Good service still exists albeit in limited supply

The black bear decorating theme is part of the charm, and to be expected, at the Black Bear Diner.

Adam, a member of the wait staff at the Black Bear Diner where service (and black bears) reign supreme, greeted us at the door and quickly made us feel comfortable with humor and genuine interactions.
By : 
Dr. Jan Meyer
Biker's Diary

A long time ago, actually in the early 1980s, I read an article titled “Somebody help me, please!” It was straightforward about the state of service in our culture: good service was fast disappearing. The bottom line was that someday, in the then not-too-distant future, good service would be so rare it would be glaringly obvious.

That someday is now. Good service is indeed very rare, so when it does happen, yes, it does stand out. We had the pleasure of being on the receiving end of that this week. Because our Arizona home is for sale, we have had quite a few opportunities in the last two weeks when we must be gone.

One morning this week we had to be gone for four hours. When this started, we had made a list of errands and other things to do during the times when we had to make ourselves scarce. However, this one started so early in the morning that the places on our list where we could use the time wisely were not open yet. We decided to wait by trying out a place we had noticed in the past, but had never had the opportunity to visit. It was the Black Bear Diner, which in itself is a rather inviting name.

The first indication of what was in store for us was as we walked in. We were greeted, not from behind a counter/cash register, but by a person who actually walked out from behind that barrier to smile and welcome us. The wait staff, Adam, appeared immediately, and asked if we had been to the Black Bear before. When we said no, he appeared delighted, thanked us for coming. We were seated close to the entrance, and noticed that everyone was greeted that way, and it sounded to me as if these people really cared!

Adam went on to explain the menus: they are printed like newspapers, with the front page containing old news stories and photos from the past. The inside was the menu, for breakfast, lunch and dinner; by itself, it was impressive.

The décor was delightful, featuring everything bears. The wait staff “uniform” also featured bears, of course, right down to bears on the suspenders and on the shirts. Each staff member wore a different “themed” bear, such as the “surfing bear.” It made me curious to see all of the themes being worn that day, but didn’t want to get in the way.

I immediately thought of a place we’d been to with friends the previous week. There the manager wore an ill-fitting, ill-fitting, and dubiously clean t-shirt and the wait staff wore similar sloppy looking gear. Long-ago studies demonstrated that people behave like they are dressed: sloppy clothing leads to sloppy behavior, and that restaurant experience was a good confirmation.

Back at the Black Bear Diner, however, there was more to be seen and experienced. The place mats were a great way to set expectations. On one side, a column explained the “Black Bear Philosophy.” In a nutshell, it centered around “great food (and lots of it) and great service at all times.” The explanation was divided into six “credos.” First was that customers would be greeted “at the door quickly and with a smile.” We certainly experienced that. Included under that credo was the acknowledgement that we have a lot of options, and out “Of all your options, YOU CHOSE US, and we are grateful.” What a novel idea in this world of service — people acting as if they are doing us a favor when they deal with customers.

The second credo promised that we will get deserved attention “(hopefully, with a little personality, too).” That line explains a lot. To me, the most important aspect of observing people at work is that they should be having fun. Good managers know how to create that atmosphere, also known as culture. It rubs off on customers!

One way this is accomplished is through a sense of humor, and at the Black Bear Diner that shows through in both the menu and the credos: we won’t “get a canned greeting,” customers can ”RELAX!” during our wait which might be longer than other places because everything is cooked to order. If we don’t say “WOW!” when we get our food, it must be because we “either ordered toast or our cooks flashed back to when they were working somewhere else.” They use “huge platters” for plates and fill them with food because “you deserve your money’s worth.” Because of that goal, they likely “have one of the highest ‘to go’ container costs in the industry,” because they urge us to take home whatever we can’t eat at one sitting.

The third credo at Black Bear prepares eaters for the possible wait: after all, good food cooked to order will take a little longer “than the average bear (pun intended).” So folks are encouraged to enjoy the wait while perusing the surroundings and all the information available about the company’s past and future.

The last credo is assurance that they really do care: they want us to give them our comments and they promise to read every single one because “we appreciate our customers taking the time to write to us…..Good or bad, we want to hear it!”

The place started as a restaurant in a small town in northern California known as the Strawberry Valley. It had been known for its wild berry patches “frequented by both black bears and people alike” and for its incredible hospitality.

Many years later, in 1995, two partners determined to recreate the level of hospitality of those bygone days, hoping to remind guests of “a time when life was a little more simple, a time when service and quality were the cornerstones of business.” Obviously the partners have been successful in their pursuits. From one location, it has branched out, and Black Bear Diners can be found in California, Arizona and Nevada.

To me, it is so rare the receiving end of good service now feels like an honor. It’s obvious that not only are we going to return to that establishment, we’re also recommending it to friends. That’s the best advertisement they can get; at least as important as the confidence I have that they will live up to our recommendation.