What do you do here?

Our small group had just finished watching a folk-dance performance, and stopped at a nearby fast-food restaurant. We took our place in the line. There were only three small groups ahead of us, and we didn’t even fill the switch-back rails to halfway. It didn’t look like it would take very long to reach the counter.

As I was visiting with other people in our group, and didn’t notice (until my wife pointed out) that we had been talking for about 10 minutes and had hardly moved. They then decided to go and sit down, leaving me alone to place the order.

After another five minutes, I reached the counter. I began ordering. First, a chicken sandwich, then a baked potato, and then – when at once the woman taking my order walked away. I was left standing there, mouth open, ready to give the next piece of the order. I turned around and faced the people behind me (who had also noticed that the clerk was gone), shrugged my shoulders, and jokingly apologized that I had no idea what I said to offend her.

She returned about two minutes later, and politely said that they had no more potatoes tonight. I continued ordering, and after a few more items were entered, someone from the back called to her. She again left me standing there, waiting to tell her my last few remaining items from my order. After she finished answering someone’s question, she returned, and concluded taking my order.

I payed, and stepped down the counter to receive my food. She filled my drinks and the one ice-cream cup, and then moved on to take the next customer’s order. My attention turned to a nearby employee, and as I watched him, I learned that his apparent job duties were to wrap up the burgers and retrieve the fries and chicken nuggets.

He finished up his duties, loading up my tray with the food, and was about to walk away. I stopped him, as I noted that I had not yet received a chili. He glanced at my receipt and my tray, and agreed. He called over to the cashier, interrupting her current customer, to inform her that I needed chili. He then stepped just slightly out of the way, so that he would not be directly in front of me, and proceeded to stand there, waiting around for another burger to come down the line. What makes this scene most amusing is that the pot of chili, the ladle, and the bowls were directly behind this employee. He only needed to turn 180 degrees, pick up the bowl, and take care of the situation.

I didn’t do this, but I wish now that I would have thought to engage this young man in some “small talk.” I would have asked the employee, “What is it that you do here?” He probably would have answered something like this: “I wrap up the burgers as they come down the line.” If I had pressed for more fascinating detail, he probably would have answered that he fills the fried food orders. Maybe he had other duties like sweeping floors or wiping tables periodically.

Any of those answers however would not have been the correct one. Those answers would all be describing his job duties. The correct answer to my question should have been, “I serve the customer!”

This employee was so focused on his individual duties that he completely ignored the paying customer standing in front of him! He did not look for opportunities to help his fellow employee at the cash register and do a little extra work. As a result, the cashier was overworked and not able to keep up with the order taking. Eventually she broke away from her current customer and provided me my order of chili, but only after I had to wait and watch the burger wrapper stand in place looking around.

It made me wonder. When I report to work, and I coming to do a job, or am I coming to serve the customer? Am I willing to take a little bit of the load off of my coworker’s plate, so that together we can serve the customer more efficiently? Or am I standing in my own little world, concerned only about the few tasks that I have been specifically assigned? Do I use my spare time to learn someone duties, so that I can educate myself and be a benefit to them and the rest of the company?

I learned a lot from that burger-wrapper employee. Whoever you were, I thank you for the lesson!

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