What’s Your Attitude

I flew home from The Big Apple late yesterday and thought about this blog along the way. Actually, I started writing it in my head on Saturday as I hiked around the city, enjoying all the sounds and smells and wonders that are New York. And all along I was thinking I was going to write about great service but, as I sit down to put “pen to paper”, I’ve realized it is about what comes before service – attitude.

This quote was displayed before me in a book I read on my flight home. It is attributed to Herb Kelleher, Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Southwest Airlines: “We are prepared, including legally, to fire you for a bad attitude.”

The power behind this statement was evident throughout New York City. Everywhere we went – restaurants, stores, subways, cabs, hotels, street kiosks – people had a good, even great, attitude. Everyone, with the exception of one waitress that I’ll talk about later, brought their very best attitude to our experience and – as a result – the service was superb!

To provide a wee bit of background: I was in New York to celebrate my stepdaughter’s 40th birthday. Natasha lived there a decade ago and we both came to love the city during her three-year stay. So we decided to celebrate this year’s milestone birthday by meeting there and enjoying as much as humanly possible in three days.

Natasha’s good friend Greg took us out for Italian food on Thursday night and it was amazing. I highly recommend the restaurant – Villa Mosconi – in Greenwich Village – www.villamosconi.com. But besides the fabulous food, what left me gob-smacked was the service. All of the entrees sounded so amazing that no one at our table could decide how to order. Finally we asked it if was possible to split one of the entrees as an appetizer. “Of course” was the answer. What then appeared before us was four beautifully arranged plates. I had a moment of confusion. “Did we all order the same thing?” I asked our waiter, unsure of myself. “No,” he said, “but you wanted to split this appetizer, so we split it for you.”

Instead of putting a large plate of pasta and a stack of plates in the centre of our table they’d actually taken the time in the kitchen to artistically arrange a plate for each of us, dividing the servings evenly, making everything pleasing and, well, perfect. I was astonished and I felt honoured, to be in that restaurant, to be enjoying such food, a feeling not dissimilar to one you have when you eat at a friend’s home and you know they’ve put a lot of special attention into having you as a guest. When it comes to the restaurant business, that’s definitely the right attitude.

One more example – late last night Natasha and I were in Chinatown, wanting to fit in one last New York feast before our flights home. Something caught our attention in one of the small street kiosks and we ended up finding a motherlode of wonderful items (I now have a lot of my Christmas shopping done!). Ling owned this kiosk and she went out of her way to help us. Without ever making us feel pressured, she literally searched high and low (she has storage space in every spare nook) to find us the sizes and colours we wanted. Not only that, she made sure she gave us everything in its original packaging, never a display item, so it would be perfectly clean and easy for packing. Again, I felt honoured to be buying from Ling, as if each of my purchases were special to her and that she delighted in sharing them with us. If it hadn’t been closing time, Ling’s attitude would have easily kept us in her store another hour.

Only once did the attitude vanish. That was on Saturday afternoon when in the midst of a shopping spree to make sure we didn’t forget any gifts for family and friends, we were desperate to sit for a few minutes. We went into a coffee shop near Union Square, a large restaurant that would have been built in the ‘40s and popular for decades afterwards … but not anymore. The place was close to deserted, about 30 empty tables. Both the waitress and bus staff were uninterested, tired, bored. This was bad attitude in action and it was destroying a business in a prime location in a crowded city full of hungry, thirsty, tired tourists.

So this week I charge you with tuning in to your own attitude. Are you making your customers feel honoured or are you sending them scurrying away?

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