Not All Heroes Wear Capes: What A Deli Taught Me About Good Customer Service

During my first job out of college, I ate lunch at a nearby McAlister’s Deli at least once a week. I quickly learned that every time I walked through the doors, I’d be greeted with great food and even better customer service. 

I’d often observe the interactions around me while I waited in line. Lunch was, not surprisingly, their busiest time of day, yet all of the employees had smiles on their faces and kept their cool. Despite the added stress of the lunch rush, their exemplary service never wavered.

I found myself feeling overwhelmed in my job at the time, and McAlister’s was my escape. After all, who doesn’t feel better after eating a good meal and being surrounded by people who bring brightness to the room?

As my work became more intense, I looked forward to my lunch breaks at McAlister’s even more. I came to expect consistency in the experiences I had there. Even if there was a slight issue with my order—which happened every once in a while because they’re people like you and me—they’d happily and quickly fix it.

The final visit

During my last week of work, I drove over knowing it would be my last time visiting this particular McAlister’s location. It was later in the afternoon and a bit quieter. While I was finishing my meal, I grabbed the manager and shared my experiences with her from the past year. I thanked her for the continuous effect coming to her restaurant had on me. She humbly thanked me and came back a few minutes later with a coupon for a free meal. It was a small, unexpected gesture that made a huge impact on me. After all, I still remember it this many years later. Not all heroes wear capes.

What was the first thing I did when I started my next job? Find the closest McAlister’s Deli to my new office. I was not at all surprised to find that the customer service there was just as great. In fact, almost every time I walk into any McAlister’s Deli, I’ve been surrounded by examples of good customer service situations.

How does this happen?

Reflecting on this, I find myself wondering how McAlister’s got so good at customer service. If it were that easy, every restaurant would be full of employees with advanced customer service skills, right? We see this in other restaurants, too. I’m sure you can think of a few places with 5-star customer service skills, but how did they get there? 

Here are my theories:

  1. Maybe they hire people with naturally good customer service skills. But that seems like a bit of a stretch. 
  2. Maybe they train their teams on how to provide good customer service. 
  3. Maybe it starts at the top, and good customer service breeds good customer service. By providing excellent customer service examples, employees simply observe and repeat those actions.

I have no idea if that McAlister’s manager shared my feedback with anyone else on her team, but I have to imagine that doing so would’ve only encouraged her staff to continue being incredible. When leaders celebrate the good customer service around them, it sets a new standard for excellence. “Wow” service becomes the norm, and that’s what makes teams thrive and customers succeed.

Your turn

The next time you experience good customer service, I challenge you to thank the person who helped you out. There are plenty of good and bad customer service examples out there. But if we highlight what’s working in customer service rather than amplify what’s not, great experiences get more airtime—and when that happens, they multiply. 

What is customer service to you? How do you think McAlister’s Deli instills good customer service in their employees? I’d love to hear your thoughts or any examples of good customer service stories you’ve got. Shoot me an email at I’ll never grow tired of hearing stories about customer service wins.

I can’t think of a better way to sign off than with one of my favorite customer service philosophy quotes from Sally Gronow—”Good customer service costs less than bad customer service.” Send those stories my way!

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