With mistakes, attitude makes all the difference

IN THE MAELSTROM of waving arms that is a packed bar on a Friday night, I spied the petite blonde through the crowd. If you have ever seen Rodin’s sculpture at Stanford University, “The Gates of Hell,” you get the picture. If you haven’t, see me on Friday night and you can avoid the trip to down the peninsula.

Three rows back behind the tap tower, sandwiched in between the golf-capped guy and his golf-visored buddy, she was hard to see but she mouthed an order at me anyway. In a loud bar hearing someone a foot away might be a chore, but hearing someone eight feet away, past numerous groups of people talking, is going to be impossible. Luckily, I have fostered the ability to do some lip reading.

“I’ll have a chardonnay,” she mouthed.

I pointed at the wine list on the wall.

She pointed at the board, not at the chardonnay, but at the only wine that we were out of. Instead of trying to explain, I merely gave her a glass of the wine we had replaced it with, noting mentally that it was the same varietal, it was from the same region and was cheaper to boot.

No harm, no foul.

Sometime later the crowd had thinned to a more manageable size — less Rodin and more Michelangelo, especially in the details.

The blonde had procured a seat and ordered another glass of wine. Seeing how there had been no problem with the first one, I gave her another of the same.

Now, I know that California Liquor Laws state: “Every person who, in response to an inquiry or request for any brand, type or character of alcoholic beverages, sells or offers for sale under an on sale license a different brand, type or character without first informing the purchaser of the difference is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

But, because she had enjoyed the wine that we were charging less and since I wasn’t actually misrepresenting the product, I was reasonably sure I was safe from prosecution.

I began pondering the rest of my evening a la Rodin’s “Thinker,” when a new variable entered into the equation. The blonde ordered another glass of wine from my co-worker, who, having the benefit of acuity and time, informed her that we didn’t have that glass of wine available.

To say she wasn’t pleased would be putting it mildly. While some sociologists might argue the difference between the freedom from making decisions and the freedom to make decisions, substituting one for the other was making one blonde very unhappy.

I began to explain, but things were only going from bad to worse.

“You lied to me,” she said, perhaps overstating the situation.

I stood there for a moment in the white hot glare of her displeasure and, leaving the argument about lies of omission for my significant other, I made a choice.

“I am sorry. I should have told you.”

I know that once an apology becomes an explanation, it no longer qualifies as an apology. I hurt your feelings, but … never gets you very far, with anyone.

I took the two wines off her tab.

“All you had to do was tell me you were out.”

I apologized again, fighting the urge to explain.

“You could have told me at any time.”

I then did the most obvious thing I could think of.

“Ma’am, we are out of the wine you ordered. I do have another one, which I will be happy to get for you.”

She looked at me for the briefest second and then laughed.

It could have certainly gone another way.

So often a customer’s attitude about things can affect the ultimate outcome of an experience. Mistakes happen — sometimes accidently, sometimes not so accidently — but if someone is willing to accept the remedy, that’s the end of the situation. If he or she isn’t, no amount of apologizing or explaining is going to make things better for anyone.

When she left she gave me a hug.

“All’s well that ends well,” Shakespeare wrote, which just might explain why I have always liked Elizabethan poetry more than I have 19th-century French sculpture. As for petite blondes, the less said the better.