level of their effort should be an ex-employee. Martin Luther King famously explained this:

    “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

    This is true in the restaurant industry like no other. Street sweepers have little interaction with the public, but aside from the kitchen staff, restaurant employees live in the business-patron relationship world. It is critical that they embrace Dr. King’s admonition, or work somewhere else.

    • Glenn, a little story that gives another take on your comments. The employee can sometimes impact the customer no matter what the organization wishes.

      My wife has had the misfortune to need extensive dental work, and thus is visiting a specialist. Service has been top notch, and it is plain that the dental partners care about the customer experience.

      However, my wife was scheduled for a routine procedure on one of those nominal holidays (President’s day) when many were off work. The lady who performed the 8 am procedure was evidently not happy to be there, and her ‘chair side’ manner was curt, careless, and offensive. My wife left the office in tears, confused at the different treatment.

      I calmly called in to speak with the office manager (who DID take the day off) and eventually had a rational conversation about the incident, asking that this particular person never treat my wife again.

      They were shocked that this person would act that way (they said) but made every effort to work with us to move past the incident.

      My only explanation was that the worker had a bad day and did not perform to her usual standards. And that is fine, as it was dealt with appropriately. We repaired the relational ‘damages,’ and have had several good experiences with this same office since.

      Having a bad day is common, but no excuse for lousy service. I have had bad days where my professional conduct still had to be maintained, and this is the standard an employer pays for.

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