Lessons from a Lunch Lady

September 27, 2011

Written By:
Ryan Vet

One lady changed my dining experience forever by going far above and beyond anything in her job description.

For two years now, I have swiped my card as I’ve entered one of the many dining halls on the campus of Elon University. During the lunch hour rush, the cashier will hardly offer up so much as a word as he or she grabs your card and vigorously slides it back and forth until it registers on the machine.

On occasion, a petit, well-aged woman with a single long braid of silver hair stretching the length of her back would be taking our cards. She would cheerfully swipe our cards and make conversation with the people waiting in line. Her name was Ms. Sue.

After just a couple weeks, Ms. Sue knew my name and knew the names of my closest friends that I ate lunch with. She knew where we sat and more importantly, always greeted us with a smile. If I ever showed up late to lunch, she would point me to where my friends were sitting. If one of the usual crew did not show up, she would ask about them and make sure they were doing okay.

It has been over a year since I first met Ms. Sue. Typically, I only have 2-3 minute conversations with her about three times a week, but those 2-3 minute conversations add up over time. She makes every single one of those minutes count for building a relationship and getting to know her customers more deeply. Ms. Sue truly cares for me and her other customers.

On occasion, should would help in the bakery making handmade desserts and pastries. Over time, she noticed how I would often get a cinnamon roll. She was rolling some cinnamon rolls one afternoon and I told her how good they looked. “Well honey,” she said, “You just come on by later this evening and you can eat as many as you want.” I told her that I wasn’t going to be around until lunch the following day, she said, “Well boy, you’re missing out.”

The next day when I went in for lunch. Sadly, Ms. Sue wasn’t there. I finished my main course and went back for dessert. One of the ladies behind the counter said, “Are you Ryan?”

A little surprised I said, “Yes.”

“Wait there a minute, Ms. Sue has something for you.”

A moment later, the lady came back with two cinnamon rolls wrapped in saran wrap saying, “Here, these are for you.”

Baffled, I gratefully accepted the cinnamon rolls and went back to my seat. As if that was not enough, several weeks later, I went to grab lunch on a Friday and Ms. Sue said, “Ryan, you need to come see me on Monday. I’ll have a surprise for you.”

Of course, I had to come in Monday. When I arrived, Ms. Sue had fresh-baked homemade cinnamon rolls that she had made from scratch, complete with extra frosting, because she knew that was my favorite. In addition to my cinnamon rolls, she made one of my close friends chicken dumplings knowing that was one of his favorites.

Her acts of kindness totally went far above the typical realm of customer service. Ms. Sue is an uncommon leader who took the initiative and dared to be different than the rather dull and grumpy lunch lady. She got to know my friends and I on a personal level and made a lasting impressions. At Halloween and Christmas she has been known to give us cookies and other goodies.

Ms. Sue took an ordinary opportunity and turned it into an extraordinary experience for her customers. What are you doing to be extraordinary?

Ryan Vet

Thanks for stopping by my blog! A bit about me, I’m an entreprenuer, author
and speaker. This gives me the opportunity to travel the globe. Plus, I get to host a TV series called Sip’d and I’m a Sommelier and wine enthusiast.

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