Luke M. Smith
Runner-Up Winner
12th Grade
Thomas S. Wootton High School
Rockville, MD

It’s on the House

    “Please take the Bang Bang shrimp, on us.”

    The manager had just saved some business—five hungry potential diners—and he had done so with a smile.

    My family and I had gone to dine at a local seafood restaurant, and had accepted the thirty-minute wait as standard for a Saturday evening. Forty minutes after our supposed seating time, my younger brother was fast asleep, my younger sister had run out of friends to text, and my parents were beginning to second-guess our choice of restaurant. Suddenly a host approached us, asked for our drink orders, and hurried off. Minutes later, we were sipping our drinks—at no charge—and any previous ill feelings had vanished. Shortly thereafter, the manager unexpectedly approached us with a popular appetizer—the Bang Bang shrimp. He was composed, contrite, and helpful all at once; he impressed us with his concern for our wait time and also with his desire to provide us with a pleasant dining experience. Between the shrimp, drinks, concern, and friendly service, our impression of the restaurant soared.

    During a time when we as a family were going “out” to eat much less—and were being notably pickier about where to do so—such simple courtesy made all the difference in both our opinion of the restaurant and in our desire to return. In fact, the manager had demonstrated the most important ways to succeed in economically challenging times. He had provided us a quality service at a great value, he had gone out of his way for our benefit, and he had been exceptionally friendly and sincere—all of which ensured further business, both from us and from those we talked to. These characteristics and their subsequent effects are indispensible for the success of any business, and prove especially useful in a unique metropolitan setting like Washington, D.C.

    Companies in the Greater Washington region—including the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, and Suburban Maryland—have a number of distinct advantages over companies throughout the rest of the nation.1 Washington, D.C. is home to countless government agencies, ranging from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the National Institutes of Health. As the employers of thousands of federal workers, these agencies offer something that no other metropolitan area in the country can: a large and stable workforce with a level of job security that cannot be matched. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics listed the national average for unemployment at 9.7% last July, the Washington metropolitan area possessed a 6.2% unemployment rate—one of the lowest in the country.2 In addition to job security, families have access to some of the best public school systems in the nation; the region boasts 16 of the top100 highest-performing high schools nationwide, according to Newsweek.3 Then there are the incredible entertainment options: the National Zoo, the Smithsonian museums, and the endless variety of theatres and shops. With such a well-rounded and secure environment, it hardly comes as a surprise that the area’s population continues to grow.4 And it is on this stable and vast consumer base that companies can truly capitalize.

    As a hotspot for enterprise, Washington D.C. harbors some of the most advanced industries in the nation and in the world.5 Businesses must maintain an extremely high level of competitiveness if they hope to succeed among the myriad of rivals in the region. But what is the best way to stay competitive? During an economic recession, it is financially prudent to improve efficiency while continuing to offer a quality product at a reasonable cost. Businesses must strive to supply this quality product—whether that involves cleaning the windows of the storefront, diversifying the product being sold, or investing in cutting-edge technologies that will revolutionize the market. If new employees are needed, the business can develop strict criteria in order to pick only the best from the applicant pool. By promoting efficiency and streamlining costs along with hiring the top employees, businesses can maintain a value that is appealing to potential customers.

    My father is a veterinarian who owns a practice just outside of Washington, D.C., and through my conversations with him I have learned of the benefit that results from customer satisfaction, and from “going that extra mile.” His practice has suffered relatively little from the economic crisis, and a great deal of his success can be attributed to the word-of-mouth business provided by pleased clients. While his business officially closes at five o’clock, it is a rarity to see him arrive home before eight at night because he regularly stays after hours to help patients that need it. And the added hours pay off—clients invariably tell my father that they came to him on the recommendation of a friend or neighbor. Especially during tough times, customers can relate to a business that treats them well and appreciates their patronage. Even the phrase “going the extra mile” is a misnomer, because a small show of kindness can mean much more to the customer. What better way to advertise, especially when times are tight, than through the word-of-mouth goodwill of pleased customers?

    For small businesses and huge corporations alike, a focus on the customer first and foremost is vital. Over the summer I began working as a salesperson at a bike store that is one in a chain of eighty-six separate retailers. Over time I noticed that our store manager exemplifies the ‘service with a smile’ mentality—he always maintains a genuine friendliness and candidness with the customer that transcends mere bike sales. He once mentioned to me that he specifically looks for employees that will be polite and good-natured as major factors for employment. When an adverse situation arises, he reacts immediately: making concessions where necessary and always putting a special emphasis on satisfying the customer.

    What Greater Washington business would not be elated to see what I have witnessed? A lengthy waiting time caused by diners swarming a seafood restaurant far beyond capacity. A veterinary practice immersed in the sounds of ringing phones and a filled waiting room. A local bike store crammed with customers. During an economic downturn, such scenes of spending might seem odd or out of place. But having experienced each phenomenon firsthand, I can now identify an underlying theme among the businesses that keeps customers returning again and again. Each business offers friendly and appreciative services, with an emphasis on the customer. Each business offers quality at a fair price, and goes out of its way to keep the customers satisfied. And the customers reciprocate—with the best advertising of all; free recommendations that generate new and repeat business more effectively than any billboard.

    The Greater Washington region possesses a uniquely large and stable populace for local businesses, but numbers alone cannot ensure long-term success, especially in a struggling economy. When I asked the seafood restaurant manager why he treated us so well and whether it was a universal restaurant policy, he replied: “No, it’s not a policy. I just didn’t want your family to get a bad impression of the restaurant.” An attitude like that ensures success.

Works Cited

  1. Welcome to the Greater Washington Initiative. Greater Washington Initiative.
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009.
  3. Greater Washington 2009 Regional Report. Greater Washington Initiative. Washington, D.C., 2009. 11.
  4. US Census Bureau, 2008.
  5. Greater Washington 2009 Regional Report. Greater Washington Initiative. Washington, D.C., 2009. 15.