You’ve seen the tee shirt. “Underestimate me. That’ll be fun.” It has a bit of a smart-alecky tone, like someone who has been around the block a few times and is proud to show off. But it also has a super confident, “I can’t wait to surprise you” theme. I met face to face with a frontline server with completely unexpected passion. She was on fire to serve.

My business partner and I were working with a client holding a meeting in Puerto Rico. Arriving at the Ritz-Carlton San Juan mid-day, we checked in and made our way to one of the hotel’s restaurants. Jennifer Lacomba had a menu in our hands before our bottoms touched our seats. Her sprawling warmth enveloped us like a bright sunrise on a spring morning.  

“I am so glad you are dining with me,” she said. Her manner was a perfect blend of the attentiveness of a grand host with the confidence of someone with total dominion over the experience she was beginning to unfold for our enjoyment.

“Where are you boys from?” she asked, smartly adjusting her style to be in sync with our way-too-obvious Southern accents. When our answers conveyed a willingness to be playful, she tiptoed toward a more daring exchange. Her warmth became the backdrop to a decidedly feistier style. She was an absolute authority on the menu, utterly frank on what she liked and didn’t. Her authenticity surfaced our unreserved trust in her menu recommendations. Learning we were interested in cuisine slightly off the beaten path; she turned up the volume on her boldness.  

“You want to try my special sauce with those French fries? It gets raving reviews from the brave souls willing to give it a try.” Her expression was both impish and certain—this was her playground, and she had all the toys! Naturally, we enthusiastically took the bait! Her complete countenance conveyed someone in love with her role. 

She refilled our iced tea glasses without request and asked us to give her assistance moving a nearby heavy table. She brought more dinner rolls (“Let me get you boys some hot ones!”) and briefly sat down with us at our table to solicit feedback when she brought our check. And it did not end with the check. When we gathered our stuff to leave, we heard, “Can we do this again tomorrow?” like she’d had as much fun as we had.

Customers love getting service delivered by passionate associates. Research shows they abhor indifferent service even more than they hate bad service. Bad service can be explained as a byproduct of factors beyond the influence of the frontline persons. Indifferent service, on the other hand, signals one clear and present message—the lack of caring. The antidote to indifference is leadership and a culture that supports and celebrates the Jennifer Lacomba’s of the world. Elevate bold and watch your bottom line grow.