Take My Gift Card–Please: A Trust Moment in the Restaurant Business

Establishing Trust in the Restaurant BusinessI seldom get to deal in up-beat stories. At the heart of my practice in financial litigation and disputes lie the predations of the white-collar malefactors, abusing their roles of public and private trust in ways of questionable legality and dubious ethics and morals.

So I was recently pleased to be on the receiving end of a restaurant employee’s demonstration that trust in “doing the right thing” works to everyone’s advantage. Here’s the story:

My father-in-law seriously loves Joe’s Stone Crab in downtown Chicago. But he is deprived, largely confined out in the far suburbs. So to elicit favor in the family, I volunteered to arrange an order that I would deliver in person.

When I passed by Joe’s for the pick-up, I met in person my order-taking telephone contact – the personable and accommodating Emily. Emily was swamped on a busy Saturday, doubling as coatroom attendant and take-out order manager. But she was the picture of helpfulness; what more can you ask than, “It’s ready – right up from the kitchen.”

I proffered a gift card for $100 – change for the $97 order neither expected nor offered. Then came her sheepish smile:

“I’m sorry, sir, but there’s a problem. Our gift cards say they’re only good Sunday through Friday.”

My countenance has almost no ability to conceal my feelings – not least of the reasons I never think of playing poker. Fortunately, something in the spirit of the holiday season impelled me to disappointment, rather than frustration or irritable hostility.

“Emily, that surely can’t be the right answer. It’s just a take-out – it’s not as if there’s a group taking up a table.”

(I chose not to press the point, but a pre-paid gift card differs from a freebie or a discount coupon, for which there would be some arguable justification for limits to off-peak use. Here the restaurant had enjoyed the full advance use of the cash value for months.)

“I’ll see what I can do,” and off she went. Meanwhile I contemplated a Plan B – I could simply walk out in a snit.

But then the already-packaged order would simply go to waste, and I would let down my in-laws. Lose-lose-lose.

She was back in less than a minute. “It’s fine – we’ll take the card. No problem.”

Far better than “no problem.” Using her tact and flexibility, Emily bolstered her employer’s revenue, encouraged a sure-to-repeat customer, and delivered to me both a burst of good will with my relatives and a lovely example of the benefits of empowered workers.

Thanks to you, Emily, and to whoever trained and trusted you to do a good job.