Pet Peeve: “No Problem.”

Outback Steakhouse in California
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Be forewarned.  I am stepping on a soapbox.

This is a mini-rant — a “rant-ette” perhaps — that has potential to grow and expand. It has been waiting, dormant, for just the right moment to emerge.  This rant was triggered this evening, while dining at a popular chain restaurant.

We had received a gift card at Christmas for this restaurant, so decided that tonight was a good night to cash it in. We received excellent service from a charming waiter.  Our steaks were cooked to perfection: C. said it was the best steak he had had at a restaurant in recent memory.  We will go back.

BUT. . .(you knew it was coming).

Perhaps it is generational.  Perhaps it is our particular point in the history of human relationships.    Here comes the rant:

IF you are in a service business, please do not use the phrase, “No problem.”

Whenever I am in a restaurant and make a request, and the server responds, “No problem,” I want to say, “Well, that’s a good thing, since you’re in a service business!”

Our waiter was prompt, personable, anticipatory, excellent.  We left  a tip of just over twenty percent — in cash. [Waitstaff often dread customers who pay with gift cards, because many do not tip.] I predict his income will increase,  he will receive rave reviews, and maybe even a promotion if he will just eliminate his habitual usage of the phrase, “No problem.”  We’d like Caesar salads.  “No problem.”  (How about, “Our Caesar salads are my favorite” ?) I’d like my steak medium rare, on the rare side.  “No problem.” (How about, “Yes,” or  “Medium rare, yes Ma’am.”) Yes, we will have another round.  “No problem, those will be right out.” (“I’ll get those straight away” speaks of service.)

Here’s the deal.  When you say, “No problem,”  what you are actually saying is, “Your request does not inconvenience me.”  Face it:  for most people, sadly, having a job is inconvenient.  A job interferes with your ability to do what you would rather be doing, like going fishing, watching Law and Order marathons, or  playing Angry Birds until your eyes glaze over and your wife is passing you notes that say, “Take a shower.” Businesses exist to meet an identified need. Their employees are on the front lines to provide customer service, and to form lasting relationships (translation:  customer loyalty and repeat business).  If your job is to anticipate the needs of guests, or to fulfill requests, “No problem” is not the proper response.

This innocuous phrase has crept into all kinds of interactions.  I was leaving a dinner party recently and thanked the host, as my mama taught me to do.  The host’s reply:  “Not a problem.”  WTF?  If it’s a problem, why are you entertaining tonight?  When a parent thanks a teacher at the end of the quarterly conference, the teacher should not reply “No Problem.”  When your flight arrives at the gate, and you are rushing to make your connection, and you take a moment to thank the flight attendant, the proper response is “You’re welcome,” or “Have a good trip:”  NOT “No problem.”

You know what impresses me, and makes me want to come back to an establishment?  “With pleasure.”  “I am happy to. . .”  “It is my pleasure.”  “You are welcome.”  This is not sucking up, or groveling.  A service person retains their power and dignity by taking charge of the situation in this way.  It is a human response that acknowledges give and take.  I’ll grant you, The American Public, in the generic sense, is horrific, rude, antagonistic, demanding, and unappreciative.  A person whose feathers are already ruffled will not be calmed with the assurance that her presence is not an inconvenience. Without customers — happy or not — a business cannot survive.

Service people are people.  They have hard days.  Most of them do a magnificent job, for long hours and inadequate wages.  I stopped socializing with a co-worker many years ago because I was mortified at the rudeness and dismissive manner with which she addressed any restaurant employee whenever we went out to lunch.  When I was in college, I did a summer stint as a cocktail waitress and learned how some people just have to make you feel small or cheap.  Nobody deserves that.  And so, excellent service people  find ways to be a cut above, to give extraordinary customer service.

Let’s eliminate “No problem,” and  bring back “Thank You, ” “You are welcome,” and “It is my pleasure.”  Best yet is to give a spontaneous and in-the-moment response , person to person. Simple, clean.  Perhaps the only time to reply, “No problem,” is if the prior question includes the phrases “I hate to ask you this, but. . .” or “Would it be a problem if. . . ”  Then, perhaps, “Of course, that is no problem at all.  We’ll be happy to accommodate you” would be appropriate.
Any automatic response, mindless and unthinking — and “Have a blessed day” can fall into this category as well — has a demeaning and depersonalizing effect. At this time in our culture, when people are so polarized along religious, political, socio-economic, racial, gender, regional, and technological lines — I would argue that making an extra effort in the name of civility, courtesy, and personal acknowledgment is not only a smart survival strategy.  It just might make a difference in how  we feel about the people with whom we come into contact.

This courtesy and  respect for the humanity of others can also extend to our co-workers and within our own families.  If reality shows have any merit at all (and I’m not sure they do), it is as a model of how NOT to relate to other people. What is it that causes us to stop appreciating each other?

“No problem” should not be an automatic response.   The best way to add value to a customer’s (or ANYONE’S) experience with you is to make them feel valued.  “You did not inconvenience me” does not build relationships, or loyalty, or natural warmth of human interaction.  When someone says, “Thank you for. . .” the proper response is, “You are welcome.”  Extraordinary value, attitude, relationship building:  say “It is my pleasure.” Treat people like people, or better yet, like a “guest of honor.”

Courtesy and acknowledgment can change the world. Emphasize the problem, and you’ll get more problems.  Say, “It is my pleasure,” and who knows what could happen?

Here endeth the rant.

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One thought on “Pet Peeve: “No Problem.”

  1. Oh, that ranks right up there with “You guys”. I have breasts and a uterus… I don’t think I’ll ever be a guy.

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