Asheville Citizen-Times 04/05/2014 –
It was a classy joint. The waiters wore tuxedos and the tablecloths were starched. John, the owner, on display in his five-hundred-dollar suit, stood at the reception station welcoming customers, kissing the women, shaking hands with the men, all with great ceremony and style.
The restaurant was way over the head of a heavy-on-the-mustard, blue collar kid from the other side of town, but there I was in my red bar jacket and bowtie standing with three other busboys at the side of the dining room waiting to clear tables. It was my first night, a very busy Saturday. My rigorous, in-depth training consisted of, “Watch what the other busboys do.”
The trays were oval, metal monsters, heavy and about three feet in length. A waiter said, “Pick up dishes from the left of the customer, balance everything on the tray, and use your crumb scraper last,” which constituted the beginning and end of my continuing education program.
The good news was that after an hour or two, I was starting to get the hang of it. I fit in even with the tables turning over at record pace. Down the road I was already envisioning myself as the primary candidate for the self-created “Busboy of the Year” award.
An older yacht-club couple had just finished their main course and were launching into a second bottle of wine. She pointed at me, pointed at the dishes and mouthed “Now,” then turned back to her husband. I had another table’s dishes loaded on the tray stand behind her, but because she had been insistent, I decided to clear her table too. I picked up the plates and silverware with what I thought was a very professional air, then scraped the crumbs into my hand. After placing them on the crumb pile on the back edge of the tray, I crouched down to get more lift power, but as I stood, the point of balance shifted and the dinnerware slid backward. I managed to grab the front of the tray and prevent the dishes from falling to the floor, but I wasn’t quick enough to halt the crumb pile from falling off into space.
It all seemed like slow motion as I looked in horror back over my shoulder. The crumbs were like pixie dust floating downward from the fingertips of Tinker Bell. I thought I was going to catch a break and they were going to barely miss the woman’s heavily sprayed French Twist hairstyle, when WH-O-O-OSH, as if suddenly entering a magnetic field at Star Trek’s warp speed, the crumbs were swept en masse to the back of her hair!.
I was stunned and waited for the reaction. To my amazement, nothing happened. The couple was conversing normally. I looked around and realized no one had seen the avalanche. I had just Shake ‘n Baked a customer and might be able to get away with it!
But then I was faced with a moral dilemma. Should I explain to the woman what happened and hope for her mercy—a mercy I felt certain would not be forthcoming—or pretend nothing happened?
I was very tempted to walk away and save my job, but for some reason I didn’t. I interrupted the couple’s conversation and told them what I had done.
She touched the back of her hair, looked at me for several seconds and then broke into a smile. “Honey,” she said, “I live at the beach and with all the seagulls around, a lot worse than crumbs land in my hair.” She reached up and tapped my cheek with two fingers. “Don’t worry about it. I won’t tell John.”
And she didn’t.
Twenty years later, I was driving a very important potential customer to a meeting and had made the colossal error of not checking the backseat my four-year-old had occupied the previous evening. The man sat in the back allowing his female associate to sit upfront.
An hour later, after we stepped out of the car, I saw several raisins attached to the seat of his pants. Not one. Not two. Probably ten! What to do? Big promising customer, but big risk—depending on his temperament, the whole relationship could blow up right there in the parking lot. I thought of Lady Shake ‘n Bake. I mentioned the raisins. He reached back and brushed them off. “Thanks for letting me know. That would have been embarrassing.”
Just before we entered the conference room, he stopped and turned to me. “Your kids young?”
I nodded again.
“Enjoy them. Mine ate raisins too.”
Two weeks later, we landed the biggest account in company history.
Full disclosure in tough situations? Always.
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