Not Today, Not Ever

Mawa McQueen, owner of Mawa’s Kitchen (Aspen) and the Crêpe Shack (Snowmass), on how she says no in an industry built on saying yes.

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Smiling Black woman with short natural curly red hair wearing a light grey chef's jacket.
Courtesy Mawa McQueen

Saying no has never been a problem for me. I was born this way. In fact, I think the first word that came out of my mouth was “no,” instead of Mum or Dad.

The problem is that society has declared, “Everyone is right and no one is wrong.” Many people treat each other viciously and unfairly. Back in the day, “no” simply meant “no,” and people had values, moral standards, and a code they lived by. With a simple handshake you signed a contract and your word meant something.

Today, the customer is far from always being right. Guests can be senseless, entitled, and mean-spirited. My response to a difficult customer is, “Oh, not today, madam. Not today, sir. You picked the wrong person and the wrong restaurant.”

I will never be in the “yes” business because that is for a slave.

A few people have come into my restaurant refusing to wear a mask. My staff kindly gives them one to wear and if the customer refuses, I tell them they need to leave. They leave and write bad reviews on Google, Yelp, and Tripadvisor. Let them. The safety of my staff is my priority; if I don’t keep them safe and they get sick, who is going to work? No one.

In a resort town, people book three or four restaurant reservations for the same time, then decide where to go at the last minute. They disregard cancellation policies and make up lame excuses to avoid the charges. We charge them anyway. These people don’t respect the service we provide or the amount of work needed just to be open.

Perhaps foolishly, I expect people to respect my craft. I will never be in the “yes” business because that is for a slave. The days of “the customer is always right” are long gone—they disappeared right along with common courtesy. How can the customer always be right when they are just as imperfect as we are? This phrase must be removed from hospitality, retail, and all customer-service training. It should be replaced by the idea that we should do everything we can to do right by the customer within our abilities. 

No, madam, no, sir: I am not in the yes business. I am here to provide you with the best experience using all of my resources, experience, and talent—within reason. But when I say, “No, not today,“ I mean it.

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