Mell (my wife) and I were attending a conference at a large hotel. The session ended early so we wandered through the lobby looking for a restaurant. At the entrance of one restaurant, the greeter said: “We’re closed now but should be open in 30 minutes.”
“We were hoping to eat an early lunch.” I replied.
“I’m sorry. However, another restaurant in this hotel is serving lunch now. Let me show you where it is.”
Immediately, she left her workstation and walked with us down to the other end of the hotel until we came in sight of a sandwich shop. She pointed to the restaurant, smiled and said, “I hope you enjoy your meal.” She then returned to her station. We were impressed. Why?
a) She had an “I’m so glad to see you” smile.
b) She stepped away from her station to help.
c) Rather than merely point she took the time to walk with us.
d) She seemed to genuinely appreciate our presence.
Of course, the answer is e) or all of the above. Why am I telling this story? Well, we were soon to experience another kind of restaurant and it wasn’t pleasant.
The sandwich shop was quiet and empty. We saw only one employee at the other end of the restaurant. He was bending over with his back to us fiddling with the controls of a big screen TV. He was obviously focused on something else, so I walked over and asked: “Where do we go to order lunch?”
He slowly turned around and gave me one of those, “why are you idiots bothering me?” looks and arrogantly pointed to the counter across the room. “Stand in line over there.” Then he turned back around continuing his attention to the big screen TV. There was no one “over there” so I assume he meant, “stand in line over there until I’m through playing with the TV, Then I might wait on you.”
There were so many snide remarks, I could have said but instead we quietly walked across the room, out the door and back down the corridor toward the first restaurant. Why?
a) We didn’t like the station he chose on TV.
b) Sandwiches just aren’t for me.
c) The wallpaper colors clashed with our clothes.
d) We were willing to wait so we could enjoy eating in the other restaurant.
Of course the answer is d) unless you happen to be a gourmet chef or fashion designer. We felt welcomed and valued in the first restaurant and decided it was worth waiting a few extra minutes.
In the story of two restaurants I discovered lessons about the importance of hospitality whether you are in a restaurant or at a church. But the best part of the story is yet to come.
The hostess at the first restaurant recognized us immediately and greeted us by name like old friends. Then, she seated us with the reminder: if we needed anything to let her know.
The waitress came by carrying a tray full of water glasses. Somehow, she tripped and the whole tray, water and all crashed, soaking everything on the table but somehow missing us. She let out a loud gasp and there was a short, silent pause but then the restaurant staff sprang into action. While the waitress profusely apologized, one employee removed the mess and wiped everything down. Another swooped in with a fresh tablecloth and within seconds we were back in our seat as if nothing happened.
It could have been a disaster, but everyone was so apologetic we all ended up laughing. Later, the manager offered her own apology and gave us a free desert. We were really enjoying all the attention.
For the rest of the week, we ate all of our meals there and told others at the conference about the good food and extraordinary service of this restaurant. Often we waited in line to receive a seat but we never complained because the experience was usually worth the wait.
Occasionally we would pass by the other restaurant and often saw the same employee, sitting in front of the TV all alone.
The parable of the two restaurants illustrates the difference it makes when you are warmly welcomed and feel appreciated. The secret is to understand what someone needs and then try to exceed expectations. One restaurant succeeded because they specialized in “hospitality.”
Our churches have the same opportunity by offering a warm welcome and a genuine interest in those who enter, those who live nearby and anyone else we come in contact with in our community. In other words, we work to understand people’s needs and through our best efforts combined with God’s grace strive to exceed expectations. The last thing Jesus said to his disciples was, “go and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19) We are given a challenge to offer “hospitality” through the power of God.
What would a church be like if they took this attitude seriously? Would people want to go there all the time? Would they tell others about the warm hospitality and generous spirit of the people there? Would they wait in line for a seat but never complain because they found the experience worth the wait?
Or, you could pass by another church where you had been coldly received. Maybe that same employee would be there — sitting in front of the TV all alone with absolutely nothing to do.
Question: If someone encounters you on the street or enters your church will they be offered:
a) “What are you doing here? Why are you bothering me?”
b) “Maybe if I don’t speak, he/she will go away.”
c) “I’m so glad to see you. Tell me how you have been doing?”
Can you imagine the difference hospitality would make in your church, in your home, in your life? Well, all this talk of restaurants and food made me hungry. Does anyone know where to get a good sandwich?