Service of Details

April 26th, 2010

Categories: Accommodation, Appreciation, Attitude, Customer Service, Details, Restaurant, Service Personality


Every business involves hundreds of details. I often think that one of the clues to Martha Stewart’s success is that she is said to be a micromanager and detail-obsessed. Time permitting, so am I, revising and editing copy until the moment I send it to a client or post it here.

Many businesses succeed regardless. A mystery.

Details be Damned

After a tasty lunch as a guest at a white tablecloth level restaurant near our office, a PR colleague and blogger, David Reich, My 2 Cents, mentioned something that I also notice when I walk by it several times a day: The street outside this place, that makes an effort with its food and décor, always looks fiercely skuzzy. Nobody polices the sidewalk and curb during the day to pick up what people toss, nor does it look like they ever scrub the real estate around them. It always looks dingy and dirty. It’s not the case with any of the other [food] businesses around us-including the Chinese [largely] takeout spot with the $1.85 wonton soup I mentioned in “Service of How Do they Do It?,” an earlier post. The takeout place is just 300 paces up the street and around the corner.

Irony: The restaurant has plenty of customers and doesn’t seem to suffer from what for us is a turn-off.

drwaitingroomI went only once to a particular blood test mill. Why? There was no soap in the bathroom and when I inquired, the woman who took my blood shrugged. The waiting room was standing-room-only.

sundaynytimesIt drives me nuts when I get home and realize that my Sunday newspaper is missing a section–usually a favorite. I blame myself for not carefully vetting the stack before heading for the cashier. At $5 to $6 [upstate surcharge], I expect the assemblers to take care. The paper is usually a sell-out at the grocery and convenience stores, gas stations and pharmacies that carry it.

Detail Delights

Twenty blocks north of the restaurant-with-the-dirty-sidewalk there’s an indoor parking garage–on East 63rd Street off of Lexington Avenue. I’ve joked for years that I should have a picnic on its shiny, freshly painted gray floor. I’ve never seen such a remarkably clean garage entrance–or business–open to the public, anywhere. I’ve also never seen anyone drive in nor have I parked there-my car isn’t clean enough.

hairsalonWhen I get my hair done, Stacy gives the woman who washes it some of the shampoo and cream rinse she buys because she doesn’t like what the salon owner supplies. I’m not there often enough to tell whether she has more clients than the others. She’s always busy when I come.

I admire well-made clothes, and price doesn’t always enter in. I’ve been appalled at the lousiest construction and sleaziest fabrics of clothes hanging in some of New York’s trendiest boutiques while finds in favorite discount haunts feature the finest cotton, silk or linen with well-finished seams and detailing. Go figure.

My dentist, Kenneth Hochman, “Service of Assistants,” makes me laugh [and not just to show off his handiwork].

Sam, the coffee-cart man on East 44th Street, “Coffee Service with More Than a Smile,”  knows my name, how I take my coffee and waves at me as I walk by.

What details do you appreciate most and which missing ones annoy you? Do you think the omitted ones affect business success?


7 Responses to “Service of Details”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    Let’s not confuse details with good manners accompanied by a keen business sense. An example using the white tablecloth restaurant described above: Many New Yorkers, myself included, are oblivious to street details (assuming an absence of large black garbage bags alive with rats) and will cheerfully patronize said establishment which serves good food, and has accomodating wait staff. Stomachs have taste buds, not eyes. I have seen and admired shop owners out with brooms and hoses, and highly respect their diligence, but if its a Japanese restaurant behind all this industry, I walk on. The stomach curls in fright at the mere thought of raw fish and similar delights, and it is in charge of all culinary decisions.

    All of this is not to voice a disdain for details, which attract positive attention, and encourage customer loyalty, but to point out they are not always a deciding factor. Now for something more personal – my beauty shop. This is a tiny outfit in Larchmont, NY and is not the only game in town. It handles three clients at a time – tops and has been in business for well over 30 years. Can’t say I looked at the sidewalk (ok ok I will next visit) but the inside of the shop is spotless, and managed by la Sra. Monica who springs out with broom at the mere soupcon of a hair on the floor, or used paper towel in the bathroom. One can argue this is a charming detail, but it’s not, it’s a necessity. Details come in the superb decor of the business owner who, had she been interested, could easily have become a top interior decorator. But all of her efforts would come to naught had it not been for Monica, not to speak of M. le Coiffeur who knows his trade and will keep you there for hours until both he & client are fully satisfied with the work.

    What a round about way to explain that while details are valuable assets, they do not necessarily win the day.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I am giggling at the vision of how clean Sra. Monica keeps the beauty shop in comparison to the place I went to when I lived in the Middle East. I doubt that the towels saw a washing machine for weeks and the combs went from head to head…argh at the memory. In the day, I wore my hair long so I didn’t have it cut often which was a good thing.

    I should take a photo of the curb outside the restaurant in my post. It’s remarkably unappetizing. Neither David nor I are clean or neat freaks and we disagree about many things…not about this. As for the big bags of garbage, I remember saying goodbye to a client [very quickly] in front of a shoulder-high pile fronting the restaurant we’d just left during the Lindsay administration’s garbage strike. Powerful stuff.

  3. Harriet Ellis Said:

    Interesting post.

    I think some of us are by nature detail-oriented and others are not. That doesn’t mean that one cannot be taught to pay attention to details, rather that some of us, particularly women, have a greater aptitude for doing work involving much detail. Sadly, though, as a society, we are all paying far less attention these days. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at how badly your favorite morning paper is proofread!

    In an egalitarian, ultra-democratic society, this is only to be expected. If we are all equally entitled, why should there be any distinction in quality, by way of attention to detail, between what the least of us receives as opposed to the most deserving? In turn, all of us, I believe, have come to accept that the products and services we consume will be of diminished quality to those offered in the past. Most of us wouldn’t know the difference anyway anymore.

    I find this indeed sad. Just take a look at the workmanship that went into a fine old piece of French lace, or a fine 15th century renaissance painting. Then realize that the detailed skills that went into making these objects have been lost forever. Yes, this is a sad world indeed!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    With the exception of Martha Stewart who is both and some renowned chefs, I am not sure, Harriet, that visionaries are necessarily good about dotting i’s etc. or that you can teach them.

    I think that if a person is passionate about what they do and/or who they work for, they will recognize their weaknesses and bring in reinforcements. They will also be as meticulous as possible to ensure that the details that distinguish them–and their business–from others are clear and keep coming.

  5. David Reich Said:

    The area outside a retail business — food or otherwise — impacts the customer’s impression of that business. When I was kid, my parents had a children’s clothing store. Several times a day, they and their neighboring merchants would go outside and sweep their sidewalk. They knew how important a good impression is, and they also had pride in their store.

    Even today, I often find myself bending down to pick up a stray newspaper and toss it into a nearby trash can. If I use the streets and sidewalks, I don’t feel like wading through trash, so I do my small part.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I agree with you, David. Pots of flowers, clean windows, spotless sidewalks, intact, stain-free awnings–they all attract passers-by in a positive way.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    As a fan of XVth Century art, I can’t agree with Harriet Ellis more, and lament the lack of elegance in todays society. But the coin has two sides. Under all that bygone beauty, swarmed the horrors of intense poverty, starvation, plague, not to speak of the foundation of the Inquisition (est. 1478) with the horrors and societal ignorance it inspired. Focusing on outward appearances is not my strong suit, possibly because of concerns over what may be lurking underneath. The City has been beautified to a great degree, (Bravo Bloomberg!) but tell that to a terrified person who has just been thrown out on the street with no money, food, and nowhere to go. So let’s not sweat the small stuff, while keeping in mind that a beautiful fruit is useless when there’s rot festering inside. If something is wrong, it’s logical to start at the core so that the outer cover will assume a genuinely healthy glow.

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