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Posted: November 27, 2013

Best of CoBiz: Chef Laura on the power of gratitude

Expressing it is like salt to a chef

Laura Cook Newman

It didn’t matter if it was an Easy Bake Oven, a Benetton sweater or a $5 bill slipped into a birthday card from my grandfather – the rule was, you could not play with it, wear it or spend it until the thank you letter was written.

You would think that a 10-year old would protest such a stringent policy, but I didn’t mind.  Some nice words on my Hello Kitty stationary were all that separated me from making chocolate cake with a 100-Watt light bulb.    

I assumed this was a typical household rule that most children endured. I was wrong. 

 “Geesh, your Mom’s strict,” my friends said sympathetically.  At the risk of losing cool points with my peers, I’d say, “I know.  She’s sooo lame!”  But secretly I knew that writing thank you notes was not just polite, it was the right thing to do.

Expressing gratitude is like salt to a chef.  Sometimes you can get away without adding it, but most dishes are better with a sprinkle.

In my twenties, I took a brief hiatus from food service, and sold clothes at Nordstrom - a company known for its exceptional customer service.  To set them apart from other department stores, Nordstrom encouraged its employees to write thank you cards to their customers.  The company made it pretty easy by supplying the engraved stationary, pens, and postage. 

During “down time” in the Special Occasions department, my coworkers would huddle around the registers and chit-chat about boyfriend drama.  I’d half listen, chiming in an occasional “Oh no he didn’t!”, as I penned notes of gratitude.  “It’s so cute that you actually write those things,” they’d faux-compliment me.

One day a customer approached the counter, reached into her purse, and extracted Nordstrom stationary scribbled with my handwriting.  At first I thought she was going to admonish me for my blatant use of dangling prepositions, but instead the MOTB said, “I need a dress for my daughter’s wedding.  Can you help me?” 

Did I mention we worked on commission?  Looks like writing thank you cards wasn’t so “cute” after all.  In the words of Julia Roberts in Pretty WomanBig mistake.  Big. Huge!”

Recently, I hired a roofing company.  I paid the invoice by credit card via phone, and the office manager said she would mail me a receipt.  A couple days later, a small envelope arrived in my mail box.

The shape and sturdiness of the envelope suggested this was not typical “business” correspondence.  It was a greeting card with a painting of a quaint home and picket fence on the cover. Opening the card revealed a sincere note of thanks on the right side.  On the left side was my receipt, as promised, tucked behind the company’s business card, inserted into diagonal slits.  Clearly, this was not their first Thank You Note Rodeo.

I love that card.  I’m keeping that card. If a small roofing company can get it right, we should all be able to.

Firing off a thank you email, thumbing a “thx” text, or leaving a hurried voicemail of “thanks so much” is a start.  But businesses would be wise to embrace the old school charm of a hand-written note of appreciation for their customers.  It’s an elegant loop closing gesture that elevates your reputation. 

Whether it’s thanking “Papa” for the token finsky on your b-day, or a customer for their business, make like Wayne Newton and tell them “Danke Schoen.”  You don’t have to go all Ferris Bueller and serenade your customers on top of a parade float, but a seemingly insignificant thank you note yields significant benefits: loyal customers, repeat business, referrals, and it makes you feel good, too. 

What does all this cost?  About 46 cents.   

Big ROI.

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

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Readers Respond

Message to "By Confused" - “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” Stick that in your pipe and smoke it! By Nicole Aulik on 2013 12 03
SPOT ON! You are so correct. I think we often take gratitude for granted in the business world and this was an excellent reminder....and one that I have shared with my colleagues. Thanks, Chef Laura. You sure do have a way with words wink By Nicole Aulik on 2013 12 03
This is something I used to do far more often than I do now. Thank you for writing on this topic. You've reminded me that I need to UP my game back to my previous standards. The digital age tends to have us doing away with good old fashioned pleasantries. Perhaps it will make small tokens of appreciation seem even more pleasant. Happy Thanksgiving Left Overs Day! By The English Teacher on 2013 11 29
Yes Yes Yes Love this message! Thank You! By Doug Miller on 2013 06 05
Laura, Thank you for the kind words! We here at Rock's Roofing, Inc. feel that a customer is the most important person in any business. Really, where would we be without our customers? It was a pleasure to do business with you, and we were happy to send you the thank-you note! It's customers like you that make doing business a pleasure! Sincerely, Matthew and Sarah Rock's Roofing, Inc. 303-425-1083 By Rock's Roofing, Inc. on 2013 06 03
Some thank you notes sound so phony: Dear Father Time, Thank you for the beautiful set of crows' feet. They are what I've always wanted! Dear Uncle Sam, Gosh, I can't thank you enough for the high taxes. I shall ever be in your debt. Dear Mother Nature, This is a belated thank you for the walloping blizzard you sent this past winter. I had so much fun digging out! THANKS TO ALL AND GOOD NIGHT. By Pamsclams on 2013 05 31
Thank you, Chef Laura, for promoting this important social custom. Seems these days that dinner guests are more inclined to bring expensive wine than to follow up with a hand written thank you. Grateful guests who wanted to get invited back should do both! By Minerva on 2013 05 31
I would be remiss if I did not thank YOU all for your comments - both complimentary ones and thought-provoking ones. I'd like to believe that thank you’s never have a hidden agenda. And since most people aren't psychic, how do you know someone is grateful if they don't express it in some format? And to my readers who emailed me and educated me on stationery vs. stationary: "stationEry" for lettErs and "stationAry" for "stand." You taught this Trainer something, so...thanks! By Chef Laura on 2013 05 31
Thank you for another wonderful article, Chef Laura. As always your article made me laugh, and was a great reminder of the importance of good manners. By golden girl on 2013 05 31
Thanks! What a great reminder! I love reading your articles! By Big Fan on 2013 05 31
Corporate cards aren't genuine gratitude. They are marketing. And being made to SHOW gratitude (like you as a kid) isn't genuine either. Genuine appreciation is shown, not said. And it can't be asked for. Asking for or expecting gratitude is probably the least desirable of normal human traits. By confused on 2013 05 30
What a great call out! I always send follow up emails, but those really special clients (all of them!) get the good stationary. It always makes someone feel special ...and not apart of the email herd! Kudos:) By Leigh on 2013 05 30
Mimi will be proud - Cecile too! By Pater Familias on 2013 05 30
Amen! Just wrote a Customer Thank You note after yesterday's appt. Thank You Laura for the reminder that a 'real' Thank You is still very essential in today's world. By Spring on 2013 05 30
Chef Laura, You amuse and educate. Fine work! Love your articles! By TC North on 2013 05 30
Funny kizmit moment. I've worked with a bond broker in the past, they did fine work, but it can be done by a million other companies. As I was reading your article I was thinking about the bond I need to place and saw a Thanksgiving card they sent me (it had a funny saying so I hung it up on my board). I'm going to call them; they will make a decent commission on the transaction, and all because of a funny card...... By I got a card too on 2013 05 30
Dr. Chef Laura, I wanted to express my gratitude for several months of wonderful articles. They are funny, interesting, well edited, and I look forward to Thursday mornings. Please keep up the good work. Sincerely Mr. Manners PS - I don't think this even cost me $.46! By Mr. Manners on 2013 05 30
You are such a great writer, Laura. Fabulous insight! By Marcia on 2013 05 30
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