My South African friends kept complaining about how bad service is in their country. They shared several examples to which I said, “I’ve had similar experiences in various countries. But I’ve also had stellar service here and in other places.”
One that stood out for me this week was when I was speaking at a conference at the Misty Hills Lodge outside Johannesburg. I arrived for the buffet lunch before the other delegates. The chef, Emmanuel, was standing behind the buffet line putting on finishing touches. I said, “Hello,” noticed his name tag and asked him about several of the dishes. I asked which was his favorite — “All of them because I made them all.” I laughed. I asked where he went to Chef de Cuisine school and he told me Kentucky. We chatted about his experiences in and impression of the US. The other participants began arriving so I filled my plate and enjoyed my lunch.
The next morning Emmanuel was at his post making custom omelettes. I said hello to him by name and a broad smile crossed his face. When he had no omelettes to make, he came over and chatted for a few minutes.
At lunch I again greeted him by name but this time a colleague stood next to him. Emmanuel’s broad beam seemed even bigger since now his friend saw how special he was that this guest had remembered his name. I talked with them both, learning that they’d gone through chef school together in Kentucky. They said they were sad our group was leaving that day and could we extend our stay another day. I said I would if I could.
I was one of the last guests to leave the dining room and Emmanuel came over to see how I liked my meal. After complimenting him on it, he asked if I’d had one of the desserts. I said no, since there was no chocolate. He said, “You want chocolate? Stay right there for 5 minutes. I’ll be right back.” But before he could leave, I said, “Thank you, but I must get back to the conference as I’m late for the next session.” He asked which ballroom we were in and I told him.
Five minutes later, a fresh-made chocolate mousse was brought in to me by a conference staffer. Those around me looked on in envy.
By my making Emmanuel feel special by using and remembering his name and showing sincere interest, he made me feel special by making and delivering a treat for me.
Good service can become exceptional if you show a little kindness and interest in those who provide service. Does this guarantee you’ll get great service? No. But you are much more likely to get great service than if you enter a situation already thinking you’ll get bad service.