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A Lesson from Bourdain

Last month, more than sixty thousand people descended upon Chicago for the National Restaurant Association Show. One of this year’s headliners was the bad boy of food and America’s favorite salty gastronomer Anthony Bourdain.

During his talk, Bourdain waxed philosophical about first-hand experiences of people preparing and serving food with passion. Not the kind of passion that sells cookbooks. Rather real people, often from humble places and with meager means, cooking and serving delicious food rooted in personal tradition and deep culture. “It means something when someone looks you in the eye and feeds you. It means something when they don’t,” he reflected.

HT focuses on a slice of hospitality that seeks out automation, accuracy and efficiency, decidedly not the most human characteristics. Technology isn’t necessarily meant to replace personal exchange, rather to strengthen it. But sometimes technology will fall short and the human element is all that remains.
My parents recently dined at a well-known family casual chain. They are members of the e-club but on this particular visit, didn’t have an opportunity to print their email coupon in advance. The email doesn’t state a hard copy is required, but the server was unable to honor it without one. He also couldn’t provide access to a printer, nor could he credit back the discount if they returned with a printout later that day.

In today’s mobilized world, hard copy coupons are quickly becoming passÉ and e-clubs ought to be able to honor e-coupons. But technology wasn’t the biggest disappointment that day. The server consulted with the on-duty manger several times to inquire about each possible resolution, and not once did the manager emerge from the back office and approach their loyalty club guests to address the issue.

The story has a happy ending: after contacting the company via their online feedback form, my parents promptly received a call from the restaurant manager. The coupon should have been honored, he explained, and the manger should have personally resolved their concern.

Bourdain’s comment rings in my ears, because sometimes technology fails and it’s up to people to make up the difference; to look a guest in the eye, and feed them.

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