Commentary: Good service and a genuine smile go a long way


It’s always amazing to me how rude some people can be to waiters in restaurants and clerks in stores. You would think the world operates solely for their wants.

I have a perfect example. It was the fall of 1986 and I was sitting in a restaurant in Washington, D.C. The man at the table next to me called over the waiter and demanded, “Smell this lemon. It’s stale. Bring me some fresh lemon.”

The waiter dutifully did as he was told, but the customer wasn’t satisfied. “This is stale, too,” he said. “I want fresh lemon. Do you understand?”

The waiter trudged back to the kitchen and fetched more slices of lemon. This time, the customer asked to see the manager. Still, the lemon did not meet his expectations, whatever they were.

I’m not sure the customer was ever satisfied; his kind seldom are. All I know is that he sulked throughout the meal. I don’t know what he was eating, but my lunch was delicious. And the lemon smelled fine to me.

I’ve always admired people who serve members of the public — and serve them well. They have to put up with all kinds of abuse, and it’s not easy to quietly take it, as this young Washington waiter did.

Fortunately, some clerks and waiters have a knack for making people feel special. Even the grouches don’t fluster them. They go on and smile.

It was the fall of 1987, and I was on my way to my parents’ home in Gainesville, Ga. Realizing my mother wouldn’t have lunch ready, I stopped for a quick meal at a little restaurant close to my parents’ home. There was one other customer in the place when I walked in. Soon, though, he was gone and I was all by myself. I got the waitress’s undivided attention.

I don’t remember what I ordered, but I do remember the service couldn’t have been better. Every time I took a sip of tea, the friendly waitress was there, filling up my glass again and asking me if I needed anything else. She must have made eight trips to my table. And she always smiled.

Finally, she announced, “Sir, I’m going to the bathroom now, but I’ll be right back, you hear?”

And she was, in just a jiffy. “Need any more tea, sir?” she said.

“No, ma’am, I’m fine, thank you,” I said, my eyes bulging with tea. I left a bigger-than-usual tip, paid the woman at the cash register and left.

“You come back now,” the waitress called out as I walked to the door.

It all happened on Nov. 30, 1987. It was a Monday.

My father died that night.

Nearly 36 years later, I still feel the sadness of that day. But I also remember the pleasant attentiveness of a single waitress in a deserted restaurant on Highway 53 outside of Gainesville.

And I appreciate a little more the value of a genuine smile.

Phil Hudgins is a retired newspaper editor and author from Gainesville. His new book, Grace and Disgrace: Living with Faith and the Leader of the Dixie Mafia, is available at and on