Friday, December 08, 2006

Buffet Employee of the Year

I had never thought of a buffet employee of the year until the other night when we were dining at the Ryan's in Fredericksburg, Virginia. (Yes, we were on the road again.) We got into the restaurant late on Monday night - late, because this particular Ryan's changed it's hours. They close now at 8:30 on weeknights (since the end of November according to the sign on the door). We arrived at 7:30pm as we were driving north.

We got to the cashier and there was no one there. It took a short while to be noticed and then a young lady came over to the cash register. We were seated and I looked around the restaurant to see that there were not many there - which is probably why they have shortened their hours. A trip to the soup area was an indication that I should not put much hope in the evening's dining experience. They have really good chicken noodle soup with thick noodles. The soup was just about at the bottom of the server - and in the last hour was not likely to be refilled. There was enough soup for my wife and I to each have a quarter bowl. Looking around, most serving trays seemed full enough, so perhaps there was no need for concern.

I finished my soup and headed to the grill for what I still consider to be the best chain buffet steak. I asked the young gentleman at the grill for a steak medium rare. He looked at me and and said that all he had was well done, but he had a steak on the grill that would be ready in ten minutes. Great. I told him that I would be back. I filled my plate with some of the other good entrees on the buffet and returned to our table.

More customers were coming in - and by now it was near 8:00pm. The restaurant was far from full but now had a decent number of diners for a Monday night. I noticed three waiting by the grill. I finished my plate and headed back to the grill - the ten minutes were just about up. As I approached the grill, the same young man had just served a man in front of me a piece of steak. I got up to the grill and asked for a steak medium rare. He looked at me and then with recognition told me that he had just given that steak away. He apologized, but made no offer to make another one. I said, ok - what did he have? He told me that all he had was very well done. I took it.

I returned to my table a bit peeved. I was not going to make an issue because I realized that we arrived an hour before closing and we were probably lucky to be eating there at all. I told my wife what had happened. I poured steak sauce on the plate in an attempt to soften the meat and started eating the very well done steak. I thought about the comments that have been posted on this site about not going to buffets late when they are about to close.

Now, what happened next was remarkable for a buffet restaurant employee. The young man from the grill walked over to our table carrying a plate. He stopped and asked me if I still wanted a steak medium rare. He held out the plate with the steak on it. Wow! He told me that he felt badly that I had not gotten the steak that I had asked for earlier and he made this one just for me. I smiled and told him that I absolutely wanted it. He handed me the plate went back to the grill with both of us smiling. This unidentified young man is my buffet employee of the year. Any place else, anyone else would have just cleaned off the grill for the night and give no thought to a disappointed customer. Not only did this young man go out of his way to make me a happy patron of the restaurant, but a short while later he walked back to the table and asked if it was ok. I said yes, and he gave a big thumbs up. He returned to the grill area and started to clean and close down the grill for the night.

Perhaps you have encountered a buffet employee who has gone way beyond what was necessary to make a customer happy. If you have let us know!

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