I ambled in at 9:59 p.m. -- one minute before closing. The manager stood sentinel at the door, surveying the mini-mall parking lot for drifters like me. I had just driven 10 miles through flashing lightning and flash-flood rain to get a juicy burger. A guy’s gotta eat.
“I can find somewhere else if it’s inconvenient,” I proffered, even though everything else was closed. The formidable-sized man was agitated at first glance, but then his mien softened into a look of understanding.
“Man, I know what it’s like to be hungry and turned down,'' Marcus the manager replied with feeling. "And I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be turned down if I were you.”
Two minutes earlier I was wilted over from hunger, but after Marcus fit himself in my shoes, I was downright sanguine. I wanted to plant a fat Bugs-Bunny kiss right on his whiskered face.
Marcus welcomed me into Five Guys restaurant. The cashier, who I fully expected to be deflated, followed his manager’s lead and was beaming a smile at me. Bless his heart. They cooked my meal for 10 minutes while I eavesdropped on their kitchen banter:
“I don’t know about you guys,” Marcus said, “But I like getting paid. And we only get paid when we’re working.”
I liked that positivity. And I enjoyed reading about the company’s history in bits of magazine articles and newspaper clippings plastered on the wall as I waited -- made me feel like I was part of something special.
Marcus the manager wrapped up my burger, stuffed it in a brown paper bag and thanked me graciously as I departed, as if nothing could have made him happier than to delay getting home to his wife and comfy couch just to serve a wretch like me. I thought I was just going out to grab a burger. But Five Guys gave me empathy.
Even when I'm hungry I'm really craving empathy.
Having been in the restaurant industry and knowing the apoplexy triggered by a closing-time straggler, I was jaw-dropped by the alacrity of this Five Guys staff. I hadn’t even heard of the place until today and now I’m a lifelong customer. Not only was the burger exactly what I had been daydreaming of -- juicy, melty, umami -- it was delivered with humanity and empathy. That filled my spirit alongside my stomach.
And now I’m realizing...
I don’t care what I get from whichever store I go to or company I buy from. I just want empathy. I want to be understood. I want to be cared for because I’m human. If I can find that empathy in your establishment, in the delivery of your quality product or service, you will have found a lifelong customer in me no matter whether you sell burgers or chairs or ceiling fans or bull penis canes (which do exist, by the way). I don’t really need any more stuff but I’m always hungry for an experience.
When your experience is laced with empathy and care -- these core needs of humanity which I just happened to find at a random Five Guys -- I am one happy customer. I don’t care if your competitor's product costs half as much -- if your experience warms my heart and lifts my spirits, I’m coming back, and I’m telling my friends.
Speaking of which, I’m heading to Five Guys tomorrow to eat my favorite new burger -- and to give Marcus the manager and Nathan the cashier a big-ass tip.