I see and hear more than you think. What happens upstairs tends to make it's way down to the cafeteria. I see tears, smiles, hugs, bad tempers and thankfully, mostly kindness that had it's beginning on the floors above the cafeteria.
I want the employees and families to like me. I want to connect with them, and usually I can. I have a couple secret weapons to ensure that I am considered the "nice cafeteria lady." Occasionally, I bring a bag of candy. Hershey's Kisses are the favorites. I pass them out, sometimes sneaking them into boxes of food without my customer knowing, but usually I hand it to them and say something clever about giving Kisses to all the boys at work. It's nice to make them smile. They don't forget that they got a treat from me and are not shy about asking for another one next time.
I encounter a diverse group of people every day. The doctor who is too good to say "thank you" or look me in the eye, to the homeless person who doesn't have enough money to eat. Sometimes family members of patients are there for days at a time without a change of clothes. I can't help but feel for them. It's exhausting to be with a loved one in the hospital day after day, sometimes week after week. They deserve a Kiss.
Every day, someone wants to purchase food for the coworker with them in line. A little spat ensues. "No, you don't have to." "Don't listen to him." "I'm buying!" Sometimes I butt in and say, "Just say 'thank you' and pay it forward." Seriously, there are people behind you on lunch who don't want to stand there while you argue about who is paying for your salad and Snickers.
People must think I actually care about what they eat or who is going to eat it. They like to say things like, "This isn't all for me," or they get bread, mac-n-cheese, mashed potatoes and noodles and tell me they need some carbs. I smile and say, "I don't judge." "Whatever gets you through this day." Really, I don't care. I only care that you don't fuss at me about the price you have to pay or the poor choice of food. I've made suggestions to the higher-ups and you can see how interested they are in my ideas.
I wish we could stagger the lunch hour better. I know most employees don't get a choice when they can escape and sneak down for some chow. It's not fun to spend half of your half hour break standing in line to get your food and then another line to pay. No matter how fast I work the computer, there is going to be a lady who has to dig through her purse the size of a suitcase to find her wallet. She will finally produce some cash, then mention that she has the change in here somewhere. I say, "It's ok, I have that." My register never balances to the penny because of it. I throw in a few quarters and hope I get close to what I let people get away with.
There is food, drama, love, heartache. The cafe has it all. I like being part of it.