Early this week, I got a text from my daughter asking if I was free for lunch.
I seldom (if ever) decline an invitation to dine with Allison because – well – She’s my daughter and love hanging out with her, so I moved a meeting and we met at Panera (her favorite place) at 12:45.
We both pulled into the parking lot at exactly the same time and walked in together. The lunch rush was waning and virtually every table in the place was “soiled”, Trash cans were over-flowing, and there were many dishes that needed to find their way to the dish washer.
Having managed many restaurants in one of my former careers, I was not alarmed. Dining rooms get trashed during the rush as most employees are focused on the most important things – Taking orders and preparing consistently good meals for a large number patrons in a short period of timing. I loved the rushes when I was in that biz.
In the heat of the rush, everyone is “in the weeds” with more to do than possible, so it often becomes an “all hands on deck” scenario with every employee engaged in serving the customers in the order queue and getting the food delivered as quickly as possible. It’s at these peak times that some managers will pull the “dining room staff” from their main pursuits behind the counter to serve as “gofers” for the line cooks to restock the line as it depletes. With no dining staff, the place gets trashed quickly – VERY quickly . . . It was clear to me, that day, that the rush was an “all hands on deck” lunch rush.
At the end of the rush, the masses departed just as quickly as they showed up leaving what we used to call the calm after the storm . . . The pace slows, and most of the staff shift from serving to cleaning.
It’s not uncommon for Managers to pitch in by busing tables and helping out where needed to reset the restaurant for the next busy shift.
I cleared and cleaned a table for Allison and me, our food showed up, and we dove into the tasty meal and great company (each other). We were there for close to 2 hours telling stories about our recent trips (Hers to Guatemala and mine to Cape Cod) . . . and observing the cleanup effort that rivaled a superfund site.
We were seated adjacent to one of the trash cans, so we were on the path that every person who needed to make a deposit in a trash can or remove dishes from the dining room would do so within 5 feet of our table. The manager took it upon himself (mostly) to tackle the mess, and the cleanup took close to an hour to complete . . . that manager was very “busy” doing the work of an employee for all that time. Also that whole time, our empty dishes remained on our table, and he never even made eye contact with us – No greeting – no conversation – NOTHING!
He missed a golden opportunity to engage us and give us a reason to LOVE going to HIS Panera restaurant instead of the one a couple miles down the road next to my office.
My lesson reminded is for us to maintain focus on the things that matter most, the first of which is almost always human to human engagement. I would have tolerated the messy dining room twice the time I was there had the manager given us the slightest hint that he was glad we were there in his establishment.
We all get in the weeds occasionally.
Don’t let those weeds distract you from the simple and vital energy that radiates when people connect.
We all crave these connections and attention.