Service 101: Controlling Service

No one can control how a diner responds to customer service

News flash: I’m not the boss of the world.

I know you know that. Most of the time I know that, too. The problem is, sometimes a tiny little piece of me really wants to believe I can control the way things go.

When a guest comes into our restaurant, I want them to love what we do and feel taken care of. To be honest, there’s a tiny piece of me that cross-my-fingers hopes that all the hard work everyone puts into our food and service will somehow change someone’s life.

But every day, I have to remind myself that how things work out in this world is not up to me.

How people perceive the things is entirely up to them. No matter how hard I try, I can’t sway the perceptions of others with my passion, commitment, and East coast willpower. I’m an Aries (read: ram mentality) and the first born of a Massachusetts family, so believe me when I tell you I’ve been trying to exert my will on everyone and everything for years.

The problem with my earnest, heart-felt customer service is that sometimes it backspins. It can hit customers the wrong way. In my earnestness to help I may come across as annoying, or worse, bossy. I may tell a guest something that looks and feels like a YES–but it may come across as a giant NO to them. There are days when my desire to get things right goes awry and the people I work with end up feeling more stomped on then helped.

Being the boss of me

It wasn’t until rather recently that I began to understand that my desire to help and my need to control outcomes was making me–and sometimes the people around me–very unhappy. When people didn’t understand what I was doing for them or to them, I got hurt, defensive, and overbearing. I tried harder to make people understand that my way was the best way rather than try to understand where they were coming from.

There were days when I felt like I was losing the battle in giving great service. I knew something was off. I knew I needed to change the way I did things.

For me, the first step in giving up control is having faith that everything will work out, as it should. I’m learning that if I want to be happy in my life and in my work, I have to accept the results as they come. And boy, is that a hard one.

Luckily, I have a lot of great people around me who are helping me get to a place of acceptance and surrender. These people–my committee, I like to call them–coach me to look at how I can work on myself and leave all the people, places, and things around me alone.

I have to stop making my will to get the things I want the largest factor in the equation of service. In order to be of service to others, my will can’t be bigger than other peoples’.  I have to turn the greater than symbol towards love and compassion and put myself on the small side.

So I may or may not be able to make you happy when you come into my restaurant or you come to this website to read what I have to say.  The thing I have to keep reminding myself is that As It Should doesn’t always look like How I Want. Everybody hates bad customer service. But customer service isn’t as pretty when it’s delivered like a sledge hammer.

“We should realize that this event [of eating and being fed, is a ritual]…The whole thing of compassion comes in there. What helped me was waking up and thinking of my penny catechism: “to know, to love, to serve God.” I don’t think of God as up there. I think of God as right here in whatever I’m knowing and loving and serving…”

—Joseph Campbell


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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.


  1. Wow, I can 100% relate to this, also being from the East Coast. It reminds me of that line from Broadcast News where the boss says sarcastically to Holly Hunter’s character, “It must be SO GREAT to know exactly what is best for everyone all the time.” And her big eyes fill with tears as she whispers, “No. It’s terrible.”

    As we let things go, amazing things come to us in their place.

  2. I completely relate. When you say, “…the first step in giving up control is having faith that everything will work out, as it should.” I couldn’t agree more. I often need to remind myself of that. I, too, wish I had control over outcomes but I remind myself to reflect on exactly what you said. “Everything will work out., as it should.”

    Great post, Brooke!

  3. Great post Brooke. I need to use this wisdom every day as a parent too. So hard to let go sometimes. Often. When I do the outcome is usually the BEST 🙂

  4. March 19

    Control, self-control, lack of control is all such a challenge! I just think, as humans, we are not wired to let the universe take care of it all. Could quite possibly work if we are living in an Ashram in India. Don’t be so hard on yourself, Brooke! I think you are doing wonderful things, even during those rare times when you do loose control – after all, you are only human!

  5. Coming to the realization that I can’t control what others think, feel or perceive was a big lesson for me. It’s a lesson I’m now trying to teach to my kids. Boy is it hard! I had never thought about how this applied to restaurant service. You’re right, it’s not as pretty when delivered “like a sledgehammer”.

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