"Can I ask you a favor?" said the waitress.
The three CEOs glanced at the clocks on their smartphones, then at the tiny cafe, which was deserted at 6 a.m.
"I just got a call from the day care center, and my two-year-old is sick. I have to go. Would...?"
The raised eyebrow of one CEO said it all. They had worked hard to carve 60 minutes out of their schedules to begin discussions on a merger. Now this.
"I know it sounds weird, but if one of you would stay and cover for me, I'd really appreciate it. I'll lose my job otherwise." She sounded desperate. "The manager's on vacation, the morning rush starts in about 10 minutes and there's just me and the cook till lunch. If I leave now, we'd have to close."
Two of the CEOs stood immediately. They both said they had meetings back to back that morning. The third looked at them, but stayed seated. "Let's reschedule," he said to the other CEOs. Then he looked at the waitress and started rolling up his sleeves.
"Do you have a clean apron?"
The waitress returned around 11 a.m. after taking her son to the doctor and dropping him with Grandma on the other side of town.
The cook and the CEO sat drinking smoothies in the kitchen. She thanked them both profusely for covering her shift.
The cook said it was nothing, though this CEO was the worst waiter in the history of humankind. Total disaster, said the cook. Then he and the CEO burst out laughing. When the laughter died down, the CEO turned to the waitress. "I'm the one who should thank you," he said.
She looked at CEO's expensive shirt splattered with food stains. She looked at the big half-moons of sweat under his arms. "Why?"
"I spilled coffee into bowls of oatmeal. I dumped scrambled eggs and bacon in one woman's lap. I took the wrong food to the wrong tables. I forgot the syrup and the salsa and the check. I was so bad as a waiter I got desperate. So I used your strategy."
"I asked for help."
"Only one woman said yes. The one I dumped eggs on. She was great. Hard worker. Good communicator. After the rush finished, we got to talking, and it turns out she's from the tech world too. In fact, I liked her so much I asked her to apply for a management position at my company."
"Because she's good at waiting tables?" said the waitress.
"Because she understands that asking for help and offering help are two of the best ways to do business. Because she can see that relationships are created through giving and receiving service."
The waitress nodded.
"Now can I get you a little something to eat?" The CEO stood, draped a napkin over his arm and winked.
"Depends," she said. "If I let you dump eggs on me, will you offer me a job?"
N.B. There's a great example of service in The New York Times -- a 101 year-old man has been a National Weather Service volunteer for 84 years straight. When asked if he should have been paid all those years, he answered: "Oh no... It's what you did for your country." Nice read.