Why Take Care of Your Team Members First?

My wife and I were at Canlis Restaurant in Seattle for dinner. I must confess, I’m usually content with Waffle House, so I was happy to catapult to a restaurant currently on the short list for the James Beard Awards Outstanding Restaurant. I was secretly wondering, however, what it was that I was about to experience. My first clue should have been the New York Times review that noted, “A Canlis Salad, when properly prepared, is a revelation.” - Sam Sifton, NYT. A salad? A revelation? About that time, Wanda, our server who had been a team member at Canlis for 33 years, came up to our table and greeted us.


Photo: Brian Canlis

“Good evening Mr. and Mrs. Leith," my first clue! She knows my name and we’ve never met! Later, as the salad arrived on a pristine cart loaded with many salad fixings, Wanda asked, “May I know, is this your first Canlis salad?”. I answered, “Yes it is” . Wanda graciously and politely answered with three words I will never forget – “I’m very honored”, she said humbly. I was a bit stunned, frankly. To imagine that a server at a restaurant would be very honored to serve me a staple item such as a salad was mind-boggling. This was not an ordinary restaurant. I was beginning to see why Canlis is on the shortlist for the James Beard Awards Outstanding Restaurant. The amazing service and the surprises didn't stop all evening. It was the most amazing dinner experience I have ever had in my life.


During my visit, I had the privilege of talking with Canlis owner, Mr. Mark Canlis. Mark told me Wanda’s secret. In fact, it’s the secret of the entire operation. I asked Mark how he trained Wanda to say, “I’m very honored,” and Mark said he didn’t. He didn’t?! How did it happen then? How was Wanda honored to serve me a salad and why did all the employees from the car valet, to the greeter to the bus boy want to serve me so deeply and so well? Mark told me his secret. He said they decided long ago to take care of their team members FIRST and they in turn would take care of their customers. There’s the secret!


Want to hear more secrets of how Mark Canlis runs Canlis? He’ll be sharing them at Leadership Summit in Newport Beach. He’ll stick around to answer your questions, too. If we all play our cards right, I’m hoping all of our team members will respond to one of our customers by saying, “I’m very honored,” just like Wanda. Thanks for loving your customers, Wanda! And thanks Mark Canlis for loving Wanda first so she can love your customers. 


Greg Leith is the CEO of Convene. He was born in Canada and lived in all four corners of North America. His career spans over 35 years of senior leadership roles in corporate, non-profit and academic sectors.

Recently, he served as Director of Strategic Alliances for 13 years at Biola University in California.