Service given with many smiles

Gail Poole knows her mission in life. And she makes it part of her job.

Gail Poole serves coffee to Orting resident Dale Divelbiss

Gail Poole serves coffee to Orting resident Dale Divelbiss

Beloved waitress offers warm

greetings to her customers

to help jumpstart their day

Gail Poole knows her mission in life. And she makes it part of her job.

“It costs nothing to give away a smile,” she said.

Poole, 57, is a Sumner resident who has made a 14-year career of spreading that philosophy to her many customers at Shari’s Restaurant in Bonney Lake.

“I don’t think of myself as a waitress,” she said. “It’s more about public relations.”

Poole has poured that P.R. into each cup of coffee she has served. And it has earned several company awards, including one for knowing the names of 1,000 customers.

She gleaned lessons on providing exceptional customer service from a banking executive she befriended more than 20 years ago.

“This man was very wealthy,” she said. “But you couldn’t tell by the way he dressed. One day he told me, ‘you never can tell who someone is when they walk through the door, so you treat everybody the same.’ So I do that.”

Poole cites not only her customers’ names but their anniversaries, birthdays, family events and even their pets’ names. She also knows where her regular customers prefer to sit and their favorite menu items. With the experience of a veteran waitress, Poole rattled off their names.

“There’s Melba and Ron – they’ve been together for a long time,” she said. “There’s John, Bill, Frannie, Gil and Judy. And there’s Bob – he comes in about two or three times a week after golfing. He always orders the same thing: sausage and cheese omelet, whole wheat toast and coffee.”

Poole said her job brings satisfaction because she gets to interact with the community, through good and bad times alike.

“We get people who are having a tough day sometimes,” she said. “You just treat others how you want them to treat you – that’s just life.”

The readiness to lend a listening ear or smile isn’t lost on her customers. Poole said when she sees someone having a rough time or needs company, she’ll sit down next to them and chat.

“After being with somebody, I’ve never had anyone be difficult,” she explained. “When you spend a few minutes with someone, what does that hurt? If you treat them kindly and smile, they’re going to sense it and give it right back to you. They turn around.”

That compassion came right back to her nearly two months ago when her husband, Bruce, passed away following a lengthy illness. Bouquets of flowers poured into the restaurant, along with piles of cards and offers of support.

“My customers took me to the funeral home and to the cemetery,” she recalled. “Friends, co-workers and customers helped seat and serve guests and clean up the dishes. The management even brought in another crew so my co-workers could attend the service. I wouldn’t have been able to do it all myself – I wasn’t even able to drive.”

The smiles she gave away for free came back, multiplied. “They’ve even come over to my home to visit or just watch TV with me. They’ve told me, ‘you’re going to get through this. You’ll be OK,’” she said. “Without my customers, I wouldn’t have made it.”

She offered that same hope to others who might be grieving this holiday season.

“Don’t be alone,” she shared. “They wouldn’t want you to be alone. You just take one step in front of the other.”

Such customers and friends are the reasons why Poole said she never wants to think about retiring.

“Once I give up and stop working, I’ll still be at the front doors,” she said. “I have no plans on retiring soon. This is my family and this is my home.

“People sense when you care about them,” she said. “In this economy, people can go anywhere to eat,” she said. “But we can be kind. We can share a smile.

And smiles, Gail Poole will say, cost nothing.

Reach Judy Halone at jhalone@courierherald.com or 360-802-8210.


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