No Problem!

Guest:  May I have a small cappuccino?

Server: Sure, no problem.

As both a customer and an operator, this simple interaction makes me want to hit the roof and Homer Screamscream.  OF COURSE it is not a problem to prepare a cappuccino for a guest, it is the nature of the relationship.  A customer walks into an establishment, looks at the menu, orders what she wants, pays for it and the staff makes it.   Implied in the transaction is that none of this is a problem because it is what is supposed to happen.  It is the café’s raison d’etre.

Service staff who resort to this seemingly innocuous and almost automatic phrase are actually copping out.  “No problem” (NP for short) and all of its siblings are used out of either passive-aggressiveness or lack of training of an alternative.  I want to believe it is mostly because of the latter but one can never assume.  If it is because no one has taken the time to suggest a good replacement, such as, “Yes”, “Sure”, “My Pleasure”, “Right away” etc… then there is hope.

If, however, staff uses this banal and off-putting phrase because they are being passive-aggressive it belies an inherent attitude toward the customer that does not originate from a rich history of hospitality and service.  I rarely repeat visits to establishments where use of NP is more common than not.  Why do I call use of this phrase passive-aggressive?  The implication when this phrase is used is that serving the customer was a problem in the first place, but because this server said “No Problem” the server is in control and asserting some power over the customer.  Maybe that is a bit overly analytical, at its least worst understanding is the implication that the customer is somehow interrupting or bothering the server.

What has disappeared in the modern day casual nature of hospitality is the invisible but necessary barrier between hospitality provider and customer. A concept that has gotten lost is that while the customer may not always be right, WHO REALLY CARES? Operators who take the time and invest in their staff to interact with their guests in particular ways succeed.  Managers can’t abide lazy interactions and risk losing customers for a silly reason.  They demonstrate a commitment to the chain of events that yields great results:  Care for the continual enrichment of your employees and they will win customers daily.

Useful readings on the subject:

It’s not about the coffee – Howard Behar
Setting the Table – Danny Meyer


Update to this post:

I am currently in Mexico for a wedding staying at the Rosewood Mayakoba, a fantastic resort near Playa del Carmen.  Every service member here says hello, good morning, good afternoon, good evening, etc… But most importantly, their response to a request for anything and everything is “My Pleasure”.  This is the best response you could ask for.  The French often say “Je vous en prie” which roughly translates to “I beg of you”.  These more civilized and thoughtful responses make a difference in hospitality and also make the world a nicer place.


Why are you trying to accomplish that?

At most internal meetings, a few external ones and a lot of advisory meetings, I regularly start by asking “Why are you trying to accomplish that?”  Most entrepreneurs, managers or employees want to get into the how things should get done before asking themselves why it should get done in the first place.  For most of the last 30 years, asking why has been dedicated to ascertaining the root cause of a problem or determining in  80 / 20  fashion whether to do something or not.  There have been management processes established and corporate retreats held to learn how to ask why.

Recently and as I can start to see coming on the horizon, asking why matters intrinsically.  I ask founders who have already baked their business plans, maybe even raised money and in some cases have already launched their ventures or products why they chose to do what they are doing.  Most repeat to me their “vision” or their mission statement or some high-minded goal of saving the planet.  I then ask it again and they look at me like I have three heads .  I persist and ask them if they understand the psychology of why they are embarking on this journey.  A journey that will occupy their mornings, their nights, their dreams, their lives, their capital, all their resources and the resources of others.  Frequently, they have not considered that question, the psychological one.

More often than not, they have not spent a lot of time yet going deeper, going into their own motivations to understand why they are undertaking what lies ahead.  Once they start to think on it, the results are quite profound.  Sometimes they come up empty and lose their place in time and the world and start to question their existence.  Sometimes they double down on their efforts.  And sometimes, they shift their focus to what they now know is most important.  Getting to know why you do something, why you desire something, or why you want to make a difference is the most intrinsically valuable ctivity you can do for yourself and only then can you benefit the people you lead.  After all, if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there (HT: Lewis Carroll)