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Hospitality: A parable of two restaurants

My wife and I were attending a conference at a large hotel. The session ended early so we wandered through the lobby looking for a restaurant. At the entrance of one restaurant, the greeter said: “We’re closed now but should be open in 30 minutes. However, another restaurant in this hotel is serving lunch now. Let me show you where it is.”

Immediately, she left her workstation and walked with us down to the other end of the hotel until we came in sight of a sandwich shop. She pointed to the restaurant, smiled and said, “I hope you enjoy your meal.” She then returned to her station. We were impressed. Why? She had an “I’m so glad to see you” smile. She stepped away from her station to help. Rather than merely point she took the time to walk with us. She seemed to genuinely appreciate our presence.

Why am I telling this story? Because we soon experienced another restaurant’s hospitality.

The sandwich shop was quiet and empty. We saw only one employee at the other end of the room. He was bending over with his back to us fiddling with the controls of a TV. He was obviously focused on something else, so I walked over and asked: “Where do we go to order lunch?”

He slowly turned around and gave me one of those, “why are you idiots bothering me?” looks and arrogantly pointed to the counter across the room. “Stand in line over there.” Then he turned back around continuing his attention to the big-screen TV. There was no one “over there,” so I assume he meant, “stand in line over there until I’m through playing with the TV, then I might wait on you.”

There were so many snide remarks I wanted to say but instead we quietly walked across the room, out the door and back down the corridor toward the first restaurant. Why?

A. We didn’t like the station he chose on TV.

B. Sandwiches just aren’t for me.

C. The wallpaper colors clashed with our clothes.

D. We were willing to wait so we could enjoy eating in the other restaurant.

Of course, the answer is D. unless you happen to be a gourmet chef or fashion designer. We felt welcomed and valued in the first restaurant and decided it was worth waiting a few extra minutes.

The parable of two restaurants emphasizes the importance of hospitality. But the best is yet to come. The hostess at the first restaurant recognized us immediately and greeted us by name like old friends. Then, she seated us with the reminder: if we needed anything to let her know.

The waitress arrived carrying a tray full of water glasses. Somehow, she tripped and the whole tray, water and all crashed, soaking everything on the table but missing us. She let out a loud gasp as the restaurant staff sprang into action. While the waitress profusely apologized, one employee removed the mess and wiped everything down. Another swooped in with a fresh tablecloth and within seconds we were back in our seat as if nothing happened.

It could have been a disaster, but everyone was so apologetic and we all ended up laughing. Later, the manager offered her own apology and provided free dessert. We were enjoying the attention.

For the rest of the week, we ate our meals at that restaurant and told others about the good food and extraordinary service. Often, we waited in line to receive a seat but never complained because the experience was usually worth the wait.

Occasionally we would pass by the other restaurant and often saw the same employee, sitting in front of the TV all alone.

The parable of the two restaurants illustrates the importance of hospitality. The secret is to understand someone’s needs and expectations and then exceed those needs and expectations. One restaurant succeeded because they specialized in “warm hospitality.” Another restaurant paid someone to watch TV.

Churches have the same opportunity to offer “warm hospitality” by showing a genuine interest in those who enter and those who live nearby. We seek to serve God by being more aware of people’s needs and expectations and then we strive to exceed those needs and expectations. Jesus said to his disciples, “go and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19) We offer “hospitality” through the power of God.

What would a church be like if they took this attitude seriously? Would people want to attend more frequently? Would they tell others about our warm hospitality and generous spirit? Would they wait in line for a seat but never complain because the experience was worth the wait?

Question: If someone encounters you on the street or enters your church, what will they hear and see in us?

A. “What are you doing here? Why are you bothering me?”

B. “Maybe if I don’t speak, he/she will go away.”

C. “I’m so glad to see you. How are you doing?”

Can you imagine the difference hospitality would make in your church, in your home, in your life? Well, all this talk of restaurants and food made me hungry. Does anyone know where to get a good sandwich?

Rev. Larry E. Davies can be reached at larrydavies@sowingseedsoffaith.com.