By Amanda Cleary Eastep
Our departure from our favorite restaurant is halted by the owner.
“You ate too fast,” Bea says, in her lovely Ghanaian accent that makes her sound more disappointed than scolding.
We don’t want her to think we didn’t enjoy our meal of jerk chicken, lamb shank smothered in brown gravy, buttered cabbage, steamy fruit bread…but I digress…so I toss my car keys on the table beside the styrofoam take-out containers filled with leftover oxtails and African rice.
As usual, we are the last ones in the dining room for the evening, the doors are locked because she fears the neighborhood, and we have begun our ritual long goodbye.
“Have a glass of wine with me,” she offers.
We gather around the table with it’s brightly colored cloth, sip red wine, and talk for an hour about everything from God to frying okra to the fact that people just don’t “love thy neighbor” anymore. She said the same thing is happening in Ghana. She blames TV and greed.
I blame self-absorption and fear. And TV and greed.
But whether you’re the type of person who bakes cookies for the neighbors or the neighbor who feeds the cookies to the dog “just in case,” if you’re a small business person, practicing hospitality is a necessity.
I’ll admit that not everyone “gets” Bea, the owner of a storefront African restaurant in the suburbs of Chicago. She treats you like family, i.e. “I’ll feed you the best food I can prepare and chat with you about your life, but check your attitude and muddy shoes at the door.”
But in her I recognize a sense of hospitality that springs from a deep place of culture and even a “love thy neighbor” faith tradition.
Bea’s four tenets of customer service should be ours, too
Meet more than the basic need
Bea had planned to close early until we walked in. We said ordering take-out was fine, but a minute later her daughter escorted us to a table with a “Mom said.” Bea could have done the minimum and sent us packing early with our oxtails-to-go, but she treated us like the only patrons (which we actually were at that point).
Be in-tune with the customer experience
The food tasted delicious enough to exude “mmmm” noises from us that you don’t usually make in public. Yet we didn’t linger and had ordered, eaten, and headed for the door within an hour. Although we insisted that yes, dinner was great, and no, we didn’t feel rushed, Bea perceived that our early departure signaled a less than ideal dining experience.
Treat customers like neighbors
So she invited us to have a glass of wine with her. The table is the gathering place of family and friends, and that evening, over a $3 bottle of cabernet, that is what we became.
Run, don’t walk, the extra extra mile
Some cultures, and at their best religions, are naturally more hospitable. I have never left a Jordanian home without first enjoying a cup of spiced tea first or accepting a box of Whitman’s chocolates on the way out the door. Over the years, we have left Bea’s with not only leftovers, but a mancala game board hand carved in the shape of a crocodile and a large mango with instructions for accelerating fruit ripening.
In many ways, every business is in the hospitality industry. It comes down to that golden rule of treating others the way we would like to be treated.
Maybe that isn’t as common as it used to be in Ghana or in America or the majority of businesses around the county. But we can take a lesson from the people who do hospitality well, with generosity, genuineness, and an occasional exotic fruit.
NOTE: I do not link to the restaurant in this post due to upcoming changes.