In today’s world where conversation is scarce, people are loathe to put down their devices, and screen time is all the time, what exactly does appreciating service mean?
Recently, I was at a nice hotel waiting in the lobby for a pick-up from a tour operator. As the minutes began to stretch to the unmistakably uncomfortable territory of “this is taking too long there must be a mix-up,” I began chatting with the bellman. It was a wide-ranging conversation about everything from family, television and etiquette to the weather and politics. The bellman facilitated several calls to the tour operator to figure out what had happened, offered coffee and was incredibly affable throughout. Even as the waiting began to fill an hour, we were still chatting.
Eventually, the tour operator confirmed a mistake and offered to take me on another tour that day at a different time. As we parted, the bellman mentioned that if I had appreciated his service, I might go to a well-known travel review website and mention his name. “They give me a little something for that,” confessed the bellman.
Another time, I was at a hotel that had the disconcerting habit of serving tepid, weak coffee. Disappointed, I went to the in-house restaurant early and asked one of the wait staff if she could remedy the oversight with strong, hot coffee. Again, in the interim we chatted about everything from experiences growing up, to Miami to moving from one part of the country to another. At the conclusion of breakfast, it was again suggested that, if I had enjoyed the service, I might leave a comment on that same website.
What puzzled me at the time and still today, was the absolute gulf between my impression of the conversations and the motivation of the staff. I had enjoyed what I thought was authentic, interesting conversation, of the sort that binds communities. My interlocutors on the other hand, had seen an opportunity to turn friendliness into profit.
Perhaps I had mistaken service for friendliness. Indeed, the staff members were not my fellow guests striking up a conversation based on mutual interest, they were on the job and I was not. The point however, is about the very nature of service. Is it to help, to be hospitable? Or, is every act of service motivated by monetary concern? Is money the final measure of appreciation? We’ve become accustomed to seeing everything, even regular conversation as transactional, but, is money the only way to show you care?
This original editors letter article first appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of City Style and Living Magazine