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Don't "No Problem" Me

January 3, 2012 By: Robert Plotkin

At the risk of sounding like a surly curmudgeon, I hereby declare war on the phrase, “No problem.” And so should you. This particularly horrid phrase has absolutely no place in on-premise vernacular. So, what’s the problem, you ask?

Recently, I was eating at a restaurant with my family. The server refilled my coffee, and when I said, “Thank you,” she replied “No problem,” pirouetted and pranced off. I felt my face flush and hands begin to twitch. I can’t abide that horrid phrase.

What’s the problem, you ask? These seemingly innocuous words represent the pervasive decline in gracious hospitality. The field-tested, time-proven response to a guest who expresses thanks for a hospitable act is a smile, a nod and a “You’re welcome.” Wait, wait — before you tune me out, consider the effect the intrinsic differences between “No problem” and “You’re welcome” have on the perceived quality of your establishment’s level of service.

First, “You’re welcome” conveys that the individual was pleased to be of service. Addressing the wants and needs of guests is ultimately what the entire hospitality industry is built on. Ah, but what message does the all-too-popular phrase “No problem” convey to guests? The clear inference is that the effort required no effort whatsoever and that “It’s a good thing for you buddy, because if had it been a problem for me, you would not have gotten that coffee refill.” It’s a flip, jocular response that is contrary to hospitable service. It’s street lingo that should be left at the service entrance.

I want guests to feel indulged and treated as if their patronage is genuinely appreciated. That is precisely how you go about building repeat business. “You’re welcome” is a gracious response, whereas “No problem” is more like a dismissive wave of the hand.

I should mention that “It was my pleasure” and “Any time” are equally gracious responses. Both leave guests feeling warm and fuzzy.

Well, you’ve all been forewarned. The next bartender or server who says “No problem” to me will lose a fair percentage of their tip and get an ice pick in their temple (yeah, not really). Trust me, the only time you want to hear the words “No problem” is from your physician in response to the question, “How’s my heart?”


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