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Frustrated? Sometimes the best action is actually no action at all

May 06, 2014 // By Marcus Brotherton

“About five, ten minutes tops,” the hostess assures us. “We’ll get you right in.”

We are suckers for this particular eatery, my wife and I, and they don’t take reservations for breakfast, so we agree to wait. Still, I remember that Seinfeld episode where Jerry, Elaine, and George hear the same thing only to spend the next thirty minutes waiting for a table.

Fifteen minutes tick by. Twenty. Our two older kids are getting crabby, their stomachs growling. Twenty-five. Thirty. Our third child, the baby, needs to eat and begins to give kitten-like yelps of angst.

At the thirty-five minute mark we sigh and head for home and cold cereal. We’ve already reached our car when the hostess runs outside and shouts across the street—“Your table is ready!”

The situation has become laughable, but this place serves up the best cinnamon rolls in town. So we trudge inside, get shown to our table, and sit. Our waitress takes our order. After that we wait some more. And wait. And wait. There’s no casual swing-by from the waitress to say, “Your order will be right up.”

Finally, a whopping fifty minutes after our order is taken, our food arrives.

This has become a bad morning. I wanted this day to be special for my family, but no one’s in a good mood anymore.

When the check arrives, there’s no apology from the waitress, no plausible explanation of being shorthanded today, no murmured account of a new cook being broken in, no visit from the restaurant’s manager to comp us a free meal.

Only the check.

Typically I am a generous and affirming restaurant patron. Years ago I worked as a waiter, so I understand how slowdowns can occur.

But I am fuming. I want to say something to the management, only I don’t trust what might come out of my mouth.

What would you do?

It’s healthy to be assertive.

It’s good to speak up and say what you need to say. To do what you need to do.

In this particular case I considered confronting the waitress or manager after our meal was eaten, (never confront before—you never know who might spit in your soup). But neither of them were around when we wanted to leave, so I didn’t bother.

I simply paid the bill and didn’t leave a tip with the thought that the message would filter up through the ranks.

Then I talked over the situation with my wife on the way home.

And here’s where this story takes a twist—

Both of us acknowledged to each other the disappointment we felt on a morning we’d hoped would be special. We purposely named our feelings of anger to each other.

We discussed the merits of taking further action.

• We could phone the restaurant, talk to the manager, and demand our money back.

• We could leave a scathing review online.

But in the end decided in this case we wouldn’t do either.

We would do nothing.


Because the effort didn’t seem worth our time.

Instead, we wanted to do other activities with our family throughout the weekend. We wanted to put the event behind us and move forward.

In the end, you could call our response a lament of sorts. Not a lament with any deep mourning attached to it, or a grin-and-bear lament that shrugged off the experience completely, or a lament where we went around sad-faced the rest of the day.

Just a simple recognition that life is imperfect.

We’d eaten at this restaurant before and the experience had been great. Lots of people in town liked this restaurant. So there must have been some extenuating circumstances around this day to make our seating and service so slow.

Our conclusion was that sometimes a day doesn’t go as planned. That’s what we acknowledged to ourselves.

We didn’t stuff our anger deep inside our guts. And we didn’t hold vow revenge or hold a grudge against the restaurant.

On this occasion we simply acknowledged the imperfection of the moment, and then moved forward with our day.

Sometimes that’s the best answer.
Question: Have you ever experienced an angering situation where “doing nothing” proved beneficial in the long run? Explain.


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the bestselling author or coauthor of more than 25 books. Welcome to my blog. Thoreau pointed out how too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Their lives are bland and meaningless, or they make choices that trap them in despair and darkness. By contrast, I want to help people lead lives of excellence. Meet here regularly for powerful stories and insight into how to live and lead well.