Hey, You! Eat Here!

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(Originally published Jan. 28, 2013, in Capital, here.)

A new restaurant opened recently in my residential neighborhood. It’s not a bad-looking restaurant. In fact, it’s rather fancy. It took months to build and I’m sure it cost a lot of money. And though it’s just around the corner and I walk past it every day, I have no desire to enter.

You see, not once in the months that the restaurant has been open has it done anything to say hello, or ask to be part of my neighborhood. It has not invited me, or enticed me, or thanked me, or welcomed me, or offered me, or done anything that might make me want to go in.

Instead, just the opposite. It has parked a car in the middle of the sidewalk directly in front of its windows, forcing me and others to squeeze uncomfortably past or step into the street. I’ve received no notice of welcome or any flyer in my mailbox saying hello. I’ve seen no menu in the window or lists of special offers for those who walk by. I’ve seen no smiles on the workers as they sit there looking bored. No one has waved or done anything to make me think the food might be good or the place might be fun. In fact, sometimes I think it dares me to enter.

The truth is I’ve seen nothing at all that would suggest this restaurant wants me or anyone in the neighborhood to stop in as a customer. So that’s what they’ll get. And then they will close. And when they run out of money, they will wonder what went wrong. Why no one came in. It’s in a good spot and it might have good food. But it takes more than that to convince us they deserve a chance to be welcomed, a chance to be tried.

And that’s the point. Businesses, whether they are TV channels, or bakeries, or banks, or clothing shops, or telephone companies, or restaurants, are asking us to invite them into our living rooms, to be taken home, to be given our money, to be worn on our bodies, to be put in our pockets, to serve us our dinner, or to be welcomed as neighbors.

Yet, too many companies think they can deserve this by just opening their doors. I say, if you want me as a customer, prove it to me. It’s not my responsibility to find out for myself. What’s wrong with balloons or a free cup of tea? An invitation in the window to stop for a small cup of vin fiert during the holidays? A smile and a wave might even be enough.

Yes, people might be cynical and ignore the gesture and continue to walk by. But at least the gesture would be human and if the sentiment was real, then eventually it will be noticed and people will believe. The alternative is to sit there and watch people who are not your customers continue not to come in.

Because if you run a business, you might be surprised how much your customers like to be welcomed and smiled at and thanked. It’s not hard to do. And if you can not do that, then the question remains, why do you have a business that deals with the public when you don’t like them enough to even say hello.

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