Last night I went to the local branch of a chain restaurant after a 5-10 shift at my part-time retail job. I‘ve gone there pretty regularly dating back to the years when I was single. It’s one of a very few chain restaurants I frequent.
The chain often advertises itself as a “neighborhood” bar. My neighborhood has some great bars. For that they don’t need a corporate entity serving mass-produced margaritas. But there is one sense in which this place feels like my neighborhood bar: customer service.
A few Fridays ago, I took my usual stool on a particularly busy night. The countertop in front of me was a little sticky, and it had a few crumbs from something breaded and fried. The bartender was busy, so I went looking for a damp bar rag. She saw me, grabbed a rag, and cleaned my spot.
I said, “You didn’t need to do that. All I needed was a rag and I’d have cleaned this whole side of the bar.”
We laughed about whose job it was to wipe the counter.
Last night I went back there. It was crowded. I found my seat at the bar. The same bartender as last time, without saying a word, placed a damp rag in front of me. As far as I can tell, that was true customer service. Why? Because that bartender knows her customers. As important as it is to know that Lamar likes Bud Light and Doreen likes Blue Moon, she knows that Phil enjoys wiping down the bar. I may have a healthy disrespect for chain restaurants, but I’ll always go back to that one. They know me.
Hospitality is similar. Hospitality means making a guest feel at home, feel like they are known. The best example I’ve ever seen was by my dear torun (granddaughter, at least in spirit, in Turkish), Gülşah in Istanbul.
The first time I visited Istanbul I stayed with Gülşah. At the time, she was sharing a large flat with two other women. They had a spare bedroom that accommodated me just fine.
I arrived in Istanbul on a Friday, and we partied the weekend away in Taksim and Kadıköy. When Monday came, Gülşah had to work. She arranged for someone to look after me every day that week: a housemate one day, an ex-boyfriend the next. I was never alone. Gülşah was the consummate host.
I returned to Istanbul two years later. Once again I stayed with Gülşah. She’d moved. This time she was sharing a flat with one other person, who was away, but I could not stay in his room. I got the living room sofa instead.
Arriving on Friday, Gülşah and I, along with other friends, spent the weekend dining and dancing the nights away in Taksim. But Monday was coming.
On Sunday night, before she headed to her room, Gülşah came to the living room, a keychain in her hand. Passing to me a key to the flat, she said, “I have to be at work early tomorrow. Here’s the key. Make yourself at home. I’ll be back around 6:00.”
Can you see the difference? Two years earlier I was a guest, receiving formal, very Turkish, hospitality. This time I was family. I was home.
What’s this have to do with ministry? Of course you know by now. We, the church, the synagogue, the mosque, the gurdwara, have to go beyond the sign on the door saying “welcome.” We need to demonstrate the kind of customer service performed by the great bartenders of the world: customer service that knows its clientele and more; it knows who they really are, and what they need and desire. We, whatever our form of ministry, need to exhibit a kind of hospitality that goes beyond “welcoming and affirming” all the way to “make yourself at home; see you at 6:00.”
I suck at hospitality, but I know it when I see it. I’m pretty decent at customer service, but I don't always extend it in a ministry context.
What tools do you use to keep mindful of the people among whom you minister? How do you give good “customer service”? How have you seen real hospitality in action?