June 23, 2008

Is It Just My Imagination..........?

........or has the eating out experience for black folk taken a qualitative leap forward? Case in point. My wife and I and the kids were out today at a restaurant near our home called Charleston's. We had decided to eat out after church and picked this particular place to eat. We were seated, the waitress took our orders and in due course, our food arrived. My wife had ordered chicken with some fried okra and mashed potatoes. Upon tasting her food, she proclaimed the okra off the hook, declaring it "I would hurt you if you tried to take it from me" good. However, the rest of her food was lukewarm. So she asked the waitress to warm it up for her. No biggie, right? A few minutes later, the waitress returns, accompanied by the manager with my wife's food. He apologizes that the food was not warm enough and tells us they simply made her a fresh plate altogether, asks if everything else is okay and goes back to the kitchen.

We were kinda like, oookaay. We just needed it warmed up, but it got us to commenting on a phenomenon that I think we have increasingly experienced since the large scale lawsuits against Denny's and Cracker Barrel. We notice now when we dine out that if we have a problem or express some level of dissatisfaction with our meal, we are often responded to by the establishment's management with accommodation and apologies and in some cases, adjustments to the bill. Mind you, these are not unwarranted responses or beyond what would be appropriate to the circumstances, but we find ourselves regularly experiencing the kind of common courtesy we used to have to be prepared to demand because you didn't get it on GP. We experience this at restaurants other than Denny's or Cracker Barrel, and have had the experience often enough in the past year or so that it really got us to wondering.

Are we crazy or delusional, or has there actually been an industry wide uptick in courtesy afforded black people dining out? Is anyone else finding themselves continually surprised at being courteously treated when eating out? Could it be that an entire industry caught a clue after continued disrespect of black people resulted in a major hit to the brands and bottom line of two major chains? Could it be that other major restaurant chains looked at the Denny's and Cracker Barrel experience and said, you know what, we better get out ahead of this now. And if that's true, it certainly supports similar strategic approaches for other arenas where routine disrespect is a consistent problem such as the BrightLine Wiki project to fight disrespect in the media.

Now, I must admit, it weirds me out just a tad to think that in wait and management staff manuals and trainings, they are like "complaints regarding service by African American customers should be responded to promptly and with a high degree of courtesy and every reasonable accommodation in order to avoid costly lawsuits and or ill will in the black community that could severely damage our brand and bottom line". But don't get me wrong, I'm okay with it. I really am. Because bottom line, if you are not going to respect me just on GP, I'm fine with you respecting the power and capability of my community to punish disrespect by your establishment. Either way gets my wife's plate warmed up without an attitude, and I'm good with that.