Is Gourmet Food Wasted on a Child?

Over a decade ago, I was having breakfast in a private club outside of Atlanta. It was a weekly ritual that I would enjoy a meal with some friends who, like me, were a good deal younger than the average club member. We did this on Fridays since weekday breakfasts were included in our membership dues. The regular menu prices could be prohibitively expensive to those of us in the earlier phases of our careers. One week, a friend told me about a time when he made an exception and took his wife and small children to Sunday Brunch at the club.

To be crystal clear on this topic, I don’t remember having ever seen a “kids menu” make an appearance in the dining rooms. In fact, I don’t recall having ever seen anyone there who wasn’t well into adulthood (In fairness, I never went to brunch). The kitchen team was headed up by a truly gifted chef and everything I ever ate there was wonderful. I’m not sure if I would have been able to really appreciate this kind of excellence at a time in my life when my preferred “fine dining” experience came from McDonald’s and included a free plastic toy.

Which brings me back to my friend’s story. As he told it, his young daughter (maybe 6 or 7 years old) ordered some eggs with her brunch. I guess she found them to be a bit plain since she asked her dad if she could get some salsa for them. Now my friend, to this day, is still one of the nicest and most likable people I have ever known. He was not the sort to be overly demanding, or accidentally offend a chef who took such pride in every meal to emerge from his kitchen doors. He was also a good dad though and wanted to see his child happy. He called over a server and politely asked if it wouldn’t be too much trouble to bring his daughter some salsa. Without hesitation, the server said “no problem” and zipped back to the kitchen.

Now there were a few ways this could have gone. A certain type of chef might refuse the request, believing that the condiment would ruin the eggs. This means simply saying “I’m sorry, but we don’t have salsa in the kitchen.” Another option would be to take some salsa (assuming it was into the kitchen) out to the table in a small serving dish. I’m sure the child would have been content with a couple of spoonfuls of Old El Paso. On this morning, they went in a completely different direction.

The executive chef himself appeared tableside, complete with his complete traditional white uniform. A small prep cart followed him out and he produced the tomatoes, vegetables, and fresh spices to prepare a world-class salsa tableside. That is precisely what he did. Chef Russ produced his knife and took what could have been viewed as an annoyance and turned it into an opportunity to put on a performance. A lesser professional may have reacted differently, but this man shined, and in doing so created a remarkable experience for everyone in the dining room that morning.

As my friend told it, he was a bit embarrassed by all of the attention paid to his table, and I never did hear if the salsa was any good. None of that really matters though. The question posed in this article is whether such food was wasted on a child. I honestly don’t know the answer, but I do have a more important observation. The experience was not wasted. The effort was not wasted.

As you reflect on this story, please consider two details. One can be found in the first four words of this article. This story took place “over a decade ago”. The second detail is that I wasn’t there to see it! The chef’s commitment to excellence was such that I am telling you a second-hand story about him more than ten years after the fact! Now that’s what it means to be on top of one’s game and create a truly remarkable customer experience.

This is a concept that each of us can apply to our lives in several ways. We can each strive to make the effort to perform to our highest standard and create remarkable experiences for our stakeholders. In my office recently, this meant sifting through a client’s investments to seek out and remove potential specific human rights violators. In another case, it meant honoring different specific wishes having to do with a client’s sense of ethics or social responsibility.

Beyond how we each perform our duties, there are two other ways that we can reward excellence. We can seek out professionals that not only respect our specific needs but treat them as an opportunity to demonstrate their superior skills. Lastly, we can do what I did in the paragraphs above. We can make sure that we continue to tell the stories.

“I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.” ― Abraham Lincoln