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In hospitality we strive for perfection: to provide for the guest things that they didn’t even know they wanted. But, like I tell my staff, there are days when we will make mistakes, when we will disappoint or fail to meet a guest’s expectation. We won’t mean to and we will feel bad, but when it happens, because it will, we have to always remember the most important thing is how we recover because it is in the recovery that we create the opportunity for grace and forgiveness and friendship … if genuine, the recovery becomes much more important than the mistake itself.

A few years ago, one of our pastry cooks had a family emergency and could not work. Because most of our staff live more than a 1/2 hour away it’s not always easy to call someone in to work, so I offered to work the line spot. I figured I could handle the pastry line even though it was a busy Friday night. I had a lot of fun that night working on the line with the chef and his team; however, towards the end as we were winding down, a food critic (and frequent guest of the property) came to the pass to give our, then Executive Chef, some “feedback”. While I could hear the conversation, I was not visible to the gentleman; however, the last part of his conversation rang loudly in my ears, “… and I don’t know who you have on pastry tonight, but it was awful; there were literally no strawberries on my dessert!” He walked away and I will never remember the look the chef gave me or the feeling in the pit of my stomach that, while I knew that didn’t send out a strawberry-shortcake without strawberries, it didn’t matter: I had failed to please this guest. I was horrified … and, for once, speechless! So, now what do we do?

We recover.

Our chef saw that our guest had decided to sit at the bar for a nightcap. So, together, we gathered all the ingredients to make s’ mores: perfectly roasted marshmallows, deep, gooey, dark chocolate, warm graham crackers, beautifully plated and ready to eat. We delivered the s’ mores and a huge bowl of perfectly ripe, delectable strawberries to our guest at the bar. Our chef knew this guest and introduced me as the new general manager and explained that I had offered to work the pastry line and that I had made his strawberry shortcake … and in that moment, our guest’s face softened; he smiled and found his grace. He hugged me and he laughed and that was it – the sweet victory of a recovery!

That was almost three years ago and in the last three years, this guest has returned numerous times and always with a smile on his face, playful, and always happy to see me; we hug and laugh at the story re-told many times and if he is here during strawberry season, he always receives a little gift from me at dessert: a bowl of perfectly ripe, delectable strawberries … our inside joke!

About Dena Grunt

"We need women who are so strong they can be gentle, so educated they can be humble, so fierce they can be compassionate, so passionate they can be rational, and so disciplined they can be free." - Kavita Ramdas Dena is the author or Table with a View: the History and Recipes of Nick's Cove" and founder of Destination HR Consulting. She lives in Petaluma.

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