It was a particularly busy Saturday night at the Bubble Room Restaurant, located on southwest Florida barrier island, Captiva. The usual one-hour line of guests crammed the bar, and every table filled with diners. I was serving a five-table downstairs section and another server, Scott, was in the section next to mine. What I learned that night was a great reminder of the difference between a good server and a great one.

We were about to make the first turn as I rushed to serve my customers, giving them 100% of my focus. Out of nowhere, owner Jamie pulled me aside and into the dreaded hallway of horrors for an impromptu coaching session. Jamie was my height, 6 feet, but had me by at least 150 pounds and was a fiercely passionate and intimidating man. His imposing stature and heightened passion immediately had my undivided attention!

It seems that a couple in Scott’s section — one that I had walked by many times in the loud and busy dining room — had not received a single thing in the hour they sat at the table. As I tried to sputter that it was not my section, Jamie cut me off and informed me with stunning clarity that the guests in OUR restaurant deserve the BEST service, the BEST food, and the BEST experience possible. If I was not capable of looking beyond my section, perhaps I wasn’t right for the job!

I had no time to think about the injustice visited upon my ego; I merely went back to work watching every table for even the slightest evidence that they were not getting the BEST of everything. And during my remaining time there, we did not have another issue where we lost a guest in the shuffle.

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Expanding Our Focus

It’s easy to become locked into our world, however narrowly or widely we choose to define it. Focus is a necessary component of getting things done. However, by widening it, we increase our ability to influence others and become better contributors and leaders. Taking the time to break our focused trance and scan the surrounding area for opportunities to contribute our knowledge to our team and our customers, will significantly increase our influence and value to the team.

Target fixation is an occupational hazard in most jobs. There is a reason the lone car on the desert highway hits the only utility pole for miles — the driver focused on the pole as he drove into it. We get what we focus on and broadening our focus increases our effectiveness. Broadening provides us with valuable context for the work we are doing. It allows us to step into the other person’s shoes and adjust our offering or approach. It helps us take a more balanced view of a situation and create a better plan that keeps us away from the utility pole. It helps us understand why we should use a specific process, strategy, or tactic.

I heard a great quote recently, “Knowing how to do something makes me a great employee. Knowing why I do something makes me a leader.”

Takeaway: Providing outstanding service requires us to learn the skill of frequently adjusting our focus from narrow to wide and back again. This skill is especially helpful when we adopt the perspective of our customers and clients while serving them. Viewing a situation from multiple perspectives significantly increases the quality and value of our solutions.

Hat tip: Jamie Farquharson and Katie Gardenia, the founders of the Bubble Room Restaurant, had the highest give-a-damn index of any two people I’ve ever met. Their standards for service excellence set the bar for several generations of restaurant employees, and their creation, now 39 years old, continues to thrive under new ownership on Captiva Island, Florida.