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Carl Wernicke: Customer Service & Kids These Days


If we Baby Boomers pledged one thing to ourselves, it was that we wouldn’t become our parents as we aged. But that’s proving harder than it seemed at the time.

That came home recently while listening to a selection of today’s popular music when I found myself thinking that it sounded like a lot of noise; bad noise. Oops, I bet that’s how my music sounded to my parents.

Still, griping about the usurpers following your generation is a long and hallowed tradition. Here’s a quote widely attributed to Plato: "What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying."

Actually, I’m pretty optimistic about young people. I have a feeling they might even solve some of the problems my generation failed to get a grip on.

That said, there are areas of valid criticism. For years I have been hearing from managers charged with hiring that too many young people fail to grasp the concept that their job is not primarily about meeting their needs, but about making the company successful by serving that loathsome cohort known as customers.

In my day, we took a humble attitude with the idea that we had to work our way up. Today, they want to know how many days of vacation they get.

Anyway, this weekend we had breakfast at a local restaurant we have generally enjoyed. It was mostly empty, but it took 5 minutes for the waitress to arrive after we were seated. We ordered cappuccinos, and without waiting for our meal orders off she went. 10 minutes later she brought our coffees and took our orders.

About 10 minutes later, passing our table, she told us our orders “were in the window,” apparently ready for pickup.  Why she hadn’t picked them up remains a mystery. 5 minutes later she brought the food, after chatting with some people she apparently knew. My wife’s bacon was pale and undercooked, and I didn’t get my home fries, which she promised to fetch after I pointed this out. 5 minutes later I flagged down another waitress, who brought my fries and some cooked bacon.

By the time our original waitress finally brought the check we were ready to write this restaurant off. Now, I try not to be rude, as waiters get enough of that. And, in fairness, she was doing everything from taking orders to making cappuccinos to delivering food. So I decided to be subtle, which is often a mistake when you are trying to make a point. I said to her, “Wow, it looks as if you need some help,” expecting she would apologize for everything. It went right over her head.

“Oh,” she said, “it’s not a problem.”

Oh yes it is, I wanted to blurt out – you have lost two customers for the place that pays your salary. But, as it turned out, someone was paying attention. Out of nowhere a manager appeared, apologized for the bacon and potatoes, and said he was taking our cappuccinos off the bill.

I don’t know if he was in the kitchen and figured it out, or if the other waitress said something. But just that quickly, he completely changed our perception of the restaurant, and we will return.

That was customer service, and if you own a business, it’s a pretty big deal.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.