Dear service industry

On Friday night, my sister and I took my dad to a fancy Italian restaurant for a belated Father’s Day dinner. Our meal – including wine, an appetizer, entrees, desserts, and tip – was almost $300.

Unfortunately, our experience was really frustrating and disappointing, and it was because of the way that the restaurant’s staff treated my dad. My father had a significant stroke in January 2015. As a result, he walks with a cane because his right side is affected, and he speaks slowly.

When we arrived for our reservation, we were told that we were going to be seated upstairs. This wasn’t an outright dealbreaker; dad can handle stairs within reason, so we figured we’d check them out and see what our options were. That’s where the trouble started.

Our hostess sped off at the speed of light to supposedly show us to our table. I always thought that showing you to your table meant you, you know, walked with the people you were taking to the table. That’s what I was taught and did as a hostess. But she apparently found it too taxing to walk at my dad’s pace, so I had to tell my sister that I was going to run to keep up with her and would come back to them to direct later.

We turned the corner to the stairs and found two long, narrow staircases that only one person at a time could comfortably use. I went back to my sister and said I didn’t know if he could make it up the stairs, but he wanted to try. Our hostess continued to speed away toward the table, and I followed.

The table was in the cocktail bar, and it was a high-top. My dad has sat at high tables before, but they’re difficult for him to get into. At this point I started intimating to my sister that we probably needed another table, so once she got dad to the table, she left to find a manager.

I spent five minutes trying to help my dad into the high-top seat. None of the staff asked if I needed help, or if they could offer an alternative. The only time anyone said anything to me was when I finally got dad into the chair and a server came by to brusquely tell me that “he can’t be this far out; you need to push his chair in” because we were in a tiny bar area. He then proceeded to push my dad’s chair in while my dad protested.

By the time dad got into the chair, my sister had spoken with the manager, who said she didn’t have anywhere else to put us and we’d have to figure it out. Someone else came to our table after a few minutes to say they don’t have any more tables, and it was up to us to tell them if we needed accommodations because their restaurant is three stories.

Should we have asked about the seating arrangements? Maybe. Usually when my sister makes reservations for us, if the restaurant is multiple floors, they will ask if anyone in the party can’t handle stairs. This restaurant didn’t, and instead of offering us any kind of help or guidance or even apologies, they basically said “well, you should’ve known better than to bring your dad here.”

The food was really good. It’s a bummer that I never want to go back there again.

So, dear service industry, based on this experience, I’d like to make some suggestions to you on serving someone with a disability:

  1. Talk to them, not to me. My dad is a grown-ass man. Not only can he hear you, but he can understand every damn thing you say. Don’t ask me if he needs help; ask him.
  2. Politely offer accommodations, but don’t push. The restaurant should have said “We had you penciled in for a table on the second floor. Will that work for you, sir? If not, we can offer you an appetizer while we wait for a table to open up on the main floor.” That way, dad can make his own decision. On a related note:
  3. Ask before you offer physical help. My dad is very proud. He does not like to be helped unless he absolutely has to be. And if he does, he will tell you. Which leads to #4:
  4. If he doesn’t want or need your help, leave him alone. Well-meaning people will often try to help dad. They often do this by holding on to his side or his chest when he’s trying to navigate stairs or a tricky area. While it’s not meant to be invasive, it absolutely is. You know that feeling when someone you don’t know touches your arm to emphasize point? Feels awkward and icky, right? Now imagine someone you don’t know grabbing your entire side – that you’re trying to use to balance – or touching your chest.
  5. The person with a disability is your customer and needs to be treated as such. My dad’s drink took awhile to make. While the server told us our wine was coming, he never told my dad his drink was on its way, and he didn’t apologize for the delay. It can be intimidating dealing with something you don’t understand – a lot of people don’t have experience with someone who’s had a stroke, so they don’t know what their level of cognition is. But always remember that this person is a person, they are your customer, and they are paying your tip. Even if (unlike my dad) they’re not able to process what you’re saying, it will make everyone feel better if you treat them just like anyone else.

Have you had similar experiences as a person with a disability or a loved one of a person with a disability? Share in the comments, and let me know if you have other tips!

Do Good Data 2015

I’m super thrilled to be speaking at Do Good Data 2015 this May! This is the third year for the conference, and it’s been improving and growing every year. It’s a great conference for nonprofit professionals who are interested in learning more about data, how to collect it, and how to analyze it. This year’s conference will feature amazing speakers like Beth Kanter, Jake Porway of DataKind, and Maria Kim of The Cara Program.

I’ll be speaking on my personal soapbox issues: data cleanliness and why it is important, and creating a policies and procedures manual to keep your data nice and clean. More info on my session here.

Super Early Bird registration is open now. Hope to see you there!

What it means to be Armenian

My mother’s father is Armenian. As a kid, the fact that I was 1/4 Armenian made me feel extraordinarily exotic and cool. When we had to do projects in school where we researched our heritage, everyone else was stuck with Italy, Poland, and Germany, but I got to talk about how I was Armenian so I was special and different.

The fact is, though, that the most that I knew about my Armenian heritage until I was an adult was, according to my grandfather, “your great-grandmother walked across the desert with a baby on her back to escape the goddamn Turks.” Usually this was said in the same tone of voice that you would typically expect from “When I was a kid, we had to walk both ways uphill to go to school in eight feet of snow” – ultimately it was far more devastating than that, but it always sounded to me like a comment on the cushy life that my Armenian grandfather’s American grandchildren had. My grandfather spoke only Armenian for the first five years of his life, but after my great-grandmother passed, he didn’t have anyone to speak it to anymore and he forgot it. He did, however, call my cousins and I janum, which is actually a Farsi term of endearment. No one in my family cooked Armenian food. We weren’t affiliated with the Armenian church. All I knew was that my great-grandmother walked across the desert with a baby on her back, and that Armenian names ended in -ian, just like my mother’s maiden name.

When I moved to Chicago for college, I made my first Armenian friend, and she introduced me to a lot of the culinary delights of my heritage (kadayif is the love of my life). I also learned a bit more about the church and the general Armenian culture. But there was still a massive hole in my knowledge of my heritage: the genocide of the Armenian people by the Turks in 1915.

(If my use of the word “genocide” offends you, you can feel free to stop reading now. I’m not going to use this post as an opportunity to get political.)

As I’ve learned more about the genocide, I’m consistently shocked by how many Americans have never heard of it. It seems like it’s rarely taught in schools, and it’s generally been forgotten to history by the vast majority of Americans. As it was happening, though, it was one of the first international human rights crises and inspired a significant amount of aid from the U.S., with Clara Barton herself going on a mission to Armenian in 1896 to care for the survivors. In fact, it’s widely quoted that Hitler, on the eve of the Holocaust, thought that he could get away with the mass killing of Jews because, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

“The” genocide was in fact several years of mass genocide efforts spanning from the late 1890s to the mid-1910s, with the largest number of killings taking place in 1914 and 1915. My great-grandfather, Garabet Tsobanian (later known as Sarkis Chobanian), was born in Turkey, on Valentine’s Day 1887. He came to America through Ellis Island on May 23, 1913. By 1913, several attacks against the Armenians had already taken place, and the Raid of the Sublime Porte took place in Constantinople on January 23, 1913. The raid was a coup d’état by the Committee of Union and Progress, whose three leaders – Enver, Talaat, and Djemal Pasha – would be the architects of the Armenian genocide in 1915. I’m sure my great-grandfather knew it was time to get out of there.

In doing so, he left behind my great-grandmother, Dirouhi (nee Haunoonian), and great-aunt, Cema, who was less than a year old. Dirouhi and Cema were in Armenia for seven long years after my great-grandfather’s departure. In 1915, they were marched through the desert to die like many other women and children. My great-grandmother’s brother, a tailor, was beheaded in his own store. Dirouhi and Cema escaped and finally made it to America in 1920. Their three sons, including my grandfather, were born in America.

In the last few months, I’ve read two fantastic books on the genocide, both by Peter Balakian: The Burning Tigris and Black Dog of Fate. Both books contain graphic descriptions of the horrors of the genocide which came from first-person accounts of Americans and Europeans who were serving as ambassadors or volunteers in Armenian at the time. As I read about the intentional and systematic destruction of the Armenian people, my connection to my heritage finally became real. I live in America in a nice apartment with a good job because Garabet, Dirouhi, and Cema were able to survive unfathomable things and almost certain death. They were stronger than the fearful, weak people who were so scared of the fact that the Armenians were different that they attempted to exterminate them like cockroaches. I like to think that my fortitude and strength are thanks to my Armenian heritage.

This Friday April 24 is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. It’s a particularly important one because 2015 marks 100 years since the genocide, and I’m glad that for the first time in my life, I finally feel connected to that part of my family history. I am the proud descendant of Armenian genocide survivors. I am Armenian.

The graduate

Last weekend, I received my Masters of Public Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago – or rather, I should say, I received a nice leather folder with an advertisement for purchasing graduation photos inside of it.


A lot of things have changed for me professionally since I decided to apply to graduate school in 2010. I’ve had three different jobs, left the field that I was planning on pursuing for the rest of my life, and started working in an awesome for-profit role helping nonprofits. My original intention in getting an MPA was to become a director of development and, eventually, a nonprofit CEO. While I’m still fascinated by the nonprofit sector, I’m finding that I like being on the periphery, able to draw on my experience and expertise to help the folks who are in the trenches every day.

Still, I’m really, really glad that I got my degree. First, it was a personal goal. I’d always intended to get an advanced degree and dilly-dalleyed a bit after college, but knew that the time would quickly come when if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t do it at all. Second, I’m glad that I did an MPA. It’s given me a great mix of skills that can be useful in the nonprofit and government sectors and helped me understand how those sectors interact with each other and the for-profit sector. And finally, it definitely boosted my analytical skills. Whether I’m reviewing data at work or reading Noam Chomsky (that’s what I’m doing in my spare time these days), I can more easily make connections, see patterns, and explain and understand why they’re important. To me, that’s been the biggest benefit of grad school: it turned my critical thinking up to 11, to quote a classic film.

I’m also glad that I chose to go to grad school part-time while working full-time. Yes, it took me three years. Yes, I was putting in 12-hour days between work and school. And yes, it absolutely decimated my personal life at times. But I get the feeling that I got a lot more out of it than my colleagues, both for the grit that I needed to get everything done, and the fact that I could connect book learnin’ to street learnin’. I was the resident expert on corporate grantmaking and social responsibility in my Public Administration Theory class.

And now I get to spend my time on fun stuff, like the aforementioned Noam Chomsky, writing on this blog, learning how to make a pie crust from scratch, and becoming an SQL expert. Recommendations for further lifelong learning welcome, because I am likely going to be bored out of my mind within a few weeks.

The Setup

I have a rather strange, stalkerish obsession with reading about the tools that people use to get work done. Lifehacker’s How I Work series and The Setup enable this obsession by letting me geek out about what computers and gadgets and knickknacks people (mostly in tech) are using to do stuff.

Someday, the fine people at Lifehacker or The Setup will care about my favorite apps, but for now, I’m here’s my version of The Setup.

1. Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Bethany Lang, and I’m an Implementation & Training Consultant at Z2 Systems, makers of the NeonCRM. Before this, I was a fundraiser for Christopher House and Chicago Children’s Museum. I’m also working on a Masters in Public Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

2. What hardware are you using?

My iPhone 5 is my best friend. I have a Toshiba Satellite P850 and a Dell ST2220L monitor at work. This is the first job where I’ve used a second monitor, and I’m not sure how I survived without one. When I redid my home office setup recently, I made sure to get a very similar Dell monitor. I recently switched from a 2008 Macbook to a Macbook Air, which is amazing. I debated between the Air and a Macbook Pro because I didn’t think I needed a portable machine, but I was wrong. I love taking my Air with me everywhere. I also have an iPad (the one before the Air), which I use mostly for the Twitter and Kindle apps.

I still feel the need to write on paper, especially when making to-do lists. I came across Whitelines notebooks at Blick one day and I’ve been a believer ever since, but in a pinch, a good Rhodia notebook will also do. After years of searching for the perfect pen, I think I’ve come close with the Staedtler Triplus Fineliner.

I’m always upgrading the things that I carry with me on a daily basis. I recently got a Zojirushi Stainless Vacuum Bottle for my coffee and tea and it has changed my life; my tea stays warm literally all day. I have three different Timbuk2 bags (a Eula, a Swig, and a Classic Messenger) that I swap out based up on how much stuff I have with me on any given day.

3. And what software?

Evernote and Dropbox have saved my life more times than I can count. I keep notes about all of my clients in Evernote, and my office uses Evernote Business to share notes. I’ve managed to get a ton of space on Dropbox through referrals, and I use it to keep all of my photos, school assignments, and data for consulting. I use Gmail for my personal email and business email, and I’ve been trying to find a decent client for it for my PC.

Most of my day-to-day work is done in Excel (no, I’m not linking that). I’ve been trying to learn more tricks and tools with it to help improve my ability to easily manipulate and organize data. I recently learned about VLOOKUP, and it is wonderful.

For web browsing, I’m a huge Chrome fan. The extensions that I can’t live without are TweetDeck and LastPass, which helps me use room in my brain that was formerly used for memorizing wacky passwords for more important things.

On my iPhone, my #1 most-used app is Pocket. I use it to store all of the articles I find on Twitter and elsewhere, and I love the sharing features. The problem is that it’s apt to get out of control, because I save every article that I find remotely interesting. I use Twitterific, Spotify, and Transit Stop daily. I use Sleep Cycle every night because I love the gentle alarm, but it’s also nice to see how I’ve been sleeping.

I do a lot of my work on my Mac in cloud-based apps like Evernote, but I really like iAWriter for note-taking in class. I absolutely loathe the bulleting and formatting in Evernote, but if they fix that someday, I’ll probably take all of my notes there.

I’ve tried to move my reading from tons of RSS feeds to picking up links from Twitter. I miss some things here and there, but by and large, I like this method better. I use Feedly for RSS, but I miss Google Reader every day.

4. What would be your dream setup?

For the first time in my adult life, I now have a home office, and it’s pretty damn close to my dream setup. The one major thing I miss is a chair for heavy reading. I had an awesome one at my old place that I didn’t have room for in the current apartment. I miss sinking into it with a cup of tea and a big book.