Wednesday, June 28, 2006

When the other side of the counter needs to speak English

The other day, as part of a longer entry, I mentioned Geno's Steaks in Philadelphia and how it wants its customers to order in English. What about the reverse, English-speaking customers who are having trouble ordering from people who speak poor English?

Eric used to work at "the grill" station in our office cafeteria. For breakfast, it offers bacon, eggs, home fries, sausage, breakfast sandwiches, omelets, etc. For lunch, one can get burgers and BLTs, or rotating specials like Reubens and lamb kebobs. Eric was a big guy that looked a bit like Reuben Stoddard, and he was very friendly and fast with your orders. It was sad to see him leave for greener pastures, especially because of his replacements' competency.

They were a couple of Hispanic guys with heavy accents. Perhaps they were new to food service, but a business cannot tolerate such slow work. They also misunderstood our orders too often, which was the real problem. I could have brushed up on my Spanish so they'd understand I wanted bacon and two scrambled eggs, but what about others who don't want to learn Spanish? Well, the firm may have spent $20 million to convert an entire floor into a cafeteria, but it's still run like a business. I don't believe it's subsidized (unnecessary with those prices!), and I presume prices are appropriately increased to recover part of the initial sunk cost. It's therefore subject to free market principles: if these counter guys can't communicate effectively with the vast majority of your customers, something's gotta give.

I haven't seen them in a week now. I guess they're gone, and it was a sad necessity. It wouldn't have been much longer before people stopped going to the grill station altogether. The new grill man is a young black guy who is as fast by himself as the other two, and more importantly, he speaks perfect English.

Throughout April and the first week of May, I was so nerve-wracked about my promotion and prayed so hard for it. Since then, because God has shown me a lot of mercy and forgiveness, I've tried to practice mercy and forgiveness in return. They have never been my strong suit, so it is harder than I can describe. At times I was going to complain to the cafeteria manager about the two slow guys, but I decided not to raise a stink. They weren't being rude like the now-infamous AOL rep. They were only trying, just as I was trying at my job. It would be up to others, whether customers who vote with their pocketbooks or the manager, to decide if their "trying" was sufficient. Apparently not.

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