Do You Even See Me?

photo - looking through OK sign.jpg

I arrived at LaGuardia with enough time to grab a quick meal before boarding my flight home to Indy. I was starving, to the point where immediate nourishment was needed, or the next few hours would be agony of the first-world kind. A run through the snack area revealed the food would be better if I sat down and ordered at the restaurant. So, grabbing a seat at the bar, I threw my bags on the floor and turned to face a mounted tablet as the means to get a fluffy egg omelet in my belly. What?!?! No server?? I wasn’t truly rushed, however I only had 30 minutes to order, eat and get to my gate. Was this enough time? Experience couldn’t tell me, because I had none with this particular use of technology, so I found myself bound to mercy of the process and it felt uncomfortable.

Like many touch screens, it was simple to figure out and the photos provided an excellent visual of the menu, but it was I was irritated and anxious after ordering. What exactly was it?

There was no friendly greeting, nobody to direct me towards my seat. Not one person had acknowledged my place at the table. I was thirsty and it took a few attempts on the interactive menu to discover where to order a glass of water. Something I’m so accustomed to my server automatically providing at sit-down restaurants. From the bar, I could see employees in the kitchen on the other side of the counter, however they were busy cooking and clearly, their job wasn’t to make eye contact. Did the job posting for this position specifically mention, “Customer service skills and friendly conversation not required”? If so, they had hired well.

Here I sat, 10 minutes into a dining experience and the only communication directed toward me was a flashing message on the lower right of the screen stating, “Your order is being processed”.

I wanted to scream, “Hello, I’m here! Somebody, anybody! Do you even see me?”

Restaurants fall under the umbrella of hospitality and everything I’ve encountered at all levels, from a 99 cent hamburger to a high end steak place, has some sort of human interaction to ensure a top notch customer experience. Even the old Chicago chain Ed Debevic’s where bad service was part of the shtick and they insulted customers, somehow felt warmer and more welcoming than this complete lack of acknowledgement.

I had a plane to catch, the clock was ticking, nobody was even in close proximity to notice if I’d quipped, “Excuse me” or given the wave that ever server recognizes. I didn’t know if I made a mistake not selecting the “to go” option upon check out. How fast could I wolf this down? I was also confused by the automatic 18% tip that was added and the credit card swipe required before my order would even be sent the kitchen. Now, I do enjoy efficiency and it was nice to know I could eat and run without needing to wait for the bill. However, how did I know what tip I’d like to include? At this point none! Who the heck am I even tipping!? I still don’t even have my water!

Well the rest of the story ended quite fine. I received my water from a pleasant server who seemed to be hanging out in another section all the while earlier. The omelet was delicious and I made it to my gate with time to spare. But my spirit remained unsettled.

In a world where we’re consistently incorporating technology into all facets of life, this one area seemed abrupt. It seemed unfair. It came without warning. And the fact that I had a ticking clock to board a plane; it irked me that no human was around to address my needs or speed up the process if my particular situation necessitated it. Thanks to technology, we are more connected than ever, yet loneliness is spreading at rapid rates.

This little interaction made me wonder, where else am I not feeling seen? How could I do a better job of seeing others?

Whether at work or home, there is enormous value in acknowledging others. Its kind, it honors basic humanity and its deeply nourishing to our souls. I challenge you, as we head into this month of Thanksgiving, to intentionally look people in the eye and say “Thank you”, share an extra word of encouragement or let someone know how they brightened your day. After all, it costs nothing and a great reminder how simple things can sometimes mean the most.

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