I have a confession. Although I work with an upscale chef, my favorite places are the hole-in-the-wall, cheap eat kind of joints. My breakfast spot is small enough--and popular enough--that on the weekends if you don't time it right, you'll find yourself waiting outside for 45 minutes. And I wait, happily. Same thing with one of my favorite dinner spots. If you are lucky enough to snag a seat at one of their 5 tables...you're in for a real treat.
But it goes beyond that. It's not about just the food.
There's a certain ineffable quality about the places that make my short list. They're the kind of places that feel more like home than my own. I walk in the door and am often greeted with a big smile...and a hug. I have become part of their culinary "family." And if I haven't stopped by in a while...they notice.
Under their care, I am nurtured in a way that goes far beyond my belly.
Last weekend I went to check out a new Szechuan restaurant in my neighborhood. It's in an obscure area, located in a strip mall where the anchor store left years ago. Yet, as I pulled up and spied the restaurant, there was no parking anywhere close. This was a good sign...and I started to get excited.
The restaurant was completely packed and I was one of the only Caucasians in the place. Without even sampling the food, I knew I liked it already.
As I stood at the entrance, striding towards me was a waitress with a smile that outshined the glimmer from her silk blouse.
I was greeted with a loud and long "Hiiiiii! How are yew?"
Zeroing in on her face...I quickly recognized her as a favorite waitress from another restaurant!
She opened her arms wide and gave me the biggest hug.
"I've been waiting for yew!"
My mind was fuzzy. Am I missing something in the translation?
As it turned out, no, I didn't miss anything.
She had switched restaurant allegiances months ago. Somehow she knew our paths would cross again, eventually. I hadn't seen her in 6 months and surely she had seen hundreds of people come and go. I was pleased to be remembered.
I had stopped to get a simple take out order and scanned the menu for a brief moment before she said, "You want crispy garlic chicken? Here we call it ...."
I was stunned she actually recalled my favorite dish!
"No, I'm thinking I'll try something different."
Pointing to a line on my menu, she said, "We have your dan dan noodles here."
I was amazed. And touched.
My eye landed on moo shu pork and I placed my order. Laughing, she recalled how I tried to get the other restaurant to add it to their menu! (It's true.)
While I waited for my order, she introduced me to the entire staff--including the kitchen crew! I was honored to be receiving such gold star treatment.
As I turned to leave, I fell into her arms for another hug...and it was more welcome than anything in my carry out bag.
In business lingo, they call that a value added experience. Call it what you will....for me, there's nothing better than being cared for...and cared about.
While it may be a simple dinner, in the end, it's much more than that.
Value added, indeed!