Courtesy and courtship are derived from the same root word and both convey the idea of trying to please someone else. All other things being equal, the business that will thrive is the one that greets and serves its customers with genuine warmhearted courtesy.
On a trip some years ago, we stopped for gas around dinner time and decided to eat at the lunch counter attached to the business. The waitress, perhaps the owner’s daughter, appeared to feel that it was beneath her dignity to wait on tables. I believe the food was good, but we didn’t feel like we would need to eat there again. At supper time, in another town, another café, we walked in the door and a waitress greeted us with a warm smile, led us to a table and provided prompt, friendly service throughout our meal. I don’t remember that there was much difference in the quality or price of the food, but the courteous way we were treated in the second café made a huge difference in the way I remember those two meals.
I often stop at a Christian book store when I am in Saskatoon, as much for the coffee shop than for the books. I am a totally boring person, always ordering the same thing, and the ladies in the coffee shop know I want a cappuccino with amaretto syrup before I open my mouth. A while back, their espresso machine broke down and for two weeks they couldn’t make my cappuccino. The third week, I cane to town early for a dental appointment. After leaving so much money there, my wife suggested that I really couldn’t afford a cappuccino. I went anyway and the ladies informed me that because I hadn’t given up on them, they were going to give me a free cappuccino. Now that was service that really hit the spot!
I went to a pharmacy to get a prescription filled and there were two people ahead of me at the counter. The first, an elderly gentleman, asked a question of the young clerk. He didn’t understand her answer, so she tried again. After the fourth explanation he seemed satisfied. I couldn’t discern any hint of exasperation or condescension in the young lady’s attitude; she really wanted to help this confused old gentleman. I was so impressed that I forgot all about being impatient.
The receptionist at my eye doctor’s office is like that. One time when I came in for an appointment, she was talking on the phone to a client who had missed his appointment. He had been in a few days earlier for tests, but couldn’t seem to understand why he needed to come in again to see the doctor. When the receptionist was free to greet me, I told her that I hoped she would still be there when I got old and confused.
Behind the front counter of the vet clinic in our nearest town there is a little office where I spend a few hours every week working on their bookkeeping. I can’t see what is going on out front, but I hear a lot. Some pet owners have way too much time on their hands and expect the staff will have time to listen to all their stories. Others are hypochondriacs on behalf of their pets. Some are difficult, some are model customers, showing appreciation for every little thing that is done. As far as I can tell, all are treated with the same cheerful and patient courtesy.
What about our attitude when we go into a place of business, a professional office or a government office? We appreciate it when they are courteous to us, won’t they appreciate the same level of courtesy from us? It seems to me that I have come to this late in life and I probably still have much to learn, but here are a few pointers.
Learn people’s names. The waitress who serves me most often at the coffee shop is Karen. My eye doctor’s receptionist is Sandy. Making the effort to learn and use a person’s name shows that you realize they are an important person doing an important job.
Say thank you, and mean it. The waitress, clerk or receptionist in front of me is just as important a person as I am. Take time to notice what that person is doing and let her (or him) know that you appreciate her (his) efforts to help you.
Tip generously when you eat in a restaurant. This is a subject that seems to be poorly understood by some Christian people. It was said some years ago that when restaurant staff saw a table full of people bow their heads to pray before a meal they understood that they weren’t going to get much of a tip. Is it still that way? Shame on us if it is.
We may think they are already being paid, why should we give them more? These servers are hard-working people who receive a low wage, on the understanding that a good part of their earnings will come in the form of tips. How important do we think we are that we expect to be treated royally without helping pay for the service? A deacon of our acquaintance taught his children that if they couldn’t afford to leave a proper tip, they couldn’t afford to eat in a restaurant.
It really comes down to the concept that courtesy is much like courtship — trying to please others. If we are cheerful and considerate of others, we will likely find that our encounters with grumpy and difficult people become quite rare.