“Humane moments”

by Marita Brune-Koch

Hollidays in South Tyrol. We want to have dinner with friends, our friend reserves a table in the cosy but noble dining room of a hotel. When we arrive, I already have some concerns, because the hotel seems so elegant. We are dripping wet because it is raining cats and dogs, and we are dressed quite casually. And above all: We have a soaking wet dog. And indeed, he turns out to be a problem: The receptionist regrets that we were not allowed to take the dog to the good room where our friend had reserved. I see us disappearing again in the dark wetness in search of another place to eat, but things turn out quite differently. The receptionist offers us a table in another room, to which we are allowed to take the dog. Only in the first room, the guests didn’t want it. She says she understands us, she has a dog herself, but the other room is also nice, the chairs are comfortable. We gladly accept the offer and take a seat, our dog lies down under the table. It’s a wonderful evening, not only because the food is good, but also because we are served not only expertly, but also friendly, openly and humorously by the numerous waiters. They are happy to respond to all wishes. For example, when our friend orders a second spoon because he wants to share the soup with his wife, the waiter brings two small soups. In between, the nice receptionist comes by and asks about our wellbeing and that of the dog. Her friendliness is genuine, not at all artificial. To the espresso we get a delicious confectionery ball. One of us does not have an espresso, consequently no confectionery. He jokes: “I thought they were all for me, because I don’t have any coffee.” The waiter brings him one extra with the remark: “We have enough of them.”
Why am I telling all this? It is far from my intention to advertise the South Tyrolean gastronomy (although one could indeed), we were served very friendly and courteously everywhere. No, I’m telling you this because you can see something fundamentally important about it. This morning I read an interview with “service expert” Sabine Hübner in the local newspaper. She explained what is important in the gastronomy and hotel business, what goes to make up that guests feel comfortable and enjoy coming back. In addition to all the conceptual considerations, it is above all the “human moments” that are needed. “Restaurant boss Mehmet greets me by name and takes time for a chat, Barista Raoul gives me a wink and knows by heart how I like my coffee. It’s these ‘human moments’ that make us feel life.” She explains: “Hospitality has always played an important role in my life. In my childhood, the largest room was both the breakfast room and the living room of our guesthouse in the Austrian Salzkammergut. As a child it seemed completely natural to me that my grandmother knew by heart how each guest liked his breakfast egg best. It was natural for me that we would squeeze together when a guest who was surprised by the mountain rain came into the kitchen late in the evening, dripping wet and that we would offer hot soup and stuff his wet shoes with newspaper. And that everyone is allowed to be the way he is. That’s exactly what is so difficult for us in these days when many people say ‘Me! Me!’ But hospitality is as old as mankind itself, in many places it was and is even today regarded as sacred”. One can feel in these words that it is genuine philanthropy what is meant here, that it cannot be a matter of a superimposed professional attitude. Hübner also specifies: “If the heart is missing in the service, the performance easily looks like badly played theatre. Then perhaps the recited service sentences are correct, but there is no spark. And even worse: the guests feel like pawns being pushed back and forth on a playing field and asked to pay afterwards. Encounters between employees and guests need a lot of heart, a lot of real eye contact, a lot of openness. This is perfectly compatible with a professional attitude. If it succeeds, it comes to wonderful ‘humane moments’”.
I think that the remarks of this service expert would be worth transferring to many areas of human encounters. Doctor-patient, teacher-student, saleswoman-customer, bus or tram driver and passenger, random encounters between people somewhere in town and country – everywhere there are opportunities for real human moments. They enrich life, give those who give and those who receive a moment of happiness. In many cases, it is this personal humanity that enables even the most difficult conflicts to be resolved. It’s in the hands of each of us.    •