The Unexpected Patron
Recently, we headed to the local buffet for a stomach-stuffing, diet-busting meal of fried rice and egg drop soup. Soft lights and velvety carpets soothed our spirits as we sipped on hot tea. A few plates into our meal, at the precise moment I was swirling a pot sticker into a pool of soy sauce, a commotion overcame the darkened dining room. Dashing between the tables was a rather unexpected patron: a giant, panicked, smooth-coated hound. A 100lb dog was loose in the Chinese restaurant.
This is an environment familiar to most any American citizen but entirely alien to the average American canine. Presumably attracted by the unique combination of smells emanating from the open door to the kitchen, the cur broke free from its owner’s grasp and darted into a mysterious realm of sweet and sour pork and moo goo gai pan. Shooed away by Mandarin curses, the pup burst onto the buffet floor and dashed from table to table in desperation. The other guests defended their dinners from the frightened, enormous animal. He hunted for noodles, but was not fed.
The sight of an untethered, slobbering beast barreling headlong through the corridors of a busy Chinese restaurant is considerably more hilarious if one also notes the dimensions of the stereotypical Chinese restaurateur. The poor hostess charged with subduing the creature was wrestling above her weight class. Worse, the loose mutt wore no collar. Unable to grab on, she eventually resorted to luring the dog outside with a tasty leg of teriyaki chicken. The experience lasted all of thirty seconds. I caught sight of a shirtless jogger through the tinted windows, holding a limp leash and wearing a countenance of dread. Dog and owner were reunited, and stern words exchanged. We returned to our fried rice.
Out of Scope
The lesson of the dog in the Chinese restaurant is that no business can be prepared for every eventuality. There may be insurance policies against accidents, foul weather, and criminal acts, there may be company procedures for disgruntled employees and irate customers, or backup plans for covering a missed shift, but something crazy—like a rampaging bullmastiff circling the salad bar—cannot be readily predicted. Such occurrences, in the parlance of methodology engineering, are “out of scope.”
The heroine of this tale, despite her diminutive frame and lack of specialized training in dog-catching, approached this task with impressive resolve and brilliance. These are the fundamentals in reacting to some unplanned event, be it disastrous, nerve-wracking, or simply bizarre. Great, quick solutions in emergencies arise when people are committed and clear-thinking.
These are intertwined principles of immediate response. First, act with determination (or if you must, doggedness). Apathy breeds uncertainty, but action builds confidence. Second, act with your brain, not your brawn. The staff could have chosen to club the dog with a giant, super-heated wok. Far worse than a confused, gargantuan domesticated animal loose in a Chinese restaurant is one who is angry or dead.
When an out-of-scope issue arises and is then resolved, the next phase is follow-up. My local buffet took the standard response in the minutes that followed the canine invasion: they pretended nothing had happened. There were no words from managers, no apologies from waitstaff, and not even a joke from the hostess. Obviously, the business would rather forget the experience ever occurred, and this complete inaction supports their own policy of selective memory. I suspect the self-appointed puppy wrangler received at most a few words of praise from her boss. The episode has been forcefully forgotten.
The problem with not following-up is that it implies normality. If no one notes that the scenario was totally unexpected, someone will wonder if the appearance of dogs is standard operating procedure in this Chinese restaurant. If a system breaks and the tech fixes it with total nonchalance, he doesn’t have to state that “This happens all the time.” The non-announcement implies a non-event. Follow-up reinforces the critically important fact that the out of scope event was unanticipated.
The last phase of response is to determine whether or not repeat occurrences are expected and whether emergency plans should be enacted. Are loose dogs sniffing for wontons a wild, once-in-a-lifetime fluke, or a serious threat to restaurant security? Should we outfit kitchens with screen doors or send essential personnel to canine self-defense classes? This is where individuals and enterprises demonstrate a true commitment to customers. Responding to a crisis is important, but not as impressive as comprehensive post-crisis reform and future prevention. I don’t know if the kitchen installed a warning sign, upgraded their air conditioners, or otherwise improved the exterior door. All these options indicate sound management—the resource in shortest supply.
Beyond the Dogs
No project proposal is flawlessly comprehensive. No warranty on goods or services can cover every possible contingency. No signed agreement enumerates every detail of required work. Our efforts to prepare to conduct business must be as complete as possible, but we must also recognize that sometimes an enormous puppy dog will take laps around our Chinese restaurant. The unplanned will occur, and we will be required to react.
Those first few moments seem definitive. When systems crash or when clients ask for labor well beyond contract requirements, our choice of actions is inarguably profound. The great opportunity, however, lies in the aftermath. We should acknowledge what has occurred, then analyze and act. An unexpected event will never be unexpected again. I read that somewhere, probably in a fortune cookie. -Robby Slaughter