Paradise Lost: Service in the Post Pandemic World

I am the first to admit that I live in a ‘bubble’, privileged, fortunate, and removed from many of life’s troubles, much of its harsher realities, and a lot of its drama.

I reside in Paris. I’m healthy. I do work that is meaningful to me. I’m financially independent. I come and go as I please.

Annoyances are hardly worth mentioning, and usual come with a disqualifying caveat. Teenagers play their music all night on the banks of the Seine. (My apartment overlooks the Seine.) A barrage of French holidays tseem to warrant the abrupt closure of boutiques. (I shop for clothes in Paris.) The hoards of tourists who crowd my favorite cafes. (I drink coffee and waste time in Paris.)

First world problems, as they say. Trivial complaints that I make in jest, knowing just how lucky I am. And complaints which bring a good, well-deserved verbal thrashing from my friends in the states when they hear me begin to moan about my lot in life.

Still, I am troubled by the service I’m receiving in this post pandemic world. I think it’s because the level of service we receive is indicative of the mental well-being of the persons serving us. They may not be delighted to bring us our lunch and refill our water glass, but they are at least happy to be employed, productive, and responsible members of society.

I equate good service with self-esteem. People do a good job–even a job as a bank teller or a waiter in a restaurant–because they think that not only are you as the customer worth it, but that they, too, are worth it.

Subtle differences are telling. In the United States, when I say thank you after being served, I often hear in response, “No problem.” Well, I think to myself, I’m glad it’s not a problem because I just paid money for the product or service. Occasionally, I’ll hear, “You’re welcome,” or a “Thank you,” in return.

In finer establishments here in Paris, when I thank someone, I often hear them reply, “My pleasure.” This I find charming and delightful. It was a pleasure for someone to serve me. Not simply an obligation and certainly not a ‘problem’. This is most often the reply of professionals, which I define as someone who gives more to their job than their job gives to them. This happens in the neighborhood chocolate shop as well as the destination white-tablecloth restaurant.

The trouble is, after the pandemic, I don’t know what kind of service I’m going to get, even in the most esteemed (and expensive) venues. My wife and I celebrated her birthday at the Ritz a couple of years ago (pre-covid). The service was an absolute joy and world class, as was the food and drink.

A recent date in the hotel’s al fresco dining area sadly found us among baseball cap-wearing hotel guests glued to their mobile phones, being waited on by disinterested, inattentive, and inexperienced staff who seemed to be, ironically, out to lunch as well.

My experience at Ralph’s, the restaurant located within Ralph Lauren’s boutique in the Saint Germaine district of the city, was not quite as disappointing. The food was excellent, but getting a waiter to refill our water glasses (and later bring the check) was almost impossible. (When paying 50 euros for a veggie burger and fries, is it unreasonable to expect flawless service?)

On a more practical level, the United States postal service has simple fallen into an abyss. I’ve heard all sorts of theories about why this is. An incompetent and/or corrupt Trump appointee as postmaster general who was hell-bent on destruction of the institution is the most popular of these.

I really don’t care why the post office can’t seem to deliver packages and letters in a timely or reliable manner anymore. I just want to get it fixed. As an expat, and to most people I speak with in the US, this is by far the most disturbing and frustrating of service issues. And, as I say, I believe it hints at a deeper issue.

Federal Express is no better. My wife ordered handmade cookies for a friend in the states and paid the vendor for overnight delivery in order to guarantee fresh and delicious goodies arrived in a timely manner. They arrived, most certainly, but a week later. The vendor, upset beyond belief, was at a loss. She confided to my wife that she would no longer use Federal Express, but had no other reliable vendor to turn to.

Amazon, a vendor very dear to my heart (and wallet), has not been able to sync the product detail pages for my latest book, How To Be A Rich Man…or Woman! Despite making a request to have this done in mid-September, I hope my second request will be sufficient to motivate someone to click a button and merge the two listings. In the past, this process was finalized two to three days after publication.

I know a lot of people are angry about the pandemic, the economic, social, and psychological havoc it reaped. People lost their jobs and businesses. Conversely, many business owners complain that they have positions open, but people don’t want to work now.

The rich seem to have made the most of the opportunity, as they usually do, as many of the working middle class watch inflation eat at their budgets.

None of these phenomena are new or unique. They remain troubling. I don’t have any answers, as unusual as that sounds.

But let’s do our best at work as we try to figure it out. Let’s also be patient with others. If they don’t give us the best service, perhaps it’s because they’ve already got a lot on their plate.

And there’s no need to complain. I do enough of that for all of us.

  • BGT






18 thoughts on “Paradise Lost: Service in the Post Pandemic World

  1. Sad but true: more often than not, service is dismal. When I DO get excellent service, I make sure to let management know, and I revisit that place and recommend it to others. Sometimes, I’m actually startled when a salesperson is enthusiastic or very helpful–I’ve gotten so accustomed to mediocre service. It has become the norm.

  2. Please let me add this—agreed, we don’t know what people are going through, so I do try and allow for that. Thank you.

  3. Being patient can be very charming.

    One idea is to tell someone, “Take your time, I’m in no rush”, or if a phone is ringing and everyone is busy, ask them, “Do you need to get that?” It has a very profound affect.

    A tip was given to me from a young woman (close pal) working retail. She explained to me, when you need help from an employee working, stocking or setting up a table say, “Excuse me, I am sorry for interrupting you, but could you please help me?” She shared that over 90% of the employees do not mind being interrupted in this manner as it shows you see they were busy, acknowledged it, were polite, and are seeking their help.

    I thought it good advice.

  4. Agree on all points, until you lost me at Trump. I do not come here to read about politicians, either negatively or positively. Excellent post otherwise. “No problem,” indeed. What are those kids thinking? And how about the way they walk up and just start talking and interrupting table conversation these days? I have been interrupted twice while saying grace. And while we are at it, what’s with tipping at places where all they do is fill a take out coffee cup? BTW, the post office counter in my Colorado neighborhood is excellent, surprisingly excellent. -JDV

    1. Writing about tipping. I was astonished to see a tip box on the counter of my doctor’s office. What on earth should an admitting clerk be tipped for? Given the cost of healthcare and medication in America, there’s barely enough to go around to receive a diagnosis. There were dollars of different denominations in the box; seed money, I suspect.

  5. I agree with JDV that your post was excellent except for the Trump thing. I hadn’t heard that one yet.

    While the subject is post covid restaurant service, I found your recent visit to the Ritz amusing, with the baseball cap-wearing patrons on their phones. That is a double whammy, not only for their inappropriate attire, but also being on their phones.

    Constantly being on the phone, whether talking, texting or perusing social media, is one of the most annoying, disrespectful things ever. It has become an epidemic. No wonder the staff was disinterested. America has taken a nose dive when it comes to manners and dress. In my humble opinion, it works both ways.

    1. Agree, Heather. I find it usually get much better service if I’m well-dressed, and take the time to greet whoever is helping me, and make eye contact. Getting dressed up, going to a fine spot for a meal, seeing others dressed up (and phone-free) is a rare experience.

  6. Heather and Katie,

    Greetings and well said ! I could not agree more.

    There is an old expression not heard much these days and which goes like this:
    “ One gets the respect one commands. One gets no more and one gets no less.”

    (Sometimes people even have trouble understanding this particular use of the word ‘commands’. To my mind, that in itself, says something.)

    Kind regards,

  7. Hello. It’s the word police, here to give you my latest criticism because I know you secretly love it. The waiters were uninterested, not disinterested. You’re welcome.

  8. Hi, I would first like to mention that I have no complaint with the US Postal Service, although I think they should have insisted on a better deal with Amazon to deliver their packages. FedEx is neither on time nor careful with their deliveries. UPS, however, is incredible and prompt, with accuracy and courteous drivers. Those giant brown trucks cannot be easy to maneuver, but they do. I am close to Chicago, so admittedly close to the hub of everything.

    Secondly, I have to add a frustration. I have been trying to find a new job for the better part of a year, and the process is exhausting and demoralizing, with companies slow to respond and act. I had one opportunity that included three interviews, and then resulted in a form email of rejection a month later. Others simply don’t return calls when they are advertising open positions. Most applications are sent into an abyss with no acknowledgment of receipt. AI systems weed out resumes lacking key words. Byron, is this level of rejection what a writer experiences? I think it must be.

    On a recent trip, we definitely have experienced very slow service because of lack of staffing. It is no wonder then that the servers who do turn up are weary.

    1. Hello Elle,

      On searching for jobs, what has always worked for me is completely bypassing HR. You do this by keeping in touch with former colleagues (preferably the high performing kind ;-), going to conferences and at appropriate moments mentioning that you wouldn’t resist a change. Make sure to have an up to date PDF copy of your resume on your phone that can be sent around (With an 1.9% unemployment rate, open positions are abundantly available here.)

      Personally, working as I do, I always use the late third / early forth quarter to post on LinkedIn that I’m looking for new consulting projects related to three core interests. Helps if former and present colleagues / clients / vendors endorse, like and share it. I understand this approach might not work for people in full-time employment the same way.

      That said, I’ve used this approach to score warm introductions to a team lead in the area I was looking in, with an interview already set up. And looking back, all my best roles have evolved this way: Life is so much easier if you don’t have to compete with 125 resumes to be filtered out in the first stage.

      Hope this helps.


      1. Johannes, thank you for your insight. You are correct that using a network of people (selectively!) is valuable. You have given some ideas I did not consider. Yes, I have several versions of a resume that differ based on the industry. It does seem that if places genuinely have a need, they would be motivated to stay in contact with applicants. In the age of so many options for communication, I am amazed how often job seekers are left to wonder about status or a timeline. To the point of the post, I see a loss of respect for others. I used to hire people, and when I told them when I would get back to them, I followed through. If we were not making a selection for a month, I would make that clear. When hiring young people, often I would explain why they were not chosen: if it was due to their schedule, experience, etc. so they would understand and not be discouraged. My husband says I am too soft-hearted, but that’s who I am!

  9. One more comment:

    Kuddos to Bryon for recognizing that baseball players wear caps, not hats. One Southern lifestyle blog I read continues to use the wrong term and I have even been chastised by readers twice for correcting the author. If words do not mean something they mean nothing.

    And by the way to anyone interested, baseball players also wear spikes, not cleats. Football players, American and otherwise, wear cleats.

    Today my 8th grade son asked me after school, ‘Dad, what are inalienable rights?’ I explained, ‘Son, I think I know what your teacher meant, but the word in the Declaration is unalienable, not inalienable.’

    Although, those two words mean basically the same thing. And don’t get me started on lectern vs. podium, even though dictionaries are caving on that one.

    Finally, re the post office vs other methods. Is anyone else tiring of continual Amazon trucks in their neighborhood almost all day every day, even Sunday? I do not believe that is safe for kids out riding their bikes when the drivers clearly have tight schedules to keep.


  10. Hello Byron,

    I have been thinking about the title of this blog topic and I do not think that this is a ‘post-pandemic’ result or situation.

    The world, its social behaviours and service in particular have been on the slippery slope for a long time. Covid simply focused things and brought many of them to a head. ‘A head’ that would have inevitably come, perhaps just taking a little longer had it not been for a virus they’re still arguing the origins of. It also spotlighted things that were probably hiding in plain sight. We’d just morphed along with them and not noticed.

    We are told by companies, large and small, that each and every customer counts. Do what I do when I feel I no longer count.

    Vote with your feet.

    Kind regards,

  11. Vote with your feet, indeed. But it gets harder all the time. I stopped shopping at Target because of a policy I was opposed to, and now Walmart has an even worse policy. I realize there are not many big box shoppers on this blog but one must buy essentials like deodorant somewhere, huh. What’s left? Not mom and pops, as Amazon and other online has squeezed them out during the pandemic. I get great comfort from watching old TV and the scenes with local general stores. It was a more pleasant time.

    But voting with one’s feet is harder than it once was, although, still the way to go, for sure. There is actually a strange paradox. Businesses are so desperate for customers that they allow them to come in wearing anything or almost nothing, or bringing huge animals with them. The large dog walking through Barnes and Noble last week was unbelievable. On the other hand, service has suffered so much, as described in this post by Byron. So, they beg for customers and at the same time push others away. The importance of supporting brick and mortar over online is enormous in my opinion.

  12. Language evolves and “no problem” is post-1990s for “you’re welcome.” I’m just old enough to see it as my generation’s idiosyncrasy as opposed to the standard, but disagree that it is a mark of poor service.

  13. I recently heard an economist discuss the massive labor shortages that he expects to see later this decade due to demographic shifts and the converge of major technological trends such as self-driving cars and SWB (solar, wind and battery).

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