Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Most Important Travel Tip

If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world. ~ Francis Bacon

Our buddy Pete was a world-traveler in his youth and I learned my most important travel tip from watching him.  No matter where we visit with Pete he always takes time to speak to the restaurant staff by name.  He will discreetly read the person’s name tag and address them by name when they approach our table.  If no name tag is present he makes the effort to listen when the waitperson introduces themselves and refers to them by name throughout our time at their table. 


This small habit makes a significant difference, not only to those of us being served but to the person serving.  I can remember a specific situation where this habit impacted me more than at any other time.  Pete, his lovely wife Wendy, Tom and I had met in Las Vegas for a long weekend of fun.  We’re not gamblers but Pete was there for a conference and we hadn’t seen each other in a very long time so it made for a good opportunity to be together.  As we sat down in a small cafĂ© inside one of the mega-hotels on the strip a young woman came to take our order.  She looked bored and uninterested in being there and as I thought about it later, I considered that she is likely treated as a non-entity by most of her customers, there to bring the food, clean up the dishes and perhaps carry a complaint to the cook.  I could understand why she seemed jaded as she approached our table. 


I observed Pete glance casually up at her name tag while she handed us the menus.  “Hello Amber”.  He said pleasantly.  Immediately her face changed, registering curiosity and interest.  He went on with a smile, looking up at her as he spoke.  “What do you recommend?  We’ve never been here before.”  Her surprise was clear and she seemed rattled, not sure how to answer his question.  It was glaringly obvious to me at that moment – Amber was seldom, if ever, addressed as a person in this role.  Clearly, she was unsure how to respond to Pete.  His questions were genuine and he was expectantly waiting for a recommendation. 


After a moment of flustered surprise, Amber gathered herself together and shared the highlights of the menu.   We placed our orders, thanked her and moved to our conversation as she turned towards the kitchen.  When she returned with our food I noticed that she lingered an extra minute, ensuring we were all satisfied with our choices.  I took advantage of the lingering moment and asked her a few questions about herself.  She opened up to all of us and soon was sharing fun ideas for things to see and do that did not depend on gambling and providing her personal recommendations for places to eat with the locals, avoiding the expensive and often mediocre restaurants along the strip.  Her face became animated as she shared and she came back frequently to ensure that we remained satisfied with our dinners. 


When the meal was over we gave her a nice tip and thanked her again.  I noticed that she watched us as we left, smiling as we departed the restaurant.  It was that simple gesture of reading her name tag and acknowledging her as a person that made all the difference.  Pete was no different after the encounter – that’s just what he does and who he is.  He sees people and responds to them as fellow human beings.  But for Amber, he had made an impact.  Her mood was lifted and she was smiling when we left.  I had to wonder how this change had been perceived by her other customers.  How long before the bored, jaded look would be back on Amber’s face, brought on by unseeing customers?  Such a simple step, reading a name tag or listening to someone’s name, but what a significant impact it can have on the person you meet. 


What did you see today?

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