Service of New York Experiences: Surprise Elegance and Not

August 4th, 2014

Categories: Courtesy, Customer Service, Restaurant, Service, Service Personality

I recently bought low-priced items from people working tough jobs in uncomfortable circumstances with very different service experiences.

I paid $10 for something from a street cart and was impressed by the vendor’s elegant approach. There was nothing stylish or surprising about his goods or merchandising. His scarves, hats and paraphernalia looked like those on similar carts around the city. The temperature was flirting with 90 and the typical NYC summer humidity was enough to make anyone feel grumpy and lethargic if they were stuck on the street all day.

I handed the money to his young assistant who’d been helping me which she gave to him. [It was the first time I saw him.] She asked me if I wanted a bag. I said I didn’t want to eat into the profits. He took my item, opened an “I love NY” plastic sack, placed my purchase inside and handed it to me as though it was an important purchase wrapped in the finest paper bag with elegant logo and ribbon handles. His expression: “we do things right here.” I’ve been treated with far less decorum by sales associates at luxury retail establishments.

A few days before I was on lunch break from jury duty in one of the handsome buildings seen on the “Law & Order” TV series in downtown Manhattan. Given the time I had to eat and return to the jury waiting area I decided takeout was the wise option. Heading toward Chinatown I saw a short line of men wearing suits or business pants and shirts. They were outside a tiny establishment that accommodated two people at the serving counter and sold only dumplings and buns. The shabby shop on a narrow street nevertheless had an A sanitation rating.

The middle aged woman taking and fulfilling the orders barked at customers if she spoke at all. The customer behind me was familiar with the routine and guided me. I can’t blame her: Given the scorching hot dumplings—I had to wait quite a while before I could eat them without burning my mouth—imagine standing behind a steam apparatus that heated the food on a summer afternoon. I didn’t feel air conditioning inside. The dumplings cost $1 for five. I ate most of 10 on a bench outside a playground in the shade of a giant tree.

I was happy with my purchase from the street vendor because of his positive approach. The shockingly modest price of the toothsome dumplings and unconventional lunch [I usually eat yogurt and popcorn at my desk] balanced the unfriendly communication with the restaurant server. [I say restaurant as there were a few stools for those who wanted to eat in.] Who expects a smile with $2 worth of dumplings?

Do you anticipate reduced treatment when you don’t pay a lot and are you at times surprised?

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8 Responses to “Service of New York Experiences: Surprise Elegance and Not”

  1. Jackie Herships Said:

    On Facebook Jackie Herships wrote: Another example of fine people existing at all levels of society and commerce.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    True and a tut-tut to those in sweetly-scented luxury emporiums who specialize in being arrogant, looking bored while specializing in eye-rolling.and finger-tapping.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    I avoid street vendors since I haven’t the faintest idea of vendor’s standards regarding handling of food. And no, cheaper service does not mean poorer service. Many think throwing money at people can produce best results. WRONG!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The food vendor was in a tiny store with an A sanitation rating. I used to eat food–falafel especially–bought from street vendors except in summer as I was concerned about lack of apparent refrigeration. I’ll buy a water or coffee now but not food.

    I agree that spending lots of money does not guarantee service and doubt it ever did.

  5. Martha Takayama Said:

    I do not find it unusual to encounter pleasant or gracious service when making simple or modest purchases in equally spare locations or stores. Many vendors working in such circumstances have a sense of pride in doing what they are doing well, and also aspire to doing something more. A pleasant request or exchange with a service person and a “thank you” can also generate more good will.

    I long ago ceased to expect even adequate service in trendy department stores, pretentious restaurants, or overrated boutiques where salespeople ignore clients in a studied fashion. After spending half an hour with a friend in a designer boutique where I had previously shopped within one of our major and most self-congratulatory department stores, we left the area. During the time we looked over and chatted about the merchandise, the salespeople present never spoke to us! It is difficult to know quite what the theory behind this sort of behavior is, but as a consumer I choose to do without it.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’ve been stumped by the attitude you described so clearly and that I’ve noticed all my life in some trendy places: Do these service types think that this is expected of them and how wealthy people expect to be treated? Is the signal from their antennae for wealthy people who spend money so clear that they never dismiss someone who will actually buy something? Some of the best dressed people I know have been the stingiest; some of the most generous people who spend money as though they print it look quite ordinary if not, at times, ragged.

  7. TJ Jones Said:

    Service, such as you describe, is a fine art. Like all fine art, it happens because of the happy marriage of innate talent with solid training and dedication. Money alone cannot create good service.

    Like fine artists who find satisfaction in creating, fine servers derive pleasure from pleasing people. It is also the frailest of skills. Just as a single brush stroke ineptly applied may coarsen the finest of canvases, one foolish sour remark by an otherwise attentive waiter can spoil the finest of meals in the loveliest of settings.

    As you so well point out, fine service can be rendered anywhere by anyone from the lowliest of street venders to the haughtiest of Paris maître d’s. The price may be different, but the result is the same — a contented customer.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree with your fine art analogy at another level: All the training in the world won’t elevate a person whose personality is not service-oriented into fine-arts level as a waiter, vendor, PR or advertising exec, receptionist, gas station attendant or dry cleaning cashier. You have that talent/approach or not.

    At the same time training doesn’t hurt. I notice when a waiter at a mundane restaurant holds the bottle of house wine as though he or she is pouring a pricey Bordeaux or Burgundy.

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