Sweat The Small Stuff. Always.

Experience 1
Yesterday was Mother’s Day here in the US, and the kids and I took my wife to a ”fancy restaurant” (by the kids’ definition, this means that they have to wear a shirt with a collar) for brunch. We went with another couple and their son, and everyone had a fantastic time. As brunches go, this one was on the more expensive side for us, clocking in at about $35 per adult and $15 per child, but it was an event so we considered the price worth it. (As a family of five, ”dining out” for us normally means going to Chipotle.)

The food was good. Our server was very attentive.The bill came, and we noticed that in addition to the $35/person buffet, we’d also been charged on a per item basis (1) $5/cup for coffee x2 and (2) $2.75/glass for drinks x5.

It isn’t about the money. We’d already made the decision to spend a lot of it. An extra $25 is not a huge deal. However, it was a violation of our expectations. We’d assumed – wrongly – that our buffet included coffee and juice because of our past experience (at much less expensive buffets).

Experience 2
A few weeks ago my wife and I were out on a date. We had a restaurant in mind, but by the time we got around to finalizing plans, there was no time left to make a reservation. As a result, we head out in search of whatever would hit the spot.

We landed – unexpectedly – at a chain Italian restaurant called Bravo. It was close to our destination, and it looked like we could get in and out quickly. To be frank, our expectations weren’t all that high. We were there for a quick meal.

What followed was one of the coolest experiences we’ve had at a restaurant in a very long time. The server asked if we’d like to try an experimental appetizer that the chef had been working on that day. (Um….sure.) It didn’t blow us away, but it was OK.

A few minutes later, the chef emerged from the kitchen. He wanted to know how we enjoyed the appetizer, and we shared our thoughts. We told him what we liked, what we didn’t, etc. He peppered us with questions for about five minutes, squatting down beside our table and asking how we thought he could improve the dish. My wife and I exchanged glances with each other that indicated, “can you believe this? I can’t believe how passionate this guy is about getting this appetizer right.”

This alone would have been a cool example of passion and attention to detail, but there was more to come. We finished our meals, which were surprisingly delicious, by the way, and our server asked if we would care for dessert. We are not dessert people, but we often toss back and forth what we would “like” to have if we were, and in this case my wife said something about chocolate, but in the end we simply asked for the check.

The chef returned with the server a few minutes later with a special ”made for two” chocolate desert that he’d crafted as a thank you for all of our help. Wow. We were blown away. Neither the appetizer, nor the desert showed up on our (very reasonable) bill.

What I Learned
In example one, we came in prepared to pay a hefty fee for our brunch, but our expectations were violated by little surcharges and we left underwhelmed. In example two , we came in with low expectations and left overwhelmed by the level of attention to detail and service.

It would have taken so little to turn either of these situations the other direction. It was the small stuff that mattered. In the first example, we felt small. We felt like the system was designed to squeeze as much value as possible from the patrons. In the second example, we felt as of we were being treated as special guests even though it was a giant chain restaurant.

There are many opportunities in life and work to short-cut to results. It’s possible that many people won’t even notice these little short-cuts. But eventually they will, and they will talk.

It is absolutely critical that we stay focused on the small stuff in life and work. Our passion and commitment to our craft is shown more in the small stuff than in the big stuff, and that’s also where the cracks will begin to appear.

Lessons: Sweat the small stuff. Commit to the details. Be passionate about your craft. Exceed expectations consistently.

Share your thoughts:

Please keep your comments civil and on topic.


  1. Cole Bradburn

    Agreed.  This is an awesome point, as it is always the little details or touches that win me over.  

    I had a similar experience recently with my wife.  There is this little restaurant that we have always loved that serves really fresh food (they have a garden out back they use). It is usually very good.  They advertised a special, a Mahi dish that sounded delicious, so we went there after my wife’s 32 week maternity appt (this has become a ritual for us).  When we got there, I ordered the dish and was told they were out of it.  It was noon.  Looking at the seasonal menu, nothing was quite jumping out at us, but we ordered a dish that needed a couple things substituted out.  The bill came, and we had separate charges for all the substitutions.  It’s not that we won’t go back, I’m sure we will… but we aren’t as in love with it as we were before.

    A few days later, I take my wife out to an artisanal chocolate shop.  As we arrive, they are experimenting with new creations.  They ask if we would like to join them.  After 45 minutes of great conversation (and great chocolate), we select some items to take home, as well as a hot chocolate as it was made in 1579 Spain.  

    We get the bill and we were only charged for the few things we took home.  We had an unforgettable evening, all because they treated us like friends instead of customers.  Humans crave this kind of interaction.

    • Todd Henry

      I think in many ways it’s less about constantly elevating expectations and more about intermittent surprises. It’s the violation of our expectations that counts, I think. Thanks for sharing your story!


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I'm Todd Henry.

I'm Todd Henry.

I write books, speak internationally on productivity, creativity, leadership, and passion for work, and help people and teams generate brilliant ideas. More

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