Keeping Cool

Keeping Cool

Pentecost 17


Several days ago I went out to eat with a group of friends.  Many of the local eateries only take reservations in person; that is to say, they will hold a table only if someone if physically present to request a table for a large number of dining guests.


The reason for this on the side of the merchant is quite simple:  Talk is cheap.  Often, or at least enough times to make a difference, people will call and request a table be set up to accommodate their large party and then decide to eat elsewhere.  That is a perfectly acceptable decision except these callers never call back to cancel the reservation.

  Any dining establishment is in the business to make money.  The best way to do that is to serve the customer standing in front of you, not the customer who “might” be coming.  The phone call that never comes to fruition that asked for a large table or tables to be held might end up costing the eatery money.  In other words, while talk is usually cheap, it can become expensive.


The group had called ahead and at the time, the restaurant was not busy, not busy at all.  Between the time of the call and the time of the group arriving, however, the restaurant had a full house of customers walk in the door.  A grouping of tables could not be put together and comply with both the national restaurant chain’s safety rules and local fire rules.  All businesses must comply with established guidelines for serving customers safely, both for those eating and those doing the serving.  This resulted in the large group of people having to wait.


It is unfortunate that several other factors came into play and most of the group become dissatisfied with having to wait.  There are several things an establishment can do to accommodate those in such a position.  I remember thirty years ago a dining establishment had free drinks and chips on their porch for those who had to wait.  Two servers were assigned to seeing that the free bar of sorts was always manned, stocked, and available to anyone who walked up.  Yes, some people came and then left after eating and drinking but most stayed, enough to make it worthwhile and cost effective.


On this evening in question in which I dined with this large group, mistakes were made on both sides.  Neither would probably be happy for me saying so but that is the truth.  The manager of the restaurant kept giving the same updates.  Fifty-five minutes of hearing “It’ll just be another five or ten minutes” got old and some in my party reacted accordingly… or as adults do when they feel they are being lied to – they got irritated.


The manager never offered to split the party up into two tables side by side,  He never asked if the group would mind that; he just assumed they wanted one long table or group of tables joined together.  I know this because after an hour wait and we were seated, I went up and talked to him.


We hear the word evangelism tossed around like a religious basketball but truly, we all engage in evangelism.  The word means “good news” but it is lived by our own habits and practices.  What we do reflects what we believe.  I approached the manager because I was not happy with the impression my friends were leaving.  They are good people and all are engaged in some sort of mission work for others, giving of their own time and resources to do so.  I did not know the manager but his obvious distress seemed to indicate he also was a good person who cared about doing a good job and serving his customers well while taking care of his staff.


The group also made some mistakes.  They assumed calling ahead meant they had a guaranteed reservation, one which usually only occurs if a credit card number is given.  No one asked the restaurant if they actually took reservations.  They also never gave any indication they would accept splitting the party up.  Finally, they failed to prepare for such a contingency and then not everyone stayed calm when the delay happened.


In my conversation with the manager, I explained I only wanted to discuss ways both sides could do better.  I did not know if he was aware what had been said on the phone and that we were expecting a table to be reserved and waiting for us.  He admitted he should have asked about using two tables instead of assuming we wanted one long table.  He also realized that his pat answers only work if they are true.  He apologized as did I on behalf of the group.  Hopefully, something was gained from the experience.


Staying calm when you think you are being taken advantage of is not easy.  It is a very difficult thing to do, especially if you are a consumer trying to spend money at an establishment.  Patience is not an easy trait to live and none of us are successful at it 24/7.  It is, however, the only sure path to effective communication.  Trying to see things from another perspective is also the best way to resolve issues.


Keeping one’s cool (or maintaining a calm demeanor) is a cute, catchy phrase but one that is very difficult to live.  It is, I believe, one of the greatest enemies of evangelism.  We tend to think of evangelism as campaigning for a particular religious belief or spiritual practice.  It is how we live and how our beliefs are reflected in that living. 


The question that prompted me to speak to the manager was this: “How did we evangelize our faith in this situation?”  I think it is a valid question to ask before we open our mouths.  What we do is only half of who we are.  How we react is the real nitty gritty of what we believe.  We can plan to do very great things and be a super star when things go smoothly.  It is the true mark of belief, though, when we are able to remain calm and keep our faith when things go helter skelter.


World War II was a very stressful time.  With an impending invasion looming in the future, The British government launched a campaign to motivate its citizens.  “Keep Calm and Carry On” was a poster produced in 1939 with plans to distribute among the citizens of the United Kingdom.  To mark its being official, the Tudor crown was displayed at the top, a symbol of the British government.  Almost two and a half million such posters were printed but only a handful were distributed before the London blitz occurred.  The posters’ cost at such a time was subject to harsh criticisms and many were recycled and repulped. The advice to stay calm was followed by words from Sir Winston Churchill “Stay Calm” but never seen by most London citizens until a book store owner’s wife found an original poste in a forgotten box and framed it for display in their shop.  It became an overnight success and has been copied millions of times and trivialized.  The advice, however, is still quite good for most of what life throws at us:  Stay calm and carry on!


Faith is easier when things are going our way.  I told this manager my friends were good people and I firmly believe they are.  Was this evident in their interaction with him as the wait extended on?  Probably not.  We most likely came across as spoiled, entitled-thinking people.  However, when I asked him to see the situation from our vantage point, he relented and even apologized.


As I said earlier, mistakes were made on both sides.  That statement sums up most situations.  Things are going to go wrong in life.  It is inevitable.  This post is four days late because…well, something went awry.  My faith comes into play when I hold true to my belief in this blog and forge ahead.  It is good advice and has been since Francis de Sales to the current actor LL Cool J. 


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