The owner of the restaurant revealed the secret. He said, “For 60 years, someone has stood out there, welcomed the cars in, shook the guests’ hands and let them in the restaurant. There are no tickets, there’s no fancy computer system, no chits, no counting cars, no secret book. They just remember. The whole thing is from memory.” It started decades ago with a head valet who had a photographic memory. But he is long gone. Now the system continues because the employees work at it. Chris Canli sums it up succinctly. He says the secret of the success of his valet crew is “they care a whole lot more than anybody else does.” As a result they work hard at the service. They make the effort to learn how to memorize faces and connect them to cars. Why would they bother? After all, most restaurants work just fine with the more common valet system employing tickets. Canli explains, “The whole feel of the restaurant is that you’re coming to our home. Why would I turn you into a number? It’s not fine dining, it’s not service. I am shocked when I go to a restaurant and they turn me into a number.”
That’s nice, but what’s your point, Rick? Are you telling everyone they should go to Seattle and have a meal at Canlis? No, in fact, I’ve never been there personally. Definitely out of my price range. But I believe there’s a message in the example set by that restaurant for those of us who are part of the church of Jesus Christ. Chris Canli says that he wants people to feel like they’re coming to his home when they come to his restaurant. Wouldn’t it be something if I thought of and acted at my church the same way? I fear that I and many others along with me are rather more focused on ourselves than we are on making people feel welcomed and cared for when they are at a worship service. I’d be willing to bet that I am not the only person who has had the experience of meeting a new person at a worship service, chatting for a few minutes, then realizing as I walk away that I can’t remember what that person’s name is. I can’t imagine ever doing that to a guest in my home, yet it has most definitely happened when I’ve been at church.
One of Mr. Canli’s comments has been rattling around in my brain since I read it. He said the key to the kind of service they render at their restaurant is simple – they care more than everyone else and they work hard at it. Because they care they put effort into memorizing faces and linking them to cars. They care about knowing where that person is so that as the individual is exiting the building his car is arriving at the same time. Could it be that the reason we often don’t make the same kind of effort to make people feel welcome at church is that we don’t care as much? I suspect most of us would object that we do care. Unfortunately talk is cheap. The depth of a person’s motivation and commitment is measured not by what he or she says or even thinks, but by what he or she does.
At some point the Canlis took the time and effort to ask what would make people feel at home at their restaurant. They paid attention. In some cases taking care of people at church may well end up being some sort of organized program. But likely the most effective way to take care of people is if every single person who is part of a church makes the effort to consider what will make others feel welcomed and cared about, then proceeds to do whatever that is. I need to ask, “what would make me feel like people actually cared about me at this church?” Then I need to make the effort to do those things. I’m pretty sure we don’t need a killer valet service, but we do need people who will look for others to welcome, who will learn their names, who will actually take an interest in them and love them. I, like everyone else, has had the experience of attending a worship service at a church and coming away with the distinct impression that no one there was the least bit interested in me. I suspect no one ever intends to send that message. Yet in their preoccupation with their own lives they’ve communicated precisely that. They visited with their friends then bustled off to whatever their plans were after church without a word to the new people. I understand how that can happen. There are more of us that find meeting new people to be a little intimidating and awkward than there are gregarious greeters. But I dare say Canlis doesn’t staff their valet service with people who have photographic memories. They staff it with people who will make the effort to learn to recognize faces, even though it may not be naturally easy for them. If we care, we too will make the effort, even though it may not be natural or easy. How cool would it be if we, as a church, blew people away with how much we cared about them?