Ever since I took on the job of Service Guru I’ve been doing a lot of work. Beyond the obvious stuff—learning the menu, getting to know the employees and the customers, and coming up with business strategies—I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching. Does my work in restaurants have the power to transform me into someone better? Does giving great service require I give generously of myself, put others before me, and be forgiving in everything I do?
Take, for example, the other service industry professionals. The flourishing minister or rabbi who must be humble and in control of his or her weaknesses. The successful butler who is accommodating and always gracious. The thriving caregiver, dedicated and understanding when a patient’s discomfort causes them to be cruel. To be of service, the individual is charged to uphold a lofty set of standards for those around them, even if they don’t know the people they serve by name.
I know service isn’t for everyone. But the more I think about living a life of service, the more I realize I’ve been interested in this sort of thing for a very long time. When I was little I wanted to be a teacher. In middle school, I dreamed of joining the Peace Corps and making a difference in the world.
Later, when I was a freshman in high school, I fell for a born again Christian named Rocky and started dreaming about missionary work. The problem was every time I was around the polished senior with a pooka shell necklace and leather coat, I kept thinking about the off-the-books-stuff like the missionary position. I went to Rocky’s youth group meetings in hopes of finding guidance from God and secretly listened to Prince’s Dirty Mind album after prayer circle. I did good deeds, prayed for others, and quietly suffered with shame as I felt a growing wave of longing for the affections of the boys around me.
As I struggled to define my faith, I wondered how a person could hold God in their heart and proceed in life without fault. How could I love God and yell at my brother or sister? How could I love God and make big mistakes?
Decades have passed since I defined myself by a particular religion (I’ve dabbled in many of the greatest hits and kicked around in some of the oldies and goldies). And yet, ever since embracing the concept of working in restaurants as a Higher Form of service—albeit on a plate-to-plate level—I’ve been feeling that same kind of moral and ethical confusion I experienced when I was a teenager at the beginning of my conflicted, coming of age journey. How can I maintain a high set of personal standards in a thoroughly chaotic and unfair world?
How can I uphold the principals of humility, compassion, and selflessness in my daily interactions with perfect strangers? If I believe that it’s important to treat every customer and employee with love and respect, how is it possible to not uphold those very same values in EVERYTHING I do?
If I can be generous and humble with my friends and family and can smile at a person who nearly knocked me down at the restaurant, why is it I yell obscenities at a person who cuts me off in traffic? Am I being to hard on myself? Am I being too lenient? Where is the balance?
More importantly: am I taking this service thing a little too far?
For better or for worse, I don’t have the answers to these questions yet. But I’m working on it. Just the other day, instead of moaning in frustration when that pack of tourists blocked my way at the farmers market, I took a deep breath, a wide step, and slid right past them. And you know what? It kind of felt like dancing.
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- Service 101: When Gratuity IS Included
- Service 101: Service NOT Included
- Service 101: Why Servers Don’t Get Any Respect
- Service 101: Restaurants Are Not Picnic Tables
- Service 101: Waiting Tables is An Honorable Profession
- Service 101: Why You Shouldn’t Eat Out on Valentine’s Day
- Service 101: Why Diners Need Restaurant Critics
- Service 101: Just Because You’ve Traveled Doesn’t Mean You Are a Restaurant Expert