Grilled cheese and apologies

Editor’s note: This is the moment you’ve surely all been waiting for: Gary Tetz is now blogging for
Long-Term Living. Be sure to look for his posts every other month.

I love grilled cheese sandwiches—perhaps too much. My BMGCI (Body Mass Grilled Cheese Index) is currently 78.6, and I estimate I’ve consumed 8,649 of them over my lifetime. I am partial to American (aka Freedom) cheese—on whole wheat, of course, since I’m all about health.

Naturally, I also have a favorite place to purchase my sandwich of choice. It’s called the Stone Hut, and looks exactly like it sounds: a grey cinder-block rectangle with darkened windows and neon beer signs. It’s the kind of place from which patrons emerge like vampires, shielding their eyes of daylight. But I’ve never had a bad experience there.

Until last week.

My sandwich was served with Swiss cheese, in direct defiance of my clear instructions, and I was prepared to be angry and vengeful. But my very contrite waitress apologized profusely, then again when she refilled my water, and yet again when she brought my bill. By then, I was almost sorry I had complained and rewarded her mistake with a giant tip.

Over the course of my lengthening life, I’ve become an ardent believer in the art of the well-timed apology. And recently a study published in the journal Medical Care confirmed its usefulness even in healthcare settings. Researchers found that admitting an error doubled the chance of a positive provider recommendation and brought no increased risk of litigation.

I think that’s because a sincere apology is a great equalizer. It takes a dispute to a human level, revealing the perceived villain as vulnerable, accountable, and humble—maybe even likable. Despite her grievous error, I left the eatery that day brimming with good will toward my apologetic waitress.

But if she gets my sandwich wrong again, I’m calling my attorney.

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