Turning Around a Restaurant Experience

Last night my husband, kids and I went out for dinner. Our first restaurant choice was packed, so we moved on and gave a new place a shot. It's a chain and a fairly new location, so we had low expectations for the food and high expectations for service.

I won't bore you with the exact accounting of the evening. The basics are this:
  • Two servers didn't show up, one was fired and then others were sent home early, just before our arrival, because the restaurant was slow.
  • Two hostesses attempted to take drink and food orders.
  • Our server took our appetizer order and forgot.
  • The server was gruff and abrupt.
  • The hostesses were nervously inept.
Both my husband and I felt our frustration rising. We were out for an experience - a good experience - not just another excuse to spend hard-earned cash. We showed up with chips on our shoulders. And as fate would have it, we found a situation that fed our negativity.

But then something happened. Around the same time, we realized that we could keep this a bad experience or we could turn it around.

We stopped looking at the servers and the hostesses as objects. We saw them as people who were trying to make a living and doing their best under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Almost miraculously, the situation quickly changed. The server's entire approach softened and the professional that she is began to shine. We connected with her, learning that she's a teacher in a rough and tumble public high school. We talked about iPhones. We laughed about how hard the evening had been for her.

The hostesses also became more confident and relaxed. For the record, they smiled the entire time. They were trying to keep it positive. When we agreed to meet them halfway the evening became a success.

Our $14 appetizer that came late was even given to us free.

And the food was delicious.

So how do you turn around a bad experience? Stop looking "out there" for fault and look inside for compassion. Remember to see other people as people, not objects.

As I've written this, two books come to mind: An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life by the Dalai Lama and Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute.

Here's what I wonder: How many situations in everyday life can be improved simply by shifting your own consciousness? Do you have any stories about turning around a bad situation?