What’s Behind Door Number Two?

Monday night, I was retreating into good conversation with a friend in the corner of a local coffee shop. My friend was telling me a story about his daughter, who is currently in her freshman year of college. He said his daughter was recently interviewed at a chain coffee shop (not the one of which you might immediately think), and was asked the question upon which he claimed the interview likely hung, which he paraphrased this way:  Which is more important: a good product, friendly service, or fast service?

He then asked me which answer I would give. I immediately responded with “a quality product.”

Apparently, the correct answer for the interviewing coffee shop was friendly service. I should have guessed, since the interview took place in North Carolina. Don’t you just love the South? I was amazed. I’ve seen this principle in action, but have never been a believer. Producing the best quality product is by far the most important concern in my eyes. I immediately write off the “fast” answer, because almost nothing worthwhile is done quickly, be it coffee or friendships. I simply cannot comprehend the “friendly” view.

Take, for example, the coffee shop in which my friend and I were sitting. You see, my friend agrees with his daughter’s interviewers: friendly service is paramount to such an establishment. My friend knows the proprietor of the coffee shop we visited last night by name, as do I. He feels welcome  in that shop, and this is what brings my friend back. I feel just as welcome in that shop. However, frequently, of late, they have not been able to offer me the coffee I wanted from their selection. I would rather pay a local business for my coffee than a national chain. However, if I can’t find what I want, I tend to go where I can get what I want: high quality coffee (in this case of a specific brew). I don’t care about how friendly the service is if I can’t get great quality coffee.

Now, let me insert a caveat. I have left restaurants and not returned (at least not for a long time) because of someone being needlessly rude to me. I’m not saying that treating an individual with respect isn’t important. I’m just saying its not as important as the product you’re serving, be it food or coffee or action figures or tomatoes.

(I have no idea where those last two came from, either)

Why is my perspective different from my friend’s? My feeling on this, at first blush, is that it is part of the creative instinct: whatever one is making must be as near to perfection as one can make it. Perhaps, though, I’m suffering from consumerism: I feel entitled to exercise my choice of products, thus placing the value on what I purchase instead of the human beings involved. There’s a third option, also: perhaps I’m again experiencing the angst of being a Northerner transplanted into Southern culture. We don’t waste so much time being polite up there. Its simply too cold. And, moreover, we don’t engage in false politeness (as in saying anything you want about someone as long as you end it with “bless their little heart”).

So, I pose a question to you, dear reader. Which of those three do you think my perspective is? Or is there something at play here I haven’t seen?

And, perhaps most importantly, which would you choose: service, or quality?


  1. Wait aren’t you the one who says people over profit? That relates to people over product. This is why the “spirit of excellence” mantra in many churches aggrevates me. If people are sacrificed for the sake of the quality of the product (be it good music or coffee) perhaps we have misplaced our priorities.

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