Learning Radical Hospitality at Taco Bell

It’s time to make an embarrassingly honest confession…I love Taco Bell. Not the new cantina or fresco stuff. I love the “real” Taco Bell. You know what I mean by the “real” Taco Bell, right? The stuff the surgeon general warns you about. The things you are only to consume in moderation. Now they’ve even made it better by offering the “XXL” portions. I believe that “XXL” means that’s the size shirt you’ll end up wearing if you consume too many “XXL” items. ┬áLet’s be honest, if you were only meant to eat one or two tacos, why do the sell them in 12-packs? Some might say that the multi-packs are for feeding groups and families. Those people are called…well, it’s not polite to call people names so…Okay…I love Taco Bell. There, I said it…and I’ll say it again: I love Taco Bell! Whew! It feels good to get that off my chest!

This evening, I had a lesson in radical hospitality at Taco Bell.

The line was not very long. However, the wait was ridiculous. I kept wondering if the person in front of me had ordered a “boat load” of tacos. All day long I had a craving for some baja beef chalupas. My mouth was watering. And, the long wait was making me a bit impatient.

When I got to the window, a young woman greeted me with an apology. “We’re extremely sorry for your wait.” My response was, “Oh, no problem. I’m in no hurry.” She then proceeded to take my money and give me my change. Then, the waiting continued. I continued to grow impatient.

She returned to the window with my food. She then said, “Again, I’m so sorry for your wait. Your chalupas are going to be really hot. So, I’d wait before digging into them. Oh, and I went ahead and threw a brownie in there too. It’s just our way of saying sorry.”

I told her she didn’t have to do that. She replied, “Well, we don’t really have a good reason for your wait. We feel bad about making you wait. And, we really hope you’ll come back.”

That’s when I realized I had just witnessed a lesson in radical hospitality. You see, the young woman at Taco Bell didn’t need to do anything beyond her initial apology. In fact, she didn’t even need to apologize. The reality is that my wait wasn’t as long as it seemed. My hunger and longing for a baja beef chalupa made the event seem much more dramatic than it really had been. Yet, she apologized multiple times. Not only did she apologize, she threw in a brownie and added in that she hopes I’ll return.

My first thought was, “Taco Bell has brownies?”

My next thought was, “Wow! That really exceeded my expectations. Of course I’ll be back!”

I experienced high quality customer service in a place I really had not expected it. Customer service is a key to getting customers to return. If your customer service is good, customers are more likely to overlook minor issues and return. If your customer service is poor, the chances of customers returning begins to diminish. I have a list of businesses and churches I will not return to due to their poor customer service (radical hospitality). If you want an example of poor customer service, just ask me about the “Cookie Monster” fiasco at a certain Muncie-based restaurant.

The idea with radical hospitality is that we will go beyond what is expected in welcoming people into our churches and groups. We will know when to say “thank you”, “I’m sorry”, and “I hope you’ll come back.” We will be willing to admit that we don’t always get it right. We will go out of our way to make people feel wanted, valued, respected, and appreciated. We will be authentic and sincere. People will see right through it if we are just “going through the motions” or simply “doing what that book told us to.”

This evening, at Taco Bell, I was reminded of the importance of doing our best to let people know we care, that we are glad they have joined us, and that we hope they’ll come back.