How Do We Measure Worth?

The White Barn Inn, courtesy of

 An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

~ Newton’s 1st Law (the “law of inertia”)

Last month I had the pleasure of spending several days in Kennebunkport, ME with my mom and sister.  It was a getaway we all needed (each for our own reasons), but most importantly, it was a chance for us to spend time together.  As part of our trip, Allison and I took our mom to The White Barn Inn, the only AAA Five Diamond, Forbes Five Star restaurant north of New York City. We were looking to relax and enjoy a good meal, but the experience sparked a much longer conversation on how we measure worth as a society, and most importantly, what it means beyond the price tag.

my appetizer course

I think about this subject a lot when I’m working with clients – no matter what the project or budget entails, I am offering a service, and I need to communicate its worth beyond the dollars and cents.  This is considered by some to be an ethereal, subjective measurement, particularly in the design world – we all know that we recognize quality work when we see it, but we’ve been so numbed by ho-hum, lackluster service, offerings, and non-attention-to-detail that it’s pretty much become the norm in most everyday transactions.  But when we do experience it we are stopped in our tracks, our societal “body in motion” forced to recognize the details we’re not used to seeing.  But does it have to be that way? Why can’t service, respect for the client, and attention to detail be offered at any price point?

mom’s appetizer course

At The White Barn Inn, we were greeted by each person whom we encountered as we made our way to the table – about 10 people in all (and it’s not a big restaurant).  They greeted and welcomed us.  We took in the atmosphere from our table, admiring the rustic beauty of the place juxtaposed with white linen tablecloths and bronze “creatures” on every table (we had a bronze lobster as our dinner buddy).  We had a wonderfully pleasant server walk us through the menu, offer suggestions, and guide us as we made our choices.  And as we enjoyed the four courses, each one delivered by three servers (one for each of us), we found ourselves slowing down, looking around, and taking it all in.

We recognize that not every establishment can offer this number of waitstaff or this quality of food.  But it’s the details that took the experience “beyond the price tag” and made the difference – so why can’t this happen everywhere?  To be greeted when you arrive by someone who is happy to see you.  To be surrounded by a rustic, simple atmosphere that is nonetheless arranged with care and with the customer in mind.  And most importantly, to be offered a product that the proprietor is proud of, and is happy to provide to you.  This could happen anywhere, at any price point.  But it doesn’t.  And it’s a shame, because that good feeling lasted with us well beyond the meal, and it’s what we’ve told people about first and foremost when talking about the visit – the food was pretty much guaranteed to be good, but what made the evening memorable was the full journey of the experience.

I’ve been thinking about our double-dip recession and what its affects are going to be on our society at large.  How we’re going to make it through and if there will be long-lasting consequences of good – it’s optimistic, I know, but major shifts in habits don’t occur unless the “body in motion” is acted upon by another force.  Perhaps this is it.  Perhaps we’ll have to get creative again as a society and offer up other valuable offerings that go beyond the wallet.  Perhaps we’ll start valuing goods and services in a new way, and start to recognize the emotional connection and its importance to our daily lives.  Let’s hope.

One thought on “How Do We Measure Worth?

  1. I agree. I believe it has come to the point where the majority of businesses think they need to be so competitive on price in order to stay in business, that customer service is thrown out the window. Let’s hope that through this recession things go full circle and customer service comes back as being important.

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