What Working for Paula Deen taught me about Community

If you’re familiar with the Food Network, chances are that you’re familiar with Paula Deen. Paula Deen is the the so-called “Queen” of southern cooking. In saying that, she’s known for her unhealthy choice of fried foods and a ton of butter in a good amount of her recipes. But she’s also well known for her “southern charm and hospitality.” “Hey Ya’ll” she says charmingly with her picture perfect smile.

Before I started working at her restaurant I was pretty quiet and reserved. Little did I know that in looking for a job, working at her restaurant would change me as a person for the rest of my life. Unlike the busser that doesn’t interact with customers, I was hired as a S.A. I wasn’t quite sure what that was at the time. I quickly learned it was a server’s assistant. As the S.A., I was the first one to the customer’s table before the server even got there. Here I was, this shy kid, forced to go up to a table and say “Hey Ya’ll!, welcome to the Lady and Sons” and proceed with  passing out their bread. It was soon before long that I really began to enjoy that role. My job was just to say hi and pass out bread, but the customers always wanted to talk, and I wanted to oblige. It wasn’t before long that my enthusiasm in talking to customers turned into being moved up to a server way quicker than most employees who needed to have much more experience. Just to be a server, I had to memorize Paula’s entire rise to fame. I had to know that information, so I could answer customer questions.

Day in and day out I would meet these customers coming from all over the country, sometimes even internationally. They all had different stories, different opinions. Some were big fans of Paula, some wanted to see what all the hype was about. Other customers were recommended by someone else, while not having a clue who Paula Deen was at all. Some people loved the food and some people hated it. Sure, you go to a restaurant to eat, but overall, it was the experience that really mattered over all. That’s something I really began to understand. It was about doing your best to create the best overall situation from beginning to end, and if the situation started to turn, it was up to you to do your best to flip it back around. The same thing holds true with communities. While someone may have been upset about waiting in line for hours in the heat and humidity, or had a meal that was subpar, it was up to you weigh the outcome of the situation. Even if you can’t completely satisfy the person then and there, they’ll at least see you tried your hardest and they’ll respect that (hopefully). Maybe I had a customer who’s experience was horrible from the start. The line was too long, the host wasn’t friendly, the food took too long and then the food wasn’t that great. After all that, they probably don’t want to wait for something else to come out of the kitchen. So, you be sincere, understanding. Apathy is important and can go a long way. You offer them reservations for the next day, a free meal, free dessert, and if not that, suggest somewhere else that might make them happy. Maybe you have a friend at another restaurant and you call there and get the upset customer a reservation. Do what you can, when you can.

The thing is, you never know who that person may be or who they know. At the restaurant, we had food critics from all over come to eat at the restaurant, friends of the family, and even secret shoppers from corporate. You always have to be to be on top of things, treating every person equally, no matter where they come from. One wrong thing, and it can go viral, one right thing, and it could go viral just as well. In a digitally connected world, one person can have all the power to spread things within minutes, if not seconds. That saying “Any P.R. is good P.R.”, it doesn’t stand true for all situations, it can be your downfall if you choose to think that way. It’s best if it’s good P.R.

It’s simple as that. Put the customer first. A company can’t be successful without it’s patrons. If people see you bending over backwards to help, they’ll appreciate it. Not to mention, you’ll feel better about how you handled the situation.



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