Serves you right!

Sometimes, total strangers can make your day. Three random Chinese dudes did me the honour today.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been volunteering over at Annalakshmi’s, the Indian restaurant at Chinatown. The place works on a simple concept – eat whatever you want, pay how much ever you like. It sounds bone-headed, and would probably fail miserably if executed in India, but here in Singapore it works wonders. Especially on foreigners, who (poor souls) have no clue how much these things are likely to cost in normal restaurants and so end up erring on the side of caution and paying rather generously. I’m sure the place gets its share of miserly hogs too, but I doubt it tips the scale much.

Anyway, the place is run almost entirely by volunteers, and relies almost entirely on word-of-mouth to “recruit” these volunteers. People sign up to help whenever they’re free, and amazingly enough, sufficient numbers of people turn up every day to keep the place going. Volunteering is roughly divided into two branches in terms of place of work – “floor” and behind the scenes. The floor people take the orders, the BTS people make the food and arrange it appropriately and the floor people take it out to the customers and serve them. It all sounds simple enough, but when the place starts filling up, things can get pretty crazy and downright chaotic.

But no matter how crazy the day gets (the large crowds are fondly called “Friday crowds”, no matter what day of the week it is), it’s all worth it. At the end of the day, you go home with 3 things – a free meal (which, ironically, feels well-earned), the satisfaction of having spent your time and energy productively and the happiness of having fed a few hungry stomachs.

I was stationed behind the scenes on my first day of volunteering and that’s where I stayed from then on, but I’d always had the desire to see what it’d be like to be on the floor. The stories the floor people told us during our 3 o’ clock lunches (which we’d have after all the customers had left) would leave me curious and longing to experience it first-hand. I got the opportunity to serve somebody one day, but the guy was so busy chatting with his colleague seated opposite him that he barely acknowledged my presence. I’d not expected anything different, but the incident somehow dampened my fervent wish to be on the floor, at least for a good while.

Somewhere deep down, I must’ve still wanted to give it another shot because as soon as I saw the opportunity present itself again today, I went into overdrive. As we were wrapping up with lunch, 3 young Chinese fellows came into the restaurant and took a seat at one of the tables. I shot an expectant look at our head volunteer/co-ordinator, a look she correctly interpreted as “Can I, can I, can I, pretty please?” She gave me an amused nod and I skipped off with the order pad, extremely happy and nervous.

To be honest, the dudes didn’t do anything extra-ordinary. They were pleasantly chatty, and inquired a bit about the menus (the general onion/garlic queries). I recommended some stuff to them, they agreed. They gave me their orders, I went BTS and got their food ready. I went back to serve them and they received the food well, commenting on how good it looked/smelled, etc. I smiled at them, told them to enjoy their meals and then left them to their food. Normal stuff, right? For some reason, it got me ecstatic. The minute I was out of earshot, I started “Yay!”ing. They’d asked me for advice! I’d recommended stuff! They’d listened to me! They’d smiled at me! They’d been polite! I was jumping around the place for at least an hour after that, I was that overjoyed.

On the way back home, I wondered what had gotten me so ecstatic. Had it just been the polite smiles and the pleasant chit-chat? It must’ve been, because the fellas hadn’t done anything else, really. I’d always known instinctively to be nice, polite and cheerful to waiters/waitresses, but today it hit home how important it really is. People take it for granted that since they’re paying for their food, their words of appreciation aren’t needed. They couldn’t be more wrong. Sometimes, the odd kind word makes all the difference. They probably don’t even realize it, but just by observing the codes of conduct, the Chinese dudes totally made my day.

So the next time you go to a restaurant, or buy food from the stall owner at the local food-court, smile. Be pleasant. Throw in an appreciative word or two. Take the time to look up when your food is brought to you and say a cheerful “thank you” to the waiter/waitress. When you find your food particularly appetizing, send a word of appreciation to the chef slaving away behind the scenes. It won’t cost you anything, but it’ll mean the world to them. We’re all human beings, we thrive on pats on the back and the occasional kind word. It seems redundant to even say this, but it’s surprising how many people take this stuff for granted. The message is simple, really. Treat the people who serve you right, and they’ll serve you right too. That’s all there is to it. Take it from someone who’s been on both sides of the counter.


16 thoughts on “Serves you right!

  1. Janefield July 22, 2007 / 9:59 pm

    very sweet post :)the chennai annalakshmi food is pretty good, but its prices are fancier πŸ˜› the volunteer system is obviously in place though. good job!

  2. Clueless June 29, 2007 / 11:42 am

    #Mages,”Paaaahhhhhhhhhhh” right back atcha! :P#Sowmya,Absolutely! :D#Mithr,Exactly. No matter who it is, and whether or not they’re “doing their job”, a little encouragement, a small word of praise never hurts! πŸ™‚

  3. Mithr June 26, 2007 / 5:53 pm

    Hey, I can relate to your incident so well. This is one of the essential values , my father passed it to me when I was young. He always told me to respect another person’s profession and greet /thank them for their service to you be it a dhobi/auto rickshaw( inspite of their rates)/waiter/bus conductor/ driver.. and so on. Our one word of praise sure makes a lot of meaning to them…

  4. Anonymous June 26, 2007 / 2:34 pm

    hey, this is what u told me abt when u came over that day! πŸ™‚ yeah, i completely understand how u felt. sometimes, small things like that make me ecstatic too, cos we dun expect them. but i agree, we shd be nice to waiters and waitresses, who work their butts off to make us happy!-sowmya

  5. Mages June 8, 2007 / 6:55 pm


  6. Clueless June 6, 2007 / 1:44 pm

    #Desigirl,Heh. I figured as much. As much as I hate to use the term, it’s the “Indian mentality”. :/And oh, welcome to the blog! I hope you stay! :)#The Teller,I’m glad to have made a difference! πŸ™‚

  7. the teller June 6, 2007 / 1:34 pm

    hey! awesome one. opened my eyes. i dunno if i smile at waiters or not. will be conscious next time πŸ™‚

  8. DesiGirl May 31, 2007 / 9:54 pm

    There is an Annalakshmi outlet in Chennai and when they started, they had the same volunteer + pay what you wish mode – which bombed miserably when the cheapos descended on them and paid them pittance! What to do, we are like this only!!

  9. Clueless May 27, 2007 / 7:43 pm

    #CS,Really? Well, good for them then! (It does run on the same ‘Pay as you like’ concept, right? :P)#Sayesha,Yay, you don’t know how happy it makes me to hear that you’re proud of me! πŸ˜€

  10. Sayesha May 25, 2007 / 4:42 pm

    Phainally I read the post properly to comment :)I’m SO proud of you that you’re finding pride and fulfilment in things like this – it’s just great! πŸ™‚

  11. Confused Soul May 25, 2007 / 12:05 pm

    Btw, there’s one outlet of Annalakshmi at Coimbatore..and it’s running perfectly well πŸ™‚

  12. Clueless May 25, 2007 / 9:09 am

    #MG,Aw, thanks! I hope all of us end up doing stuff that gives us satisfaction and happiness in life! :)#Archun,Hey, nice to see you around these parts! And thanks for the words of appreciation :)#CS,Aww, thanks! And yes, we totally should all go and volunteer together sometime.Psst, it isn’t so much a “secret” intention if you type it out for everyone to read, but I second your motion! :D#Soleil,Hee, I’m sure you would! πŸ˜€

  13. soleil May 24, 2007 / 11:19 pm

    It’s always the small little things that make the difference πŸ˜€ I can just imagine you jumping up and down with ecstasy! I’d jump along with you if I were there πŸ˜‰

  14. Confused Soul May 24, 2007 / 6:54 pm

    Your posts are getting sweeter and sweeter :)Awesome post..I wish I was there too..we’ll find time someday and go volunteer together..and take Macho girl along too.. it’ll be fun..[secret intention: we BOTH get to throw sambhar bowls at macho girl’s head.. *evil grin*]

  15. Archun May 24, 2007 / 4:15 pm

    oh wow!! really amazing to learn that you’ve been volunteering in Analakshmi! you’re absolutely right – you can make someone’s day with just a pleasant smile and a ‘thank you’! great blog!

  16. Macho Girl May 23, 2007 / 10:20 pm

    Looks like working in a annalakshmi has given our lil clueless loads of things to smile about! I’m happy to hear that inspite of the hectic rush hour, it keeps you happy and satisfied! May you find such satisfaction and happiness in whatever you do in life! You go girl!!!! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

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