The Waiter Rule

Like a lot of folks, I had a lot of jobs growing up. But the one I think I learned the most from was when I was a waiter in grad school.

It was a humbling experience.

I'll never forget the night I spilled a bowl of soup on an elderly female customer and all over her expensive fur coat lying nearby.

Her husband reamed me a new one. But she was oddly kind. Sensing my nervousness, she assured me it was no big deal, that she should have checked her coat at the front door, then added, "It's not as expensive as it looks, young man."

On the way out the door, she slipped me a $20 bill and just smiled.

I caught myself remembering those days after reading a wonderful piece in Friday's USA Today about CEOs who vouch for something called the "Waiter Rule."

Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson came up with it.

As he explains in the paper: "A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person."

Swanson tells the story of the fellow diner who blew up at a waiter because the restaurant didn't stock his wine. Swanson vowed never to do business with the guy.

Another CEO recalled how rude some callers were to his assistant, yet sweet as pie to him.

Still another big muckety-muck remembers well his waiting days, noting, "I didn't have the money or the CEO title at the time, but I had the same intelligence and raw ability I have today."

Look, we all breathe the same air and share the same planet. Greatness, I think, is defined not by how we handle those who can do something for us, but often times, those who cannot.

We celebrate this time of year, a fellow who got that. It's a pity more in power don't live that.

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