When I was a teenager, I used to waitress at our local burger and ice cream place in the summer time. Honestly, it was the best training I ever had on a job. The owners were strict but fair, and I learned at lot of life and business lessons there.
For one thing, we were told never to walk anywhere in the restaurant without something in our hands. Think about it; someone will always want extra napkins, straws, ketchup, salad dressing, forks, etc. It’s something I still remember and use; it made me think on my feet, and think ahead.
But one of the added benefits of waiting on tables was helping some of the customers decide on what kind of ice cream sundae to order. The ice cream was homemade and there were some great selections, but the toppings were fabulous; homemade fudge, butterscotch, marshmallow and penuche sauces. Each one was out-of-this-world delicious.
However, there was one other topping rarely asked for: the pineapple mint sauce. Yep, actual pineapple chunks drenched in sticky mint sauce. It looked terrible; as if the pineapple had grown mold, and it tasted exactly as you would have expected; like pineapple-flavored toothpaste. I can’t tell you how many people I steered away from it and suggested the strawberries instead.
I look back on those days with affection and gratitude. Two of the most important lessons I learned was 1) when to keep my mouth shut. Being in service means just that: you are in a service position, and the customer is your main focus. But the more important lesson was that 2) people can be extremely picky about their food.
For example, the time we ran out of baked potatoes in the restaurant where I worked during college, a woman about tore my head off. She couldn’t understand how we could possibly run out of baked potatoes; for crying out loud, we WERE a restaurant, were we NOT? And the rant went on and on and on.
As I stood there with a frozen smile on my face, I was thinking, ‘lady, what do you want me to do; run down to the market and haul a bag of potatoes into the kitchen right now?’ I told her for the tenth time how sorry I was that we had simply run out. I offered her the mashed potatoes, the fried potato wedges, the boiled potatoes and even the potato salad, but no—she wasn’t having any of that.
Finally her husband shut her up and told me to just bring her some ‘frigging damned mashed potatoes’. I made it all the way back into the kitchen where I simultaneously burst into tears and laughed my head off. The chef looked at me with a baleful stare as I stammered my order to him. I pulled myself together and, by the time I brought their food to the table, the whole baked potato fiasco seemed to have died down. But that’s the restaurant business for you.
Another service job I had years later was as a phone rep for a math and science materials for K through 12 grades. One of the most popular items was a butterfly tower; it was a four foot tall cylindrical cage made of net with a branch inside with butterfly larvae. The idea was for students to be able to watch the growth of the larvae, and see the mature butterflies emerge from their pupas at the end of their larval stage.
Well, a bride-to-be ordered several butterfly towers, with the idea of releasing them all at her wedding. I took the order, and warned her several times that it takes weeks for the butterflies to mature, and that you couldn’t count on a specific date and time for them to be ready to fly. She assured me that there was plenty of time, and that she was sure that everything would go according to plan for her big day.
Fast forward five weeks: I got a phone call from the bride, who was extremely upset about the butterflies. Evidently, when they were released, half the butterflies had not come out of their pupas. So the dramatic effect she was hoping for fell flat. She was beyond upset over the phone; she sounded downright homicidal.
“Those stupid butterflies RUINED my wedding! Who is going to make up for this? You TOLD me that they would be ready to fly on my wedding day!” she sobbed. I told her that was very sorry that things didn’t work out as planned, and gently reminded her that I had in fact warned her that this might happen; nature being what it is.
“Well, who is going to make this right? Who is going to fix this?!” she roared. I had to stifle my impulse to say, “I dunno, call God; that’s His department, not mine!” But I forwarded her call to my boss, who offered to refund her money.
Honestly, some days when you are in a service position, in your mind you just have to keep replacing the customer’s “YOU did this or that” with “<insert company name> did this or that” and then it is no longer personal.
Service jobs taught me a lot, and I am grateful for the lessons. But to this day, I still laugh my head off about the mad butterfly bride!