Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Basking in Attentiveness

Visiting restaurants is usually a mixed bag experience for me. With allergies to wheat and corn and a limited budget, finding menu items I can eat and enjoy is a challenge. Money aside, I would rather spend top dollar for a gourmet meal than get by with a cheap one and suffer the consequences. However, it is more than fine and creatively prepared "safe" food that makes a dining experience memorable for me.

Three experiences, two recently and one within the last year, drove home to me the importance of developing the art of attentiveness, that ability to listen to another's needs and respond accordingly. The first was at St. Jacques in Raleigh where my husband and I enjoyed a wonderful meal to mark our anniversary. We enjoyed stellar preparations that reminded us of our time in Paris but what made it special was the waiter noticing I was left handed and changing my place setting (flatware, glasses, and all) to accommodate my south paw. As a leftie in a right-handed world, I was stunned. Since when do restaurants or their staff really take the time to look at who they are serving and their needs?

But attentiveness wasn't simply a by-product of visting a high-end establishment, as I discovered when I visited Chilis in Apex. The waiter had listened to my questions about the menu and my husband mentioned I had an allergy to corn. When my entree arrived without the requested side dish of rice and beans, I looked at the french fries before me and then at the waiter. He quickly explained he remembered my allergy, the dish was garnished with corn, and so he got me a substitute. Now I might have expected the previously mentioned professional to remember, but a harried college-aged kid in a franchise? Again, I was stunned.

My most recent experience at Piazza Italia in Durham was icing on the cake...or the gelato in this case. After downing the first italian entree I have been able to eat since discovering my limitations, I asked my waiter about the presence of corn sugars in the gelato flavors since they hide everywhere in bases, syrups, and other ingredients. I was then treated to a visit by the chef (the CHEF) who told me he looked into as many of their thirty flavors as he could to find which ones did not have any corn-based ingredients. Ah, pistachio was at the top of the list! But again, I was heard and time was taken to see to my needs.

Thinking about these three experiences has left me pretty humbled. In a world where we tend to rush on through and ignore the concerns of others, I have been reminded what a precious gift is attentiveness. We may not run establishments that depend on good service to make a go of it but we do run lives that are richer for being attuned to those around us. I am thankful to those three individuals for their lesson in listening and caring. Now to follow through on my end....