A new restaurant opened about a year ago in the town where I work. It has atmosphere, presentation, and a lovely, creative little menu. The food itself almost gets there; something is just a little off. If you ask me to tell you what falls short in a general sense, I can’t give you a definitive answer. It’s just not quite there. It’s not bad, though, and it’s the only real game in town (McDonald’s doesn’t count). Besides, it has outdoor seating, a big favorite of mine. I really want it to succeed.

Every time I’ve eaten there, the staff has offered lavish attention to the satisfaction of its patrons. In addition to the server, at some point the manager will come to my table and ask me about my dining experience. And, if he’s around, so will the owner. Until recently, I simply smiled and said everything was fine, or I’d hone in on one spectacular example of execution (The presentation of the scallops is just gorgeous!). The unsettling niggle in the back of my amateur foodie psyche languished unattended.

Then the restaurant opened for lunch. Excited to have a dining option that didn’t offer a drive-thru window, I happily trundled to their patio to enjoy soup and salad by the river. Here we go again. While the soup was spectacular, the salad was just okay–and it didn’t contain some of the ingredients listed in the menu description. I felt slighted and told the server, politely. She didn’t offer to have it corrected but said she’d mention it to the chef. Later, she gave me a discount, but I still walked out disappointed.

A couple of weeks later, I went back with a friend. Again, a couple of missteps tripped up the whole dining experience. Again, I politely expressed my area of concern. I also left a particularly nice tip to express that my comments were well intended.

I don’t want to be that customer, the one who makes the staff shudder when I walk in the door. I do, however, earnestly want this restaurant to succeed. The owner is a nice guy, the town really needs it, and I love good food and great atmosphere. Somewhere along my journey to maturity, I’ve realized that it helps no one to pretend that everything is fine. Not only am I left unsatisfied, but if the person on the other end of the question doesn’t even know anything is wrong, there’s no way he can correct it for others. Eventually, the chorus of “Everything is fine” will fade into silence as customers simply disappear.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a restaurant meal, your job, your landscaping service, or your personal life. We can’t fix what we don’t know is broken. Speak up when it’s not fine. Do it politely; be honest, but kind. Be specific. Offer a token of good faith–a compliment on something else done right, a generous tip, a friendly smile. Give the person a chance to correct the problem, even if that means coming back another time.

One more thing–be just as vigilant about speaking up when everything IS fine, too. That’s just as important.

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