Tag Archives: Service

Do “People Things” First

img_10981.jpg“Business would be easy if you didn’t have to deal with customers and employees.” A tired but true saying my father often muttered after coping with an unhappy customer.

“People Things” are the issues that arise out of dealing with people. “People Things” include daily interactions, but they are critical when dealing with customer
complaints, employee discontent or a colleague’s request for assistance.

Money concerns generate the most critical “People Thing “ issues. When someone says, “It’s not the money,” assuredly it’s the money. Pocketbook issues, such as payment disputes and payroll concerns, are “People Things” that need to be resolved promptly and discretely.

Because dealing with people is the most complex aspect of business, “People Things,” should be at the top of a to-do list. Such concerns are ones that cannot be put off—procrastination only worsens them.  However, decisions should not be made “on the fly.“  “People Things” require undisturbed time to focus on, understand and resolve issues and concerns.

Make the rest of the day easier by  placing “People Things” as the first priority on your daily to-do list.

Tighter Than Bark On A Birch Tree

“Tighter than bark on a birch tree;’ ‘He can squeeze a nickel so hard the buffalo screams;’ ‘He has short arms and long pockets” All of the preceding could be applied to the owner of the pizza restaurant where I worked. Hovering over a pizza, he would scowl if there was one extra piece of pepperoni; he limited salad dressing to a tablespoon and we poured 11 not 12 ounce draft beers.

Knowing how tight he was, I couldn’t keep quiet when he told me to put extra ingredients on a customer’s pie. “Mr. Styles, are you sure you want me to ‘load’ this pizza?”

He surprised me with his answer: “Yes. He’s a regular customer, spends a lot of money and I want to make sure he keeps coming back.”

Years ago, Terri and I regularly frequented a Winter Park seafood restaurant. They served good food and Freddy our waiter always took good care of us: on a crowded night, even without a reservation, we would be seated; occasionally a free appetizer or glass of wine would appear and he always knew when there was a special occasion. In Winter Park, there were numerous restaurant choices but we always returned to where we were welcomed.

I’m a creature of habit, on Mondays I eat at a local Wendys and Thursday is “taco day” at Taco Bell. Only once has the Wendy’s manager spoken to me and then to explain that they were charging me more than the listed price because the listed price was wrong. The Taco Bell manager treats me like I’m the franchise owner: he greets me with inquiries about my health; from time to time there is an extra taco on my plate and he checks to make sure everything is alright. The quality of the food and the service at the Wendy’s restaurant is better, however, I prefer the taco place.

People are confronted with a variety of options when it comes to almost everything: restaurants, stores, entertainment and relationships. With numerous choices, deciding what to spend money on is a challenge. Product, service and price are the primary drivers of the decision, also playing a part are intangible elements, such as demonstrating appreciation.

Gratitude is also important in personal relationships.

Tired, reading a novel and beginning to fall asleep, I only grunted in response to Terri’s account of dealing with a problem. Sensing her silence, I looked and found her staring at me with a hurt expression. She had spent her lunch hour tending to our predicament and my appreciation was an annoyed grunt. My response had hurt her feelings and dampened her excitement over a task well done.

Business people readily recognize that relationships are built upon a foundation of honesty, trust and service. However, they often fail to acknowledge appreciation as an additional important element. Gratefulness demonstrates a selfless willingness to recognize other people’s efforts and achievements.

In our business as well as personal lives, a generosity of spirit often determines the depth of our connection with others.


The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” – William James

Perfect, Just Perfect

When hosting friends at a restaurant, my mother and father asked their guests to suggest what wine to order. Lillian Todd responded, “I know a wine that will go with every dish.”  They agreed to her making the decision and after getting the waiter’s attention, she pointed to a selection on the wine list.  As the food was being served, the sommelier poured a sweet, after dinner wine, Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry.

Her fellow diners grumbled and teased Lillian about her selection.  They complained about the wine’s sweetness and incompatibility with the food.  In tears Lillian asked my father’s opinion of her selection. His response: “It’s perfect, just perfect.”

Along with another couple, we had been invited to a friend’s home for dinner.  The other couple responded “white zinfandel” to the host’s inquiry as to what they would like as a before dinner drink.  Our host, condescendingly responded that he wouldn’t serve such a wine; that he would pour them a French white instead.

He made a show of opening the bottle, pouring and sniffing the wine, expounding on the aroma and explaining that it was produced near the Mediterranean Sea.  Obeying instructions, the couple swirled,  sniffed and tasted the wine.  They oohed and ahhed over the flavor and commented on how much they had learned.

When our host excused himself  to go to the kitchen, the couple placed their glasses on the table, glanced at each other and the woman said, “But I really like white zinfandel.”

I learned from my mother and father the secret to building relationships is by looking out for the needs, wants and likes of others: a lesson that has proven to be true in my personal as well as my business life.

Tact, diplomacy and kindness are qualities that draw people to you.   It takes little effort to build people up.  Graciousness creates many benefits, such as loyal friends and business partners.  Even more important, graciousness creates a positive attitude that leads to a fulfilling life.

In southern towns friends show up with food when someone passes away.  So, when my father died, I was not surprised to find Lillian at our door.  In her hands she carried a roasting pan containing a fragrant, beautifully cooked leg of lamb.  After inviting her in, I inquired how she had prepared the roast.  Smiling she said, “I marinated it in Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry—you know your father thought it was perfect, just perfect.”


A guest never forgets the host who had treated him kindly.” – Homer

The Best Wine

The best wine is that your guest prefers.” – Terri Tucker

A Lesson Learned From Chefs

I am impressed at how organized chefs are.  They undertake one task at a time—when preparing a shrimp recipe, they will remove the shells from all the shrimp before de-veining; when mincing garlic, they peel all of the cloves before chopping, and so on.  Because of the pressure they work under, to ensure profit and quality food, chefs must be organized.

Managing a construction firm, I discovered, a job’s profit was determined by being organized—the ordering of materials; the sequencing of work and job-site organization.

Remodeling homes with my brother, I learned the importance of completing one task before proceeding to the next: for example, completing demolition before beginning renovations.  By doing so, you could move from one task to another without tripping over uncompleted work.

Today, distractions arising from technology make it difficult to organize and focus. People pride themselves on multitasking: jumping from project to project; making decisions on the fly and talking to one person on the phone while answering an email from another—producing perfect opportunities to create misunderstandings and harm relationships.

Planning, organization and focus are essential to making good decisions, performing quality work and maintaining relationships.

Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” Alexander Graham Bell

Wearing Only Her Birthday Suit

In the early 1980’s my brother and I remodeled an old three-story home into eight condominium units.  Desperate, when the units didn’t sell, we converted it into a bed and breakfast and I ended up as an innkeeper.

We modeled our service off of an inn we visited in Wilmington, North Carolina: leaving a mint and glass of brandy when we turned down the beds and serving continental breakfasts.

Our first guests, a chef and his new bride, were anxious to spend the first night of their honeymoon at our inn in a romantic room warmed by a fireplace.  The next morning, with a tray loaded with melons, muffins and coffee, I knocked on their room door.  Believing I heard “come in,” I stepped through the door and found the beautiful bride standing in the middle of the room in her birthday suit.  I’m not sure who screamed louder; I did a 180-degree turn, and with the tray balanced on one hand above my head, ran back to the kitchen.  Needless to say, Terri delivered the breakfast.

To familiarize people with inn we decided to go into the catering business. The third story of the property consisted of a large open room that was large enough to hold small catered parties.  Perfect except for one small detail: the tables, chairs, plates, glasses, wine and food needed to be transported to the third floor.

Without an elevator, the only way to deliver supplies to the third floor was the fire escape, a 3 and 1/2 story climb.   I would start with the tables, followed by the plates, glasses, silverware food and wine.  After the guests departed and the kitchen cleaned, I would drink the leftover wine and carry everything back down the staircase.  Working on a roofing crew in August, was never as tough as catering a reception at the inn.

We booked an elegant cocktail reception for the evening of April 15th: an important date to my CPA wife, who hosted an end of the tax season party the same evening.  I was irritated Terri wasn’t going to be available to help with the “paid guests” party and she was irritated I didn’t appreciate her need to celebrate the passing of the IRS deadline.

I would need something from the downstairs kitchen and Terri would require an item from upstairs.  Both of, charming during our respective events, would growl and glare as we passed on the stairway.  Eventually growls and glares turned to outright hostility and then laughter as we realized the absurdity of the situation.

The more successful the inn became, the harder it became to manage.  We literally lived above the store; our days started before daylight and ended after the last television broadcast.  We would take one evening a week off to go out and too tired to sit through dinner, we would have dessert and a bottle of wine.

There are lessons to be learned from keeping an inn: when you deal with people, you need to learn patience; you sell yourself as much as you sell rooms; hard work pays off and knock twice before entering someone’s bedroom.

A quote from the T.V. Series Frasier

Frasier: Thank you, Roz. Niles, tonight let’s go to Orsini’s for one glorious farewell dinner.

Niles: Why not? I’ll make the reservations. We’ll take Dad and Daphne.

Frasier: Great. Will Maris be joining us?

Niles: Ohhh…sadly, no. She had a bad experience there one Christmas Eve. An Italian soccer team was sitting at the next table, Maris announced she was in the mood for a goose, and–perhaps inevitably–tragedy ensued.

A Free Lunch

Opening a new tire store, two of my friends decided free food was the ticket to a grand opening splash and that led them to giving me a call.

One of a group of men who volunteered to cook at charitable and civic events I had access to a mobile grill.  Knowing I loved to cook and was up to a challenge, my two buddies convinced me to borrow the cooker and prepare free Bar-B-Que for their opening.

Mounted on a four-wheel trailer, the cooker was  ten foot long by four foot wide, with sloping sides, rising up from a rectangular firebox.  Inside was an expanded metal grill welded to steel channels; above the grill running the length of the cooker were two steel rods, on which hooks containing meat could be hung.  Overall it was a massive contraption that was difficult to move and set up.

I had solicited one of my employees—a hard-boiled roofer with a penchant for bourbon—to help with setting up the cooker and cooking.  By 8:00 a.m. we had 80 pounds of sirloin on the grill and I suspect my helper had his first nip of Kentucky “Nectar;” three hours later we were ready to begin serving.

Our plan was to cut the cooked sirloin roasts into thin slices, which we would store in large foil covered metal trays.  At the 11:00 a.m. announced serving time, there were at least 50 people in line waiting for their free sandwich; by 11:15 the line had grown to over 100 people and as people looked for parking spaces, traffic on the highway in front of the store was at a dead stop.  We realized that slicing the beef with a knife was too slow of a process so I loaded 60 pounds of cooked meat in my truck to take to the butcher to slice.

When I arrived back at the grand opening with ground—even for the butcher slicing was too slow—smoked sirloin, there were policemen directing traffic, the line for free food was around the block and my bourbon-soaked assistant was passed out on the front seat of his truck.  At one time, as I spooned cook sirloin on a bun, I recognized the person in front of me and was embarrassed that I didn’t remember his, his wife or their three kids names: embarrassed until I realized the only reason I recognized them was it was the third time I had served them.

At the end of the afternoon we were worn out.  We had served over 400 people; my friends had not sold one tire; my erstwhile assistant was still sleeping off a load of bourbon and I was stuck with cleaning up and returning the cooker.  Not the results we expected but a valuable lesson: a free lunch can attract attention and freeloaders but doesn’t guarantee a relationship.

Whether personal or business, relationships are built upon trust.  A give away, such as a free lunch, can open the door but it’s what takes place afterwards that seals the deal.  A kiss good night or a sales order is not the result of a well-cooked meal.  What establishes the link between people is the trust that what is promised will happen.


A free lunch is only found in mousetraps.” – John Capozzi

We Didn’t Miss The Bus, We Were Left Behind

We had convinced the governor to speak by promising to keep a very tight schedule. We started the luncheon at 12:00 p.m. sharp and the governor was to begin his speech at 12:30 p.m.  We were right on schedule when the banquet hall doors burst open and a man entered with two, two-foot tall, fully grown, male, identical twin, motivational speakers. Before I knew what was happening, they were standing on top of the head table, doing a stand up routine. By the time order was restored, the governor only had time to say hello before rushing to his waiting limo. I was irritated until I realized the small guys were far more entertaining than the governor.

Several years later we hired Louise Mandrell to entertain. It was a big expense, around $30,000 plus expenses for a 60-minute show. When the doors opened, there was a crowd waiting to get in. The room was packed and Louise was giving a dynamite performance when I noticed someone running towards the stage. There are witnesses who will swear that when I dove to catch him my body was four foot off of and completely parallel to the floor. My hand touched his shirttail but I was too late to stop him from leaping up on the stage.

It was his birthday and through his drunken stupor he let it be known that he wanted Louise Mandrell to sing happy birthday to him. So at $500 per minute, one of country music’s most noted performers spent nearly ten minutes serenading a drooling but happy drunk.

I have first-hand knowledge of the kind of disaster that can occur when you bus people to an event. I was the Executive Director of an organization that rented the Wet and Wild water park for an evening event. We bussed over 500 people from the convention hotel for an evening of food, drink, swimming and water sliding.

At the end of the evening, I was in my hotel room and congratulating myself on a successful event when the phone rang. I picked up the receiver and heard, “Where’s the bus?” I played along and responded “What bus?” “The bus that is suppose to take us back to the hotel.” At that point I realized there was a problem and I asked, “Did you miss the bus from the water park back to the hotel?” I held the phone away from my ear as the caller screamed, “You moron! There are 30 of us; we didn’t miss the bus, we were left behind!” I told him to stay where he was and transportation would be there shortly. Fortunately, the hotel had a couple of vans and there were town cars waiting for a fare, so I organized a rescue cavalcade and we got everyone back to the hotel.

I later learned, that, after drinking too much beer, the staff person charged with making sure no one was left behind miscounted the number of people boarded and sent a bus back empty.

In over 25 years of managing conventions, I have many memories and stories: some sad, some funny; some that still make me angry, some that amaze me and some I can’t share in mixed company.  Every year I listen to friends greeting each other, stories being shared and dinner plans being made and I am aware that new memories are about to be made.

I have decided to turn off the news: when riding in the car I listen to music or classic radio—Fibber McGee and Molly are hilarious and more sophisticated than you would believe—at home I eschew Katie Couric and the talking heads and turn to the cooking channel.  I do so, because listening to doom and gloom occasions within me an almost overwhelming desire to hunker down; to not go anywhere or spend money on anything.

Here’s the deal: I don’t want to live my life fearful of tomorrow.  There is little I can do about the economy, terrorists, salmonella tainted eggs, gas pedals that stick, global warming, swine flu, hurricanes or any of the other constant litany of disasters waiting to befall me.  Bad, good or sad, I am going to continue making memories.


What good’ permitting some prophet of doom

to wipe every smile away?

Life is a cabaret, old chum!

So come to the cabaret!” – John Kander and Fred Ebb