I’m a breakfast guy; someone who likes to start off each day with a “decent” meal, the definition of which has changed over the years from filling to nutritious. In fact, I insist on it.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a morning person to be a breakfast guy, although it certainly helps. But, since there are no steadfast rules governing when you sit down to have breakfast, being a morning person is optional at best. It’s just never been much of a choice for me. I started the routine of eating out for breakfast with my parents before heading to work almost 50 years ago, and we continued having breakfast together until I ran out of Schneiders to share the table with.
The station was a 24-hour freeway unit and when your first shift started at 7 a.m., it meant sitting down to coffee at or before six. In the beginning, we ate out seven days a week, and breakfast became burned deep into my neural pathways, where it still remains today.
Where we sat down to eat became critically important. There were some very specific wants, needs and expectations to be met if not exceeded every morning with an equally well-established set of consequences if they weren’t.
We live and work in an incredibly demanding environment that exists within an equally difficult industry. The majority of our clients don’t understand what we do or how difficult it has become. They don’t appreciate the complexity or sophistication of the vehicles they drive, so it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine just how unrealistic those expectations can be. Add to that the normal mix of hysteria that flows out of any one of a hundred possible problems swirling around parts acquisition, manufacturing defects, and holes in the distribution system, and you have the perfect recipe for stress, frustration and high anxiety.
Consequently, certain imperatives quickly materialized during my family breakfasts. The restaurant had to be ready to open for business when we arrived. It had to be clean, quiet (relatively speaking) and it had to be comfortable with a certain minimal level of privacy for sensitive, business-related topics to be discussed if or when they came up; oddly enough, that rarely occurred.
The food had to be “good,” the server had to be pleasant, and the atmosphere almost serene. There was no room for drama at breakfast when you knew without question you were likely to reach your high anxiety quotient by 10 a.m.
It quickly became an incredibly powerful ritual, one that I highly recommend, especially for small, closely held family businesses. You see, my father, in his infinite wisdom, somehow realized very early that even if you were so frustrated or angry with one another that you weren’t speaking, sooner or later someone would have to ask, “Could you please pass the salt?”
The ice would be broken, the salt shaker would move across the table, someone would say, “Thank you,” and, someone else would reply, “You’re welcome.” People would talk to each other, and another inevitable crisis would be averted.
I still have breakfast every morning before heading to work. Only now, it’s generally at home. I still eat out once or twice a week. But there is generally a reason. Wednesdays are dedicated to my friend Mick, with an occasional Tuesday or Thursday for colleagues, vendors or business-related meetings of one kind or another.
I still eat at the same restaurant we’ve been patronizing for years, even though it’s changed hands. And, it still has one of the same servers who has been taking my order long enough to bring something I like out of the kitchen when I sit down, whether I’ve ordered or not.
I get to the restaurant early. Generally, before they open, and most of the time they let me in. I know the kitchen won’t be ready for business until they officially open, so I have no expectation of ordering before. I just sit there focusing on the day ahead. I’m there for breakfast and a modicum of order before everything goes to hell and the chaos that hallmarks most of our days begins.
I’ve learned a lot as a result of my breakfast rituals over the years. Most of it from simply watching and listening. Other lessons are the result of being on the receiving end of a service interaction. These observations have resulted in more than an epiphany or two and more than a couple of life lessons.
Each one of these lessons has proven essential. Some in regard to becoming a better person, others in regard to becoming a better service provider and business owner. And, to tell you the truth, almost all of them have to do with understanding your customers, managing their expectations and your performance.
And, even though dessert is rarely associated with breakfast, you’d have a hard time convincing me all of these lessons weren’t a reward for getting up earlier than you have to just for a meal.
Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at mitchschneidersworld.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.