Thursday, June 11, 2009

Open Table Solutions

"Too bad all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxi cabs and cuting hair." --George Burns

During a couple stints in the past (once in college, once in the pre-OCS year), I wound up working as a restaurant host -- once at a locally owned place, and once in a national franchise place (think Chotchke's from 'Office Space').

As anyone who's ever been to a restaurant knows, the host 'stand' is usually a podium, under which is an overhead layout of the seats, usually separated by a piece of glass that can be drawn on by a graphite pencil-sort of thing.

There were lots of funny things that happened on those jobs, and some really good stories to tell, but the one I'm going to single out here is the "Open Table Solution."

Inevitably, a host has to disappoint some people who come looking for a seat, though most sort of just resign themselves to their fate.

"Twenty minutes? Okay...You'll set the beeper off then? Okay..."

There are those once-in-a-while rocket surgeons, however, who don't quite settle for that answer.

"No open tables? Twenty-minute wait? That's impossible. In fact, I see an open table back there in the corner!"

Sometimes this will come with a sort of "Aha" or "Gotcha" tone, and sometimes it comes after the initially-disappointed patron has peered or even walked around the host stand to inspect the restaurant for open tables. Sometimes, there are quite a few. Apparently, the person doing it has never stopped to consider that other people might have reservations, and is expecting a response like this:

"Oh, my goodness! I don't use the word 'hero' often, but you, my friend, are the Greatest Hero in American History! Despite the many months I've been on this job, and the many people I've just turned away with the beeper-thingys, you noticed what no one else did -- a wide-open table that was staring us all in the face. Please, please, be seated now and stand by for a congratulatory word from the manager."

So now you know where the term is coming from. For the purposes of my rantings here on this blog, I'm going to refer to an Open Table Solution anytime someone who has no familiarity with another person's job arrogantly assumes that some easy, quick-fix answer is suddenly going to set everything straight -- and no one else has ever thought of it.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not discouraging ideas. That would be backwards, not to mention hypocritical. I'm also not saying that people who don't work in specific fields can't, or won't, have answers that will help those who do -- in fact, outsiders often have the best, freshest solutions because their thinking isn't as entrenched and they're sometimes not wearing the blinders.

But it's all about the way you approach it.

Problems are vexing. It doesn't matter whether it's immigration, health care, foreign policy, or whatever. There are plenty of smart people who spend entire years, decades, or lives trying to find solutions.

We're all going have to have ideas about how to fix them and ideas about the way the world should be run. We should recognize those ideas as what they are -- ideas.

But to arrogantly walk up to someone who does something for a living, and imply that either they don't know how to do their job and your five minutes of expertise means that you do, belongs on a special rung on the ladder of obnoxiousness.

Before you decide that we don't need new cover sheets on the TPS reports, stop, listen, and learn enough to make sure you're right. Otherwise, your Open Table Solution might fall flat.


C R Krieger said...

On the other hand, my old college room mate, "Hildebunny," once worked as an AF Lt Col in OSD PA&E (Program Analysis and Evaluation) (PhD in Econ from Princeton).  I remember the day I dropped by his office and we fell to talking about a problem he had regarding "Offensive Air Support" and he commented, in all seriousness:  "You don't want to know too much about the problem, it might influence the analysis."

Regards  —  Cliff

The New Englander said...


That's rich...but I guess there are many ways to look at things -- sometimes you lose sight of a problem when you're too entrenched in it, so he *sort of* had a point..

..also -- the day after I posted this, I was at the pharmacy on base when some lady started ripping a pharmacy tech apart...her gripe was that she was still waiting for her meds, even though others had come, gotten a number, been called up, and had left -- all while she was waiting. It was as if there was no rational explanation for this --no chance it was because they had called ahead, or their prescriptions were easier to fill, or anything of the was just all about the worldwide conspiracy against her, as propagated by these pharmacy techs..