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22 December 2009

Them Waffles are Mine

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Years ago, I served for a week as the guest host for a Christian family camp in the Rocky Mountains. At breakfast one day when I was particularly hungry, I noticed, sadly, that the Belgian waffles were disappearing from the waffle bar as soon as they came out of the iron; guests were standing in line for these outstanding breakfast treats.

I held back, though I love Belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream, because it was more important that the paying guests got all they wanted.

As the dining room began to clear out, I saw that two beautiful, golden-brown waffles still remained on the plate at the waffle barwaffle, though the batter was gone and no more would be made that day. I approached the young lady behind the waffle bar and asked, “Are those waffles spoken for?” (Of course I knew what her response would be.)

But, I shouldn’t have assumed. And her answer has stuck with me for more than a decade. She said, “Well, I ain’t eaten breakfast yet, so I guess them are mine.”

Oops. (And I’m not talking about her grammar.)

Seems a non-camp employee had been called in at the last minute to fill in for a trained worker who was sick that day. She lived in the town nearby and had been employed from time to time by the camp manager to serve in various functions, usually behind the scenes. But she didn’t quite get the idea of customer service, did she? No doubt, she was promised a free meal at the end of her shift, and by golly, she was going to claim that meal, even if it meant a guest/customer had to go without.

The camp manager and his wife were mortified when I told them the story. They were two of the most gracious, service-oriented people I’ve ever met. And the incident was not a reflection of their philosophy.

So, what could be done to avoid this kind of mishap in the future?

25 thoughts on “Them Waffles are Mine

  1. The woman deserves praise for such good planning. All the guests were served, and there was only 2 leftovers. And she was willing to eat leftovers! Oh, if we could just see things so simple as that as perfect planning!

  2. Greg, I’m excited to get to know you through this blog. I haven’t actually read it yet… so much reading to do! How about a podcast as well? Just read what you’ve written? I was enjoying Bob’s monthly contact that way.

  3. A. Always be prepared to prepare more food if needed.
    B. Be intentional in training all staff, including temps and volunteers.
    C. Create an environment of service that always puts the guest first and regularly (and specifically) celebrate your successes. (I love Kevin’s idea of the two-sided card with the mission and staff pledge.)

  4. Loved the humor of this story.
    Great idea about the blogging.
    Good comments.
    There was a book I read awhile back about hospitality that some of you might enjoy. It was called Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition

    1. Julie – The book you reference is an outstanding resource, I’ve used this book and the study guide for several years. I would highly suggest anyone in that is in the ministry of hospitality (all of us?) read and re-read this book, then discuss it with others and make it your part of your core.
      It might even be one of the topics we could discuss here.
      Thanks again for mentioning this fine book.

  5. How so very much like real life. Never quite what you hope for but always an opportunity to learn love and grow. You handled it right Gregg. Not embarrassing the fill-in employee and yet letting a gracious supervisor know the concern so they can appropriately deal with it. I agree training is essential, as well as communicating to all team members your servant/hospitality culture, but last minute fill-in employees need some grace too, as do regular employees having a rare bad day.

  6. Perceived value is determined through many aspects of camp ministry. Our guests are not only clients but they are also ministry opportunities. We work hard to equip our staff to view their role as a ministry not just a job. They are constantly looking for a moment to be a Barnabas (the son of encouragement)to people and we always gives times to share these encounters with each other. This tends to keep us conscious of a high level of customer service we are working to achieve.

  7. It always begins and ends in leadership.

    This is an issue of leadership as a staff member with little or no training was placed in a position with which she lacked the skills to deal.

    Good enough never is!

  8. We need to recover a truly Christian understanding of hospitality. Its not a matter of copying a commercial hotel/motel.

    Christian hospitality must be an expression of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is not a matter of the over-indulgence that our world seems to value seeks in the “hospitality industry.”

    The folks who serve at a Christian facility (paid or volunteer) are a community, and the “customer service” they extend is a welcome into that community. Our welcome must reflect the Welcome that God has extended to the world in Jesus Christ.

    We need to find ways to help persons remember that every action is evangelism – every action and interaction tells about God. The way that we respond to guests is a reflection of God’s love.

    I don’t think this automatically “fixes” every staff/guest interaction; for me it just sets the starting point. It’s not so much a matter of training (though that is important) as it is helping persons grasp the meaning of their actions – a sign of God’s love. All of us need to practice showing God’s love to the world by the most ordinary acts.

  9. While Gregg’s story is somewhat amusing, it points out the importance and lasting consequences of both good and bad customer service. Gregg’s experience occurred years ago, yet he still remembers it down to the words this lady spoke! So, that means that our customers will also have long term memories of both positive and negative experiences at our camps.

    One of my passions at Camp Timberline is customer service, particularly with how the phone is handled. As consumers we all get beat up pretty bad by poor phone experiences….being put on hold, never talking to a human, not getting return calls, rudeness,etc. After years of emphasis on good customer treatment, our staff really responds well to this challenge. After all, good customer service is the best and least expensive way I know to distinguish our ministries from the rest of the world. Its a easy way to stand out and be excellent. And I think the Lord wants us to shine and be the very best we can be!

    Finally, years ago I read “Customers for Life” by Carl Sewell. It is a secular book but is excellent and required reading for all new Camp Timberline staff members!

    Bill Darrough, Camp Timberline, Estes Park, Colorado

  10. Conveying our expectations of “guests first” to our short-term staff, whether summer staff or part-timers, is an ongoing process. I guess we all need to be in the “continuous improvement” mode when it comes to guest relations. We’ve had numerous similar incidents that rise up to bite us occasionally.

    But Gregg, I’ll bet you graciously yielded to this young lady, no?

  11. Unfortunately I’ve experienced similar situations over the years. Goes to show, you’re service orientation is only as strong as your weakest link. Even temps need to get a dose of basic guest service training.

    Looking forward to your blog!

  12. Gut wrenching story, for sure.
    Everyone that interacts with guests, and staff, or is representing the ministry, should fully understand and agree to the mission / vision of the ministry as well as fully understand the ministry of hospitality.
    If we seek to serve one another as servants, as Christ did, we need to be sure our leadership example speaks loud enough to infect those around us to create servant followers who will always place others ahead of themselves.
    Do I expect miracles you ask? Yes I do, we of all people should, right?

  13. I like to have a back-up plan (or two) for everything. Although that is not always possible, a litte thought and planning ahead of time to answer the question, “What if…happens?” is a good, cautious policy. Words of wisdom from one who’s done this lots of years. Blessings, Carolyn Darch, Carolyn Darch Ministries, Inc.

    P.S. Orchids to the genius who invented the new title!

  14. If the camp has served oatmeal instead of Belgian Waffles, there probably would have been a lot left. LOL!

    Really, the question to me is how do we as Christians minister and show the love of Christ to others who appear to be “non-believers”? We have run into similar issues at our facility when guests were not thrilled with the attitude of some of our kitchen staff (who made no claim to be Christian). It has always been tough to find service minded Christian that were happy to serve in the kitchen for the weekend and not be able to attend church on Sunday mornings. Do we not as believers have a higher call to be loving and willing to minister to those around us and show perhaps a different and more kind outlook.

    What would Jesus have said about not getting those waffles? I wonder. Might He have said, “You enjoy those waffles, Honey, and thank you so much for helping to serve breakfast to our retreat group this morning.”

  15. Ouch! Belgian waffles are my favorite too Gregg so I can empathize. The camp manager, as you’ve stated, had called this individual in roles prior. A handbook or lecture stating how the customer is always first, in every role she would serve, may have prevented this “waffle gate” when she was originally hired.

    Feeding the kitchen staff first is always helpful but she was called in last minute. So, as a Christian I believe you did the right thing by allowing this poor soul to feast upon what was yours … in theory.

    Finally, having more waffle batter available than was planned for would clearly have prevented the hydrochloric acid build-up. Since these delectable golden brown discs are popular, having more irons on site would decrease customer wait.

    Congratulations on your appointment Mr. President!

  16. Training including role playing for every staff person, full or periodic fill-in of the topic 10 servant actions or items. When a poor performance takes place, there again full or temperary, review the training and give that person an opportunity.

  17. Great teachable moment. For me what stood out was “non camp employee”.

    At Sentinel, every staff and volunteer is an essential employee and the training is so important.
    Each staff member is given our staff pledge (on a 2 x 4 inch card – with our mission statement on the back) and asked to live it out. (This pledge was designed by our staff team in 2006)
    As a member of the staff team, I am a relationship builder. My role is to build relationships with and between parents, campers, volunteers, staff and communities we serve. Every day I will:

    1)Dress for success. I will create a friendly experience for our campers. I will dress appropriately, being clearly identifiable to those seeking assistance. I will lend a hand. A camper should never feel like they are wasting my time.

    2)Smile and say hello. I will provide a warm welcome to parents and campers. I will make every effort to say hello to everyone I see, including children.

    3)Meet and Greet. I will make a personal connection with parents and campers. I will introduce myself to people I do not recognize. I will become the person they can feel comfortable talking to when they have a question or concern. Even further, I will introduce campers to each other. I will greet new people with “Welcome to Camp. My name is ____________ how can I help you?”

    4)See it, own it. If I see it, I own it. I will take responsibility for correcting the problem I see.

    5)Give thanks. I will be grateful. Every parent and camper has chosen to spend time with us. I will take time to say “thank you” or offer sincere compliment to another staff person during my time working.

    And then I will do it again tomorrow!

    Staff training is so important. This situation would have been different if this staff member was trained appropriately and more importantly… you would have had your waffles!

  18. Greg, I admire your gracious spirit – so – I can’t relate on why you didn’t just grab the waffle and scarf it down 🙂 You are just way too nice and I’m not so nice when it comes to my stomach talking to me.

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