Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lessons in pride and service from Mamá

I recently returned from a short-term music mission trip to Spain for my church. Among the many remarkable experiences, one struck me as being particularly relevant for me as a professional communicator.

We had the opportunity to dine at Casa Camara in San Sebastián for lunch one afternoon. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a woman whom we affectionately came to refer to as Mamá. The lunch crowd was rather large and we could not be immediately seated. In the U.S. this really is not a big deal and is typically just a sign that the restaurant is most likely a bit popular among restaurant goers. However, Mamá seemed really concerned that we could not sit down at one of their dining tables. She could only seat us at a much-too-small table for our 10 guests.

Sitting at the smallish table was going to be perfectly fine with us because we were pleased to be in and looking forward to the meal. Mamá seemed to serve as equal parts hostess, waitress, owner, sommelier, cleaner, and coat-checker. She made sure we had a clear understanding and appreciation of the menu.

As a few tables cleared, Mamá ushered us from the small table to a spacious dining table. I came to understand from our trip's host/translator that the first table was something of a staging table at which she was embarrassed for us to remain. That is why she jumped at the chance to move us to a more suitable table. He explained that she could not let us experience the meal improperly.

He was not joking.

This was not a stuffy restaurant where the maître d' looks down his nose at the guests. This felt comfortable. Mamá could teach any maître d' a few lessons in pride and service.

I was impressed with the way Mamá took care of us as she did at every table in the restaurant. From suggesting the appropriate appetizers to accompany our main course selections, to overseeing the meal's finishing touches. This woman beamed with pride in the way the entire service staff flowed around the tables. It's difficult to put into words the sense of care she took in everyone's experience while seeming to exert minimal effort as bright red sweater flitted about the restaurant.

Lessons from Mamá:

  • Removed the phrase, "that's not my job" from your vocabulary.
  • Guests deserve the best-possible experience.
  • Knowing your business inside and out makes you indispensable.
  • Taking pride in your work can be almost palpable when done correctly. 

Mamá seemed genuinely surprised and amused with us when after the meal, we asked if she'd allow us to take pictures with her. She even stated, in Spanish, "you don't want to take a picture of me, I'm not Julia Roberts." (Awesome.)

There was no doubt Mamá has a servant heart and takes extreme pride in her work and her restaurant. We can all take a lesson in service from her.