Kill ’em with kindness. It’s a game changer.

By Lisa Sugarman

Do your kids ever cringe when you do certain things? Yeah, ok, I know, that was a rhetorical and relatively dumb question. Of course they do. Just like mine.

There are the obvious things that set them off, like singing any music whatsoever in both public and private places. It’s hard to say what irritates them more, me singing the music from my generation or when I get jiggy and try to sing theirs. Either way, it’s always a major strike against me. There’s also car, elevator, or mall dancing. That’s like practically a mortal sin as a parent, punishable by shockingly evil and very disturbing glares, usually followed by door slamming. Then there’s my personal favorite, the, “I love you, baby, have the BEST DAY EVER” out the window at school drop off. Priceless at the high school. Or the two-fingered whistle on the sidelines at the home cross country meets. All these things elicit instant mortification. I know it and you know it and yet none of us can seem to help ourselves. It’s like as soon as we have our own kids our brains are scrubbed clean of any memory of how badly our parents embarrassed us and we do the exact same thing to our kids. Like childbirth and why we keep going back for more. Once the initial pain and suffering of the delivery is over, we forget the pain and all we remember is the happy, squishy baby.

But there is one thing I do in public that both my girls support. In fact, over the years, they’ve both actually started reminding me to do it. I have this habit of calling restaurant managers over to our table during a meal to compliment our server if they’re doing a really good job. I’ve been doing it since they were little and they absolutely love it. In fact, one of them will usually whisper to me to do it during the meal if the server is particularly stellar. Cracks me up. I know it may not sound like much, but when you’re there in person, seeing peoples’ reaction to getting a compliment when they’re sure they’re about to get hosed, it’s priceless. And I’m not sure what my kids like more, the fact that we’re giving someone kudos for a job well done or the relief of the manager when they learn that what we have to say is good.

Because God knows that the restaurant managers I’ve spoken to over the years (and there have been many) all overwhelmingly say that they rarely, if ever, hear anything positive from their patrons. And that’s sad. But, unfortunately, the scales are almost always tipped way over on the complaint side. And what message does that send? Negativity, as far as I’m concerned. And negativity, I believe, is a completely hollow and useless emotion. It gets you nothing and nowhere. And it makes you look really, really bad.

Think about it, what do you tend to hear more from people, compliments or complaints? Complaints. Overwhelmingly. I mean, think about how often you’ve been out to dinner and you’ve seen someone flip a nutty on a server over a piece of meat that comes out too pink. Or an order that took a little too long. Or a dish that was cold. How many times have any of us been too quick to snap out a complaint when something isn’t just right? And how ugly does that complainer look to you? Especially someone who really goes at it ripping someone else to shreds. It’s upsetting. It’s embarrassing.

So at the end of the day, what do our complaints really get us? A nasty reputation? Yep. Someone else’s spit in our entrée? Absolutely. Possibly a foot in the ass? Maybe.

I mean, as a patron you’re entitled to expect a good dining experience and you’re even encouraged to be vocal if you’re not getting what you want. Because it is your money. But herein lies the problem with the way most people are vocal—it’s not about what you say as much as how you say it. Even if the food you’re served is terrible and the service is the suckiest you’ve ever had, there’s a way to communicate that that won’t make you look like an a-hole and will still get your point across. There’s no need to outright complain.

Because you and I know that this tendency people have to complain isn’t just relegated to the restaurant world. It’s everywhere. Like everywhere. And it bums me out. We see it all the time. People get pin-point focused in the moment and act on raw impulse. And for a lot of people, their impulse is to find fault and complain before they stop and remember that there’s a real, live person on the other end of that complaint. They attack the person and not the problem. And they forget that a little sensitivity and kindness goes a long, long way.

Just think about the last time someone gave you an unsolicited compliment. Think about how juicy and delicious it was. Think about how much you wanted to savor it because of how good it was. How satisfying.

That’s what compliments do. They bring out the best in people. They’re a game changer.

So the next time you’re out and someone goes above and beyond for you, go above and beyond for them. Play this goofy little game we play and see where it gets you. But be careful, you may just get addicted. Start slow and then build.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead. Read and discuss all her columns at OR follow her blog at


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