Be My Guest

Remember Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”? Remember the song “Be Our Guest?” How hospitable the candelabra and the teapot all were? Wouldn’t it be grand if people in our everyday encounters were as welcoming? When was the last time you set foot in a hotel or restaurant and the entire staff broke out into song and dance? Right? Me either.

Every day, we do business with any number of people, with any number of companies, and, if you think about it, they are all competing for our business, for our attention and for our money. How do you decide where to take your business? Yelp? OpenTable? Foursquare? UrbanSpoon? Food Spotting? Amazon? Or just word of mouth? There are almost as many forums for providing feedback on businesses as there are businesses. All that feedback matters. A lot.

My daughter and I used to frequent an awesome cupcake bakery in Folsom, California. They had normal size cupcakes and miniature cupcakes and ice cream from a local ice cream maker. The décor was awesome, as was the service, and the cupcakes were even better. I followed them on Facebook and on Foursquare and Yelp. Imagine my surprise when I was asked by the owner, on Facebook, to provide a good review on Yelp to counter a bad review they’d received. I did, I provided a glowing review, as did others, but in a matter of a month, they were out of business. Feedback matters a great deal, bad more than good, apparently.

I was in San Francisco earlier this week. I finished work just before 5:00 in the afternoon and was headed home thereafter. In an effort to avoid heavy commute traffic, and to have dinner at a decent hour, I decided to eat in The City before crossing the Bay Bridge and heading home. I’d walked past an attractively appointed Japanese restaurant a few times during my stay, and though I always walked past before the busier dinner hours, I never saw a patron in the restaurant. I’d been lugging my backpack several blocks, burdened with my course materials and my laptop, and my ridiculously large purse. Weary, when I reached the Japanese restaurant, I decided to take a rest and grab some sushi and a beer and then make my way back to the hotel to retrieve my car and my luggage and head home.

I entered the restaurant and there was one guy in the preparation area, visible through a pass-through in the wall. Another man sat on a stool behind the counter waiting, I guess, for unsuspecting patrons such as myself to wander in. Sort of like the spider for the fly caught in his web. He stood up and grunted for a greeting. I wasn’t provided with any type of menu or offered a seat. On the counter were plastic examples of their combo plates, so, feeling somewhat awkward and pressured, I quickly made a selection; a round, decorative tray with several pieces of mixed nigiri that almost looked appetizing. I ordered an Asahi to accompany my dinner choice, paid without thanks and had to request a receipt. I took a seat. There were many tables and booths to choose from, and I was the only customer, so there was no competition for seating. I took a big, roomy booth. About two seconds later, the man who took my VISA card from me, because they didn’t accept my preferred method of payment, American Express, unceremoniously plopped a plain white plate before me on the discomfortingly sticky surface of the table. On the plate were six very anemic looking pieces of nigiri; it was pretty hard to tell exactly what type of fish topped the not very well formed blobs of rice. My beer had not yet arrived, but before I could mention it the brusque man was back behind the counter and on the phone, in a raised tone of voice, with someone. Hopefully not a customer. I had to wait until he was finished stalking through the dining area, yelling at whoever was on the other end of the call, to try to attract his attention, and then ask, again, for my Asahi. Once I accomplished that, he brought me a Kirin. Whatever. I’d already finished all six, microscopic and not very tasty pieces of sushi. I quaffed the beer, quickly, as I took a closer look at my surroundings. Only after being treated like a nuisance rather than a customer did I notice the dirt on the edges of the table, the portions of the bench seat that were infrequently sat upon, on the shelves, the paper lanterns that hung over the tables, on the bottles used for decoration. Only after being treated like a nuisance rather than a valued customer did I notice the floor was covered with those no-slip area rugs you can buy at Costco to prevent people from slipping on wet floors, or to cover up something you didn’t want to be seen, I suppose, since there were about three dozen of them strewn around the restaurant in, I’m sure, a strategic manner. I didn’t really want to think about what they were covering up. After being treated like a bother rather than a valued customer, I left, thirty dollars poorer, still hungry, unhappy with my experience and feeling foolish for having made such a poor choice. I was, indeed, still hungry and would have spent more money for more food had I been treated hospitably. I ended up going to an Indian restaurant across the street from my hotel for a real meal. Though no cleaner, and certainly no better decorated, the service was stellar and the food even better. I go to San Francisco for work a few times a year, at least, and I will go out of my way to frequent the Indian restaurant again. And I will go out of my way to avoid the Japanese restaurant, at all costs, assuming they are still in business next time I return.

Have you ever noticed the number of company vehicles on the roads, emblazoned with logos and advertisements, phone numbers, websites and even “how am I driving” advisory information? How many of those vehicles are being operated by rude and careless drivers? After my trip to San Francisco, I had to head for Reno, Nevada for another couple of days of work. On my way through the Sacramento area, I was being relentlessly tailgated by a large, commercial van. The van was completely engulfed in company information as the driver barreled down on the rear bumper of my tiny, dwarfed Civic. The driver of this van, apparently, had no awareness of the fact that I make keen notes on rude drivers and the companies they work for, with the assistance of Siri. Not only will I refuse to do business with them, I will usually call the “how am I driving” advisory and report them. Additionally, I often call or email the company directly, request to speak with the owner or manager, and tell them that I will likely never do business with their company because of the behavior of one of their drivers. I do this for company cars that park askew, impeding access to an adjacent parking spot, or to my already parked car. People. Pay attention. You are representing the company whose vehicle you are driving and, yes, it does make quite an impression when you behave a) good or b) bad.

How hospitable are you? As a person, as a representative of the company you work for, whether your own, or someone else’s? Do you honestly think it doesn’t matter how you conduct yourself? I work for a company, and my performance, on a daily basis, is ranked on a scale of 1 to 5, by every person I come in contact with. If my average score is less than 4.90 for any quarter, it impacts my pay negatively, by thousands of dollars. If my average score is less than 4.50, ever, for any period of time, that is grounds for dismissal. I believed in good customer service before being so incentivized. Now I’ll practically walk a tightrope while juggling swords and flaming spheres, to make sure my customers are completely happy with their experience. I am accountable for how I represent the company I work for, and I don’t even have a “how am I doing?” advisory number on my rear end!

For the past few years, before my dad passed away, my family frequented a Thai restaurant on Pearl Street in Napa, Mini Mango Thai Bistro. The food is outstanding, the service is even better. There is a man there, always there, who is extremely hospitable. I don’t know if he is an owner, or just an amazing waiter, but he is so gracious. He doesn’t quite break into song and dance when we arrive, but he recognizes us and always greets us warmly and inquires about other family members he has served with us in the past; children, cousins, friends. Shortly after my father passed away, my mother and I went for lunch, just the two of us. The kind man asked about my father. I told him he’d just passed away and I honestly thought he was going to cry. He apologized with such sincerity, I was so deeply touched. Our favorite dish is the Cha Cha Chicken, the spice is perfect, the chicken is tender, and the vegetables are as fresh as can be. My mom and I still go there, quite regularly. When we walk up, we are always greeted with a genuinely warm smile and a greeting “two Cha Cha Chickens?” We always insist on looking at the menu, and then place our usual order. When we pay and get up to leave, he will say, “see you next week”, though, sometimes we miss a week, or even two, his hospitality and stellar service, in addition to the outstanding food, bring us back on a regular basis. If we look in the fridge and see a less than exciting selection of food, you will find us at Mini Mango within the hour, thoroughly enjoying our Cha Cha Chicken, a Tsingtao and gracious hospitality.

In the world of business, every penny counts. Every business is clawing for the same dollars, for the same favorable recognition. As a businessperson, if you aren’t breaking your neck to provide excellent customer service, excellent hospitality, someone else will end up with your share of the dollars and the recognition. As individuals, really, it is no different. People in our lives are like patrons to a business, they can come, they can go, and how welcome we make them feel will make all the difference in the world. Think about it.

In friendships, I’m sure, you have some friends you are always eager to spend time with because they are fun, upbeat and outgoing, genuine, sincere and full of kind words for those they speak of. I’m sure, admit it, you have other friends that you spend time with, more out of duty. We all have those friends who are unhappy and spend most of the visit talking poorly of other people or complaining about their lives in any number of ways. We listen, sympathetically, because we are good friends, but, often, we leave our visit with them sort of downtrodden and exhausted. Friendship is a choice; I hate to say it’s like the popularity contests we so loathed in high school, but hello? They are. If two friends called you for a lunch date on the same day, and you had no flexibility, which are you more likely to spend your lunch with, the hospitable friend or the less than hospitable friend? Truth.

Consider hospitality in love relationships. When we are in love, in a relationship with someone and all is bliss and butterflies, we can’t imagine anything ever going wrong. Once we become more comfortable with each other and the shininess of the new relationship fades a little, our true colors begin to develop, like an image on film. Often, once the newness wears off, we begin to notice faults and behaviors that grate on us, and, eventually, the relationship falters and dies. It’s a pattern, sadly, and in some relationships it takes days, some it takes weeks, some months, others, years. How can a loving relationship ever endure the odds? I will never say this is simple, there is a lot of chemistry involved, but more than that, there is hospitality.

One of the best books I have ever, ever read in my whole entire life is “The Soulmate Experience” by Mali Apple and Joe Dunn. In this must read edition, they very logically explain that there is nothing, nothing, nothing we can do to make someone love us, even for a moment, and most certainly not for any longer. Not for a day, not for a week, not for a month, not for a year, and most certainly, not forever. There are never guarantees in love. The best we can do, is be grateful for every moment the other person loves us and to treat them like a guest in our life. What a concept! My lover is simply a guest in my life, and if I make him feel welcome, loved, appreciated and show true, genuine hospitality, the odds are greater that he will want to stick around a little longer. It all boils down to that.

Woe be to the party to love that ensnares a suitor only to turn into a slovenly, controlling, jealous, bickering cellmate. Love, I guess, is not much difference than business, in that we are always in competition with other parties who may have a more attractive deal! Yikes! And I’m pretty certain there is not a “how am I loving” advisory number your lover can call and provide constructive feedback to. If you aren’t being a hospitable mate, you are at risk of losing that business to someone else.

I’m staying at the Atlantis Casino in Reno, Nevada, because it is proximate to where I am conducting training for my clients, otherwise, I’d not choose a casino hotel. Last night, just before midnight, the door to the room next door slammed. For the next hour and a half a screechy woman yelled, and screamed, ridiculed and belittled some poor soul named Eric, who tried to get a word in, in his own defense, between the high-pitched outbursts. I was more than just a little irritated, as this went on until well after 1:00 AM and my alarm was set for 6:00 AM, for work. I wasn’t sure what to do, call the front desk, pound on the locked door adjoining our rooms, slip a note under their door, call their room directly. I ended up turning up the white noise app on my iPhone to a volume level marked “deafening” and try to sleep, which, finally, I did. What I really, really wanted to do was to yell, as loud as I could, “Eric! Run for your life! Whatever you did or did not do, you deserve better treatment than that!”

I am a party to many failed relationships, so you may not totally trust me, here, but, in my more recent experiences, since applying my business ethics of quality customer service and dynamic hospitality, of thoughtful friendship, genuine companionship and an attitude of gratitude for the love I receive in return, I have to say, I am, at the very least, far more peaceful in my relationships. I am grateful for every moment, I am thankful for every minute my guest, whether my friend, my family member or my lover, wants to spend with me. These people are simply guests in my life, and if they choose to spend a short time with me, each and every moment will be thoughtful and real. If they decide to spend more time with me, I will not fail them by becoming complacent as their hostess with the simple passage of time. Every time a beloved friend, family member or my lover enters my door, or I enter theirs, I shall break into song, and dance, perhaps only figuratively, but I will make it clear that I am happy to have them as a guest in my life! I will be hospitable.

In business, in friendship, in love, won’t you … Be my guest?! Be my guest! Put my service to the test …

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