Weekend vacation leaves questions

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2008

All I wanted was to get away from it all for just a weekend.

I wanted to do something different and sit back and relax.

Unfortunately with gas prices as high as they are, a quick trip to New Orleans or the coast seemed out of the question.

Email newsletter signup

So I decided to take my vacation at home.

By the end of the weekend my vacation in Natchez left me with questions about how those fortunate enough to travel experience our town.

Small towns are famously known for their customer service. A warm smile and helping hand are what come to mind when you think about living in a small town.

My quick Natchez get away last week left me wondering if this image still rings true.

It has been a while since I have had an obligation-free weekend. To celebrate, I decided to do something I haven’t done in a while — cook out on the grill.

After perusing through books and magazines for grilling ideas, I ventured out to the store to get all of my supplies.

It was an easy trip through the grocery store and a quick visit to the garden center before I made my way to the checkout aisle.

Hoping to avoid long lines, I moved my cart to the green light at the self-checkout line.

Before I had a chance to reach into the basket, the attendant at the front said, “It doesn’t work.”

When I looked up, the attendant was standing there texting on her cell phone.

Clearly she was not interested in her job. When I asked which self-checkout did work, she pointed to the long line of carts to the right without looking up from her cell phone.

Not once did she look at me to offer an apology or even offer a suggestion.

It was enough to make me leave my cart and walk-out.

If that was the only bad-customer service experience of my home vacation, I would have dismissed it as just one of those rare experiences.

But a lunch at a local restaurant has me wondering.

Making customers feel comfortable and welcome must no longer be a priority for some businesses these days.

With chairs sitting upside down on tables and with many lights still out in the restaurant in which others were already dining, our waitress escorted us to the table.

At noon, the dining room looked like the restaurant was closed for business.

I could see every piece of bubblegum children had pressed into the chair bottoms over the years.

If the atmosphere was questionable, the food service was lacking.

Twenty-minutes after taking our order, the waitress informed us that our food was almost ready. Then 15 minutes later, she came back to ask if we needed anything else.

“Our food?” I asked.

It was the complete inattention to detail — from the unprepared dining room to the bathrooms without paper towels and toilet paper that demonstrated the restaurant’s priorities.

Tourists know what to expect of historic landmarks they visit when they come to town.

What of those in-between places, though?

Convenience stores, grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses round out the tourist experience of Natchez.

They are just as important, if not more important, because these create a lasting impression of the people who live and work here.

In today’s world, word of mouth advertising is just as valuable as a good write-up in a travel magazine.

Just check out the various travel Web sites to see what people are saying about Natchez.

The unfortunate thing is good customer service should be expected for all people — not just tourists.

Next time I go on vacation, I think I will go elsewhere.

Ben Hillyer is the Web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3541 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.