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Do You Want Sprinkles On That Life Lesson?

I learned more than how to scoop ice cream

My tasks at a Friendly Ice Cream restaurant over 30 years ago taught me a lot more than the best way to fill a cone. I still have a long way to go, but the lessons I learned made me more considerate, efficient, and aware.

child's hand holding an ice cream cone

Keep your entrances welcoming.

The first tasks I did each morning were to sweep the front path and wash the front door before customers arrived.

I still notice grubby doors and unswept walkways when I go into a restaurant or a store.

If the entrance door handle or glass is dirty, what do the hidden areas of the place look like? Blech. Gross.

Be more than just on time.

Management requested we arrive at least ten minutes before our shift started. It felt like a command to waste my time. The concept was a significant cultural shift from high school, where I’d perfected sliding into my seat precisely ten seconds before the bell rang and no one complained.

On an exceptionally busy morning, I understood the larger context when I saw the manager's panicked look as she scanned the entry door area. We were only a few customers away from being completely swamped and needed help immediately.

neon signs saying waiting, waiting, waiting.
Being late stresses people.

She looked like she was mentally willing the next scheduled waitperson to appear for his shift to assist with the packed restaurant.

Her expression taught me the request to arrive ‘early’ was about respect for your fellow workers.

The incoming staff member knew he’d arrive on time; the manager didn’t.

Think about that if you habitually arrive later than everyone else.

Request sparingly.

During a hectic breakfast rush, I asked a coworker, “Since you’re already pouring, would you do a few extra juices for me?” She did.

I didn’t think it was poor form. I’d been taught in Catholic school to always share and help each other without reservation.

Later she was emphatically clear that I should not have assumed I was busier than she was, that she was not there for my convenience, and not to ask for favors unless I absolutely could not keep up with the demand.

I learned to ask for help only when I genuinely need it.

Ask, even if you think you understand.

When we looked out at the darkened neighboring businesses one stormy morning, we realized it wasn’t only our store that had lost power. I complied when the manager then told me to “flip the main in the breaker [circuit] box so there isn’t a surge when the power returns.”

The other stores’ lights were back on shortly, but not ours. It was quite a while before he realized I did precisely as he asked by flipping the main breaker at the top of the electrical box. He intended that I should turn off the mains, meaning to flip each sub breaker, not the single main that shut down all power.

He was irritated, and I felt stupid, even though at 18 I had no experience with electrical panels.

I should have questioned; he should not have assumed I knew precisely what he meant.

Scan your environment.

When working at full capacity, it’s easy to become hyper-focused on the task at hand and lose sight of the larger scene.

Trainers taught us to take a moment to scan the entire restaurant interior to help prioritize the most effective use of our efforts. Spooning sprinkles on a dish of ice cream for a sitting guest’s dessert was important. But it was critical to eliminate the long line at the cash registers to allow passage for diners who were trying to enter but were stuck in the jammed vestibule.

It taught me to appreciate the details I might miss by not looking around more.

Photo of a building gargoyle in Paris.
Look around, look up, be aware.

For example, did you know they put rubber caps on telephone poles to reduce decay? Have you marveled at the different gargoyle faces high on church walls? Or even that the checkout line you're stuck in is not the only one available?

I learned to see more than just what I was looking at.

Don’t believe everything you see.

It had been a bustling lunch. All our customers were finally in the serving process, and it was time to prepare for the next rush. The staff cruised the seating areas quickly, removing straw wrappers and empty plates. As I turned back to scan my service area, I noticed a confused man holding a half-sandwich in the air and realized I had taken his plate away!

At first glance, I hadn’t noticed he was absentmindedly holding his sandwich behind his head as he intently read his newspaper. Fortunately, he smiled at my apology when I returned his plate.

Predict and anticipate their next step.

Terrific customer service means giving the customer what they asked for and making it easy to use it.

Friendly’s taught us to place the handle of a coffee mug at the customer’s preferred hand so they could pick it up easily without turning the hot cup. That meant we had to notice their dominant hand.

I learned to automatically move the salt and pepper shakers closer when placing a plate in front of a diner so they didn't have to look for them.

We also were instructed to wait a moment and watch for a conversational opening before returning to the table to ask what else we could supply.

I learned to be more observant and strategic.

Keep your environment clean and tidy.

In a busy restaurant and life, it’s easy to prioritize taking a breather before preparing for what’s coming.

But after a meal rush, we took advantage of our momentum and restocked the sugars, cleaned the ketchup containers, washed the dishes, took out the trash, and wiped everything in sight. We only took a break away from customers after the restaurant was fully ready for service again.

When your spaces are organized well, straightening up doesn’t take much time and helps you to be prepared for the next activity and opportunity.

Remember the first lesson? Keep your entrances clean, ready, and welcoming.

Safeguard your spaces.

One day I was in the preparation area loading flatware into the dishwasher and was startled to see a large man in a dark business suit enter the room from the back door area. Customers were never allowed in that area, which housed only inventory shelves and walk-in refrigerators.

I stood still in fear. Sternly, he held out his card. “I’m from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), and your back door was unlocked. Keep it locked at all times.” Then he smiled, told me he was there to help us be safe, and I could breathe again.

His visit taught me to try to keep my boundaries secure, both literally and figuratively.

All things change eventually.

A few years ago, I had lunch in the same building where I had worked for Friendly Ice Cream so long ago and had since become a private pizzeria. I hadn’t seen it in a long time and immediately noticed the rain gutters needed shoring up, there were weeds in what had been a neatly planted front entrance area, and the front door hadn’t been cleaned for at least a few days.

Instead of the sparse clientele waiting for their meal, my mind’s eye immediately saw a lively room filled with chattering diners and energetic staff. In contrast to those Friendly days, our waitress performed her services cordially enough, but without much interest. We had to ask for napkins, water, and our check.

The pizzeria is now out of business, the gutters are barely hanging on the building, and weeds have overtaken the entrance. I know the front door is still dirty.

I wonder if they might still be serving if they had learned the same Friendly lessons.

There is no substitute for being aware, organized, clean, on time, kind, empathetic, and objective. Are you?


Learn more by reading other A Good Point posts.

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