Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Old Entry #8: My Tribute to Hospitality Workers and Mary's Story

Okay, don't be fooled by the writing style I employed in this old entry.  I didn't feel very seasoned when I wrote this.  This was intended to be more of a rant for my best friend back then.  Along the way, I decided to turn it into some sort of short story.  I forgot why, so don't ask.

This was originally posted on Oct 2, '08 1:43 PM on Multiply.com.


"The customer is always right."

Xander ponders on this supposed motto the night before another shift in his job as a busboy at Gaddi's, a restaurant at The Peninsula hotel in Hong Kong.

Jared, who worked as a receptionist at the Ritz Carlton in Chile, was attending to a grumpy customer who wouldn't stop complaining about the smell of Gorgonzola cheese lingering in the hall on the way to his room.  He maintained a perpetual "yes, sir, I understand; we will attend to that immediately."  And while listening to the seemingly endless palaver of superfluous statements, the motto lingered in his head.

Mary, a fill-in waitress at Il Ponte, a posh bistro in London, suffered the wrath of a German customer who falsely insinuated that the spilling of a soup bowl was her fault.  She knew very well that it was the fault of the customer, but then again, the perpetual motto prevails.

The motto in quotes above has been thrust into their heads since the beginning of hospitality school.  Since time immemorial, it has never changed.  There have been no such mottoes as "the customer is always right as long he/she follows house rules" or "the customer is always right if he/she is reasonable."  And over time, customers have learned to use this clause in complaint of dissatisfaction—usually in a manager's office scenario.

It's an agonizing reality that hospitality workers are forced to live by.  Yes, the field of profession is a choice but the motto that comes with it is a locked freebie.  It will become your prayer, possibly to ultimately replace the good old Our Father.

There is an increasing number of brilliant minds who opt for such profession.  It's not that I'm demeaning it.  It's a very noble line of work, but I'm rather sympathetic at what they each have to deal with throughout the course of their lives.  Let us take these three examples above, for instance.

Xander belongs to a middle-class Filipino family of part-Chinese ancestry.  He is an only child.  He bested all others in grade school and graduated valedictorian.  In high school, he was the grand orator.  He was sent to different parts of the country to be pitted against the so-called best.  He proved triumphant each time.  Then again, he has always had a passion for cooking and serving.  He found unparalleled satisfaction whenever people would praise him for his food.  So, in college, he decided to take the hospitality management degree program offered at the University of Santo Tomas.  He graduated with flying colors, got a few job stints in local hotels—either as a receptionist or as a junior manager—until he was finally flown to Hong Kong.  It was an opportunity that he regarded as his big break.  Until now, he works there—still as a busboy.

Let us look at Jared this time.  The second child of a lawyer and his wife—a politician, he belongs to an elite Chilean bloodline.  As a boy, he would often visit the Chilean capital, Santiago, with his older sister.  Each time, they stayed at the Ritz Carlton where the boy befriended the manager who was apparently pursuing his companion.  Since Jared did not have an older brother, the manager became his role model.  He vowed that, one day, he would become the manager of the same hotel.  When he reached the right age for career-preparation studies, he had the same aspiration he had during his childhood.  His parents, being surprisingly liberal, allowed him to choose whatever path he wanted in life.  And so he did.

After graduating, Jared was instantly accepted at the Ritz where he first worked as a butler.  Only recently has he been promoted to being a receptionist—a step closer to the office his eyes gaze upon.

Mary, on the other hand, is as mentally capable as the two gentlemen.  She is of Celtic descent.  She is an only child.  Her father died of bone cancer when she was only 3, so she barely knew him.  She grew up with a single mother who never remarried.  They lived in Essex, England where she finished her preliminary education.

She pursued a bachelor's degree in business management with a specialization in hotels at the University of Manchester.  Studying under the aid of a student loan, she worked part-time as a waitress in a nearby place.

When time came, Mary graduated with distinction honors and got an instant job referral by the school.  A couple of weeks after graduating, she found herself working as a supervisor in a well-known restaurant in London called Il Ponte.

A year and a-half later, Mary’s manager, who was also the owner of the bistro, asked for her hand in marriage.  She popped out a big yes.  So the story goes on and they got married.  For a while after that, she underwent continuing education and earned a master's degree in business administration.

Then came a life-changing tragic turn of events.  Mary's husband met an accident at sea and disappeared.  Since they had no children, she was left to take care of their entire fortune.  This included the restaurant, a winery and a grape vineyard in France, and a huge cheese factory in Derbyshire.

Amazingly, she was able to do so very flawlessly.  She was even able to buy another already-established restaurant in London.  It’s called the Chino Latino, another trendy restaurant with a view of a bar.  Such restaurant operates up to now under her ownership.

Despite her busy schedule, Mary would fill in as a waitress in her restaurant from time-to-time.  It still gives her the satisfaction of working from humble beginnings.

On one occasion, when an ill-tempered German customer and his family were dining at her restaurant, one of the children pulled her apron while she was serving soup.  This outbalanced her and caused her to spill the contents of the pot all over the table.  The "father figure" went ballistic and blamed her for what had just happened.  Everyone else in the restaurant saw it transpire and was sure that she was entirely blameless.  However, the man insisted and yelled for the manager.  Since she had hired a different manager—who at the time was not around—she said that the manager was not there.  The German man persisted and called for the shift supervisor, so he came to attend to him.  He demeaned Mary in the supervisor's office, calling her a 'good-for-nothing clumsy woman'.  "Who owns this place, anyway?"  he asked.  The supervisor very innocently responded, "she does," pointing at her.

The German customer did not believe this at first.  Only when she took the argument to her personal office did he finally believe.  And when it struck him, he left in haste and sheer embarrassment.  Poor man.

Yes, the customer is always right.  But when you're right, you're also right.

This whatever-to-riches phenomenon is not uncommon.  This happens a lot.  Several stories in record have been written about them.  One does not even need to get married to someone rich for this to happen.

The plus that Mary gets here is not that she got married to the owner of the restaurant; it's how she added bricks to turn the tower into a skyscraper after her husband's demise.

Right now, her company produces one of the best brands of sparkling grape wine in all of France.  Her brand of cheese has also surpassed its quality since her husband's management.  It's one of the most purchased in the entire Europe and the rest of the world's cheese-eating population.  Her restaurants have never lost popularity as her unique marketing schemes do not allow a loss of even a single spark.

Mary, today, remains an inspiration to those who seek success in business—both men and women alike.

Kudos to you all who wish to take the same path!