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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Serving up good will with holiday meal

This isn’t a restaurant review.

No, it’s more of a celebration of what’s good about people. And, joyfully, it’s about people right here at home.

In fact, I’ll even tell you where to find the people I’m talking about: Cracker Barrel in Willoughby.

I found them around dinner time on Thanksgiving Day, serving up kindness and smiles.

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve logged my share of holiday work hours, both when I worked as a sales clerk at Sears and during my days in newspapers.

Holidays when I worked at Sears involved the “minor” holidays — Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and New Year’s Day. No one really minds working those days. Sure, you might be late for a picnic, but you’ll still see the fireworks. And, if you’re not much of a partier, you probably didn’t see your first customer until noon on Jan. 1. Back then, the store was closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Not too many of us like working those days.

But the news — like other industries — runs 365 days a year.

So I’ve worked my share of the “major” holidays.

Yet when I ventured out last night for Thanksgiving dinner with my husband and mom, I felt pretty guilty about forcing someone to serve me dinner while they were away from their families.

They’d have none of that at Cracker Barrel.

We arrived about 4:45 p.m. and put my name on the list for a table. I didn’t even ask how long it would take, because, really, where else did I have to go?

About an hour later, we took our seats in the dining room and studied the menu. I chuckled when the server for the next table expressed regret over the wait as she walked up to her new customers.

No apologies necessary, because it was obvious you weren’t goofing off as you waited on the hundreds of families who sat down for their holiday celebration under your roof.

When our server Carly arrived, she was friendly and patient as we peppered her with questions about substitutions. Then, when she came back to tell my mom they’d run out of meatloaf, she brushed off my urging to make another decision quickly so she didn’t hold up Carly.

After setting down food in front of my husband and me, a manager kneeled down next to my mom to apologize for the fact that her meal was taking a little longer to get ready.

Carly checked back a few more times before she brought us our pumpkin pie — carefully determining who wanted whipped cream and who didn’t.

When it came time to head out, I was met at the cashier stand by a young man who was among the most polite I’ve ever encountered.

After asking if we enjoyed our meal, he apologized for the fact that he was chewing a few bites of food. I thought, “chew away, young man ... you’ve been working all day, and I probably just interrupted your holiday dinner.”

What I actually told him was “that’s OK. I’m sure it’s been a long day.”

“Yes, it has,” he said. “I miss my family, but I’m glad to be here.”

As I walked toward the door, his words stayed fresh in my mind.

I hope no one complained. I hope everyone said thank you. I hope everyone understood their sacrifice.

I also hope they know that their outstanding service and caring way has guaranteed most of those people will be back next year, waiting probably the same hour I did for the privilege of enjoying their family meal at Cracker Barrel.

Congratulations, you’re part of the family.
Twitter: @Lauranh


Anonymous Cynthia/Second Family Services said...

I went there also to pick up dinners for three people who did not have anyone to spend Thanksgiving with or was elderly without the means to prepare one for themselves. I called in the order hours earlier and was amazed at the monumental task awaiting the workers at Cracker Barrel upon my arrival. While most places would have been overwhelmed and their demeaners compromised, every employee I encounters was polite, friendly and efficient and did their best to make sure everyone was being taken care of. My meals were ready in just mere minutes after my arrival, and I too would like to thank Cracker Barrel in Willoughby for the true character each and every one of their employees displayed to customers on Thanksgiving, while dealing with hundreds of customers and each were sacrificing time with their own families.
Thank you we too will be back,
Second Family Services

November 26, 2011 at 6:45 AM 

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