'How are you?' makes all the difference

I was rushing through a typical day, taking the cat to the vet and buying the groceries and getting the oil changed ... all that mundane stuff that adults have to do.

I decided to stop at Taco Bell to buy a meal that I would barely have time to taste while I was rushing off to my next errand. I pulled up in front of the menu boards and the speaker, and the voice from the speaker cheerily asked, "How are you?"

Now, it's often difficult to make out what the drive-through voice is saying. Often I have to ask the voice to repeat itself three or four times until I realize they are simply asking if I want fries with my burger.

So when the voice at Taco Bell asked, "How are you?" I was pretty sure I had misunderstood her question, so I didn't say anything at all. I actually looked around the parking lot to see who was talking. When I didn't see anyone, I leaned out my window to get closer to the speaker and said, "Um... hello?"

"Hi!" said the voice. "How are you?"

I was fairly sure I still hadn't heard correctly, so I mumbled, "Um, I'm fine." I looked around me, sure that there was a "Candid Camera" crew hiding behind the trees, recording the confused look I still wore on my face.

"Great!" said the cheerful voice. "What can I get you today?"

I laughed nervously and gave my order and felt an unexpected cheerfulness as I rounded the corner and approached the window. In the midst of my crazy day, someone had asked how I was, and then had waited to hear my answer.

I realized that in my rushed day-to-day life, I had forgotten to ask those around me how they were doing. And on the off-chance I did remember to say, "Hey, how are ya?" I didn't always take the time to listen to the answer.

As the Taco Bell girl handed me my burrito, I apologized for stammering when she had asked how I was. "You just caught me by surprise," I explained.

"That's OK, I've been getting that a lot," she grinned.

The young employee explained that Taco Bell had a new policy; employees were to ask each customer how they were doing prior to taking the food order.

Although it was part of the employee's job, it allowed her to pause for a moment, despite the pressure those fast food employees have to get the food out the window and move on to the next customer.

Essentially, the Taco Bell folks had told their employees, "Take the time to greet your customer and make them feel important."

It was brilliant, I thought.

It was progress.

It brightened the rest of my busy day and cheered up my outlook. I vowed to share that bit of goodwill and concern with those around me.

The next time I swung into Taco Bell, I was prepared. "Hi," greeted the voice. "How are you?"

"I'm fine, thanks for asking." And then I remembered my own promise, and asked, "How are you?" and waited for the answer.

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