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Posted: December 27, 2013

Chef Laura: Trying customers: A side order of snark

From Santa to Mr. Burns with a single sentence

Laura Cook Newman

“Miss,” the elderly gentleman said, summoning me with a curled index finger.

“Yes?” I replied, approaching the deuce with a spring in my step as a young manager of this new restaurant.

“I need to change my order,” he said dejectedly, while his wife looked on with a scowl. “No bacon, no mayo and a side salad instead of fries.”

“Okay, Sir,” I nodded hurriedly, as I looked around the slammed dining room. I was a bit confused why he wasn’t talking to his server, but alas, as the MOD, I was going to attempt to take care of him.  I knew the kitchen was in the weeds and dreaded giving them this last-minute request.

Then I said two words I’d end up regretting: “I’ll try.”

“ ‘Try’ is a three-letter word for ‘Fail,’” he dryly responded.

Oh snap!  Ironically, I just got served!

In my mind, this guy went from Santa Claus to Mr. Burns in a split second.  I smiled curtly and hustled to the back of the house to change his order – which was already in the window. 

After receiving the anticipated grumblings from the line, I proceeded towards the refrigerator to FIFO the dairy section. The milk and cheese didn’t really need rotating.  Hiding out in the walk-in for three minutes is a foodservice worker’s way of…cooling off.

 I’ve spent a lot of time in walk-ins in the last 26 years.

While rearranging bags of shredded cheddar, I thought about what had transpired between me and Old Man Burns.  “He’s just cranky,” I justified.  “His wife’s nagging him, his cholesterol is through the roof, and he’s hungry.”  Customers are always nicer after the food comes; blame it on low blood sugar, I guess.

But, Gramps was also right, dagnabit. His snarky catch phrase has haunted me ever since. 

I tell my kids to “try” things all the time: try some sushi, try using your chopsticks, try not to smear wasabi on your sister.  They’re on the younger side, so I try to give them the benefit of the doubt as these requests are new territory for them.

But as adults and more importantly, as employees, should we “try,” or should we just be able to do what is asked of us?

When we say, “I’ll try,” we are telling our customer, our boss, or our coworker that there is a chance we will fail.  I’m not saying it’s a 50/50 chance, but we’re leaving ourselves enough wiggle room that failure is a real possibility.  It’s a bizarre self-defeating safety net we weave that makes it easier for us to release our grip on the trapeze bar rather than hold on for dear life!

It may sound like semantics, but I’m…umm…making an effort not to say “I’ll try” any more, at work and in life.

That elderly man got his meal all nice-nice after I successfully 86’ed the bacon, mayo, fries and flavor from his plate.  Perhaps he was my modern-day Yoda?  His Jedi mind trick definitely worked and continues to challenge my work ethic to this day.  “Do or do not.  There is no try.”

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at www.ThreeHotsAndaCot.net

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Readers Respond

So true Laura! Try, is the language of a victim mentality. There is no commitment one way or the other. It's both a word and an attitude high-performers usually choose eliminate, because it weakens them emotionally. By TC North on 2014 01 01
I like where you are going with this. By Doug Miller on 2013 12 30
sometimes a little failure is good - sets boundaries and limits expectations. By Ta Tee on 2013 12 27
Good lesson about committing to excellence. I'm happy they re-ran this one. I've been TRYING it ever since reading the first time. By Ted on 2013 12 27
I agree with The Flying Gueridon By Ta Tee on 2013 07 16
Great article Chef Laura, "Try" is a bad word and thank you for teaching a valuable life lesson. Have a great week, Chef T Dub By Chef T Dub on 2013 07 15
Fanatastic article and loved all the Yoda-isms....and as a former "tryer" By Doree on 2013 07 12
I loved the article, especially as a father of a recent high school graduate that just turned 18....legal adult! I'll try is her answer to anything that presents a challenge. I just challenged her.....if she can refrain from saying those 2 little words for 7 days and just complete the tasks asked of her there will be a monetary reward! By J. Redou on 2013 07 11
What a great story to teach customer service or business in general! When someone uses the word "try to do something' the chances are they won't so customers are not fools and will fight. Save grace by saying "let me check with the kitchen". I want to know if grumpy guy tipped well! Tip wait staff well - they have the hardest job. By Customer Support Services LLC on 2013 07 11
I’m glad there is NOT a consensus here. I enjoy the banter and different perspectives. As a former teacher and current mom, I love the Skinner quote. No sooner that I wrote this article - I made a request to a server while ordering for my daughter to omit the mustard on her burger and he replied “I dunno – I’ll try.” I almost fell off my stool and refrained from going all Montgomery Burns on him! By Chef Laura on 2013 07 11
I agree! This is my BIGGEST pet peeve. Just say yes or no! This is especially true with RSVPs and invitations. "I'll try to make your event". Commit one way or another, don't leave yourself an "out" so you can flake if something better comes along. By R on 2013 07 11
If at first you don't succeed, so much for sky diving. By Optimist on 2013 07 11
"A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying." By B.F. Skinner on 2013 07 11
"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it." By W.C. Fields on 2013 07 11
Chef, in addition to Yoda, there's another wise man Yogi Berra who said a lot of smart backwards things that can apply to work and life. "It ain't over till it's over." "You can observe a lot by just watching" "I tell the kids, somebody's gotta win, somebody's gotta lose. Just don't fight about it. Just TRY to get better." By Abe Froman, Chicago on 2013 07 11
The queen of snark gets served a heaping side of it herself. Who knew? But she learned from it and it is a great lesson. The is no TRY. There is only DO. It is good to be reminded of this every once in a while. Thanks LTC for the reminder. By The Flying Gueridon on 2013 07 11
As a chef I would think you would be more familiar with this Yoda-ism: "Patience! For the Jedi it is time to eat as well." By Yoda-isms on 2013 07 11
I have to disagree with you on this one Chief, even if you are quoting Yoda. Often times we are put in situations that are no win, and "if" can be your saving grace out of it. By wiggle room on 2013 07 11
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