Although operating a diner and or restaurant is a business and the main goal of a business is to make a profit, there are other lessons to be acquired. My father operated a diner-restaurant & cocktail lounge for a number of years in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The Spinning Wheel Diner and Restaurant was one of the largest in the New Brunswick, NJ area during that time.
As a teenager (at age 14) I began working there after school and summers as a cashier and busboy. At age 17 I was the night manager supervising a staff of approximately 20 employees on each shift. I worked there during summer breaks from college and a year after graduating from college. This was a great learning experience from a business and managerial perspective. However, as I reflect back on this very meaningful experience, I can recall learning the human side of the business as exhibited by my father.
The following are some of the examples which exhibit this trait:
There was a senior citizen who would come in by herself and sit in a booth in the diner. All she would order was a cup of tea and sit there for hours. Upon paying the 10 cents for the tea, the waitress would go over and clean the table. All the sugar, salt, pepper and napkin containers were emptied. This was reported to me as night manager. I contacted my father and said should we charge her for this the next time she comes in as she was a regular customer, or should we at least mention this to her. My father replied “No, she’s obviously destitute, we can always refill all the containers”.
There was a school crossing guard at the intersection on the triangle where the diner was located. During the cold winter months, the crossing guard asked my father if he could wait in the vestibule during his break to get out of the inclement weather. Dad said “yes, and come in and have a cup of hot coffee on us”. My father then said to me “don’t charge him for coffee when he comes in from now on during his breaks”.
Then there was the middle-aged salesman who had lost his job and was now unemployed. He had been a regular customer. After losing his job he approached my father and asked if he could “run a tab” for the time being until he secured another job. This was not a practice we had prior to his request. Dad said “Okay, when you get a job you can pay us back”. This went on for several months and as his tab grew, as the night manager I asked my father periodically “should I ask for payment?” Dad said “he obviously cannot pay at this time, I’m sure he will pay us when he secures employment”. Sure enough, after months of unemployment, he secured a job and paid us back in full.
As I reflect back on these scenarios, I can see this humanistic side exhibited by my father. Although he had little formal education, having to withdraw from school at the age of 16 to help support his parents. He never attended college or took any sociology or psychology courses, but clearly understood human behavior and was understanding of those who were less fortunate or who had run into some difficult times. These are some “life lessons” I learned to understand and appreciate. Although I went on to earn my Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate degrees, these experiences clarified what it means to be humanistic and understanding of others perhaps less fortunate.
N.B.: Dr. John Paitakes is a Professor teaching criminal justice and management courses at Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ. In addition, he is a contributing Criminal Justice Expert for EBRU TV and has appeared on Fox News. He may be contacted at [email protected].