I was applauded by strangers in a restaurant!

Blog, Leadership, Respect
The unexpected happened in a restaurant yesterday. I was applauded by all the customers. It caught me by complete surprise. You see, I didn’t know anyone in the restaurant except my wife! It wasn’t my birthday. No special event. Just lunch with Marian. We did an overnight in Northbrook so we could eat at one of our favorite restaurants and visit the Chicago Botanical Gardens the next day. Our plan was to eat at the restaurant Friday night and have lunch there again Saturday after a walk at the botanical gardens. Everything went as planned. It was a pleasant trip–that is, until lunch. We were enjoying a nice salad and a glass of chardonnay. An entree of their outstanding chicken cutlets was to follow.

Then it started.

In the back of the restaurant, a table of 10 women were talking and having a good time. I can’t tell you what they were talking about because I was too far away. But every minute or so a roar of laughter would erupt. One woman in particular had a loud shrilling tone that could break glass! Heads were turning among tables throughout the restaurant. People were shaking their heads complaining to each other. We asked for the hostess to come by our table and requested that someone ask the women to tone the volume down. Instead, the hostess offered to move us to the bar area for more quiet. Really? I politely said “no” and stated that I would go to the women and make the request myself. At which point the hostess said she would have the owner of the restaurant do it. The owner came out of the kitchen peaked around and went back in. The executive chef also walked out and shook her head and returned to her work. Meanwhile, the laughter continued with elevated pitch and frequency. It was out of control!

That’s when I stepped into action.

I walked over to the table and interrupted the conversation. With a polite tone I said, “I can see that you are having a lot of fun here together. However, it is extremely loud and disturbing the other guests who are trying to enjoy their lunch. Would you please tone it down a little?” The response from the group was very apologetic and compliant. As I turned and walked away, a group of six elderly couples who were seated near the women, smiled at me and said “thank you”. Then it happened. I started receiving applause from every table in the restaurant! It was unexpected and a little embarrassing. I felt like I was some celebrity or a local high school football coach whose team just won state championship. Here’s the sad thing The owner of the restaurant or the hostess should have received the applause. Not me. A person in charge could have acted before things got out of hand. You can serve outstanding food and provide service to match. However, if you don’t give equal attention to ambience it will ruin the experience. It likely damaged the restaurant’s credibility.

3 Lessons I took from being applauded.

After I sat down, I related some thoughts to Marian about what this experience taught me.
  1. Don’t be that loud table that ruins it for others. I regret times I have been out with my buddies and we were too loud and insensitive to the other guests of the restaurant. Have fun but be mindful that others may be negatively impacted by your volume and intensity.
  2. Don’t be afraid to act when it is in the best interests of others. The owners should have taken charge. I’m a business owner and on occasion had to step into situations in our waiting area when the actions of one were disrupting the comfort of others.
  3. Be respectful when you confront a problem. I took a deep breath, used a respectful tone, started with a positive statement, then addressed the problem, followed by a request. Most often this approach works.
Two major elements in emotional intelligence are self-awareness and social-awareness. The ability to monitor self-expression and tune in to the needs of others. This was lacking at the table of women yesterday. Leadership was also missing. The restaurant management team did not take charge. In the end, I received the applause they would have, had they done their job.