Read the situation or risk losing business

This is a guest post by Stacy O’Daffer, Clise Etiquette Associate.

“She will finally appreciate you after she lives without you.” It’s a mother’s universal salve for the wound of a child leaving for college. That this loss will be filled at some later, undefined moment does little to sooth the heartbreak.

But then, it’s time. Not the emoticon hints via text or insinuation during a phone call, but the Mother’s Day Brunch moment. My family gathered together–Ali, my college freshman girl, teen boys Will and Henry, and dad Eric. Eric serves up the traditional holiday prompt to the group.  “Tell mom what you appreciate about her.”

A hush fell over the half empty restaurant and I sat up a little straighter. My shining moment was finally here—Ali even volunteers to be first! I hold my breath. She winds up. “Well, it wasn’t until I went to college that I realized how much….” My heart began to melt in anticipation. waiter interrupt

BOOM! “Can I take this plate away? Are you finished?” In the middle of one of the most important sentences of my life, the server burst into our private table bubble. He didn’t wait a single beat for her to even finish her sentence. It was like a slap in the face for both of us.

I wonder if the server had any clue about how painfully rude it seemed.

“Um, yes, well, I guess so…” Ali looked shell shocked to be taken out of this emotion so jarringly.  She found her composure once the offending dish was cleared. She recovered and expressed the sentiment that I needed so desperately to hear from her. But the sharp interruption destroyed this pinnacle moment during this special reunion day.

We all crave those moments of connection with others that we care about, be it laughing, reminiscing, sharing, or commiserating. It is what makes us human—our love and compassion for each other.

Complaints are everywhere that we aren’t getting enough face to face time with each other. Technological distractions, our busy schedules and frenetic lifestyles, get in the way constantly.

But sitting down to a served restaurant meal is almost the last bastion of dining civility in our lives. Dining out is a time where we can focus on each other, share thoughtful moments, and remember what it is to really connect. It’s a chance to demonstrate our own good manners out of respect and care for each other. Maybe even to share our most important feelings.

One important part of a server’s job is to ‘read’ what’s happening at the table and act accordingly. And when they don’t…well, it can go painfully wrong.

A server not properly reading a situation is not just a problem for restaurants, it can affect any company. Did an employee misread a prospect’s needs and blow a deal? Did a senior manager interrupt an important VIP? Learning to “read” situations is vital to an employee’s and company’s success. The term “etiquette” may seem old fashioned, but these types of personal skills are more relevant than ever as we navigate this increasingly complex world.

I imagine all the effort and resources that the restaurant put in to its own creation—real estate, décor, menu planning, purchasing, food preparation, staffing and advertising.  What a shame that a mistake so small could have such a negative impact. They got things 99% right—but our family will not return.

I wish my precious moment with Ali and my family had not been ruined. But I am happy to be able to share it as an example of why I love helping my clients avoid pitfalls. Becoming a business that can capture as many pinnacle moments as possible for its clients is a winning strategy. And it’s always great to celebrate that with a wonderful meal out. Using our best manners, of course.

Stacy O’Daffer is a business etiquette coach with Mazlo, an online personalized coaching company. She is the newest addition to the Clise Etiquette team as an associate business etiquette coach and consultant. She brings many years of experience in the corporate banking and investments field and entrepreneurship. Read more about Stacy here.

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