Seeds of Doubt (Issue 690)

In which we wonder about the sagacity of posting “away” messages on email or voice mail.

Saturday in the Boston area was gorgeous – as nice a summer day as we could have – cloudless, temperature in the high 70s, low humidity. A great day for a walk.

Late afternoon, my wife and I drove to Cambridge, Massachusetts to walk the mile of Brattle Street  running west from  Harvard Square and some of the side streets. The houses along Brattle Street include grand houses built in the late 1700s (including the house that served as George Washington’s headquarters during the Revolutionary War and later as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s home) and houses built in other styles – Arts & Crafts, Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, Shingle style, and more.

In addition to appreciating fine architecture, my wife appreciates the occasional hamburger, well done. So, after covering about three miles of Cambridge streets, she said, “I want a hamburger for dinner. Let’s go to Bartley’s.”  (If you’re not familiar: Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burgers is a Harvard Square institution; if you like burgers, Bartley’s has been the place in the Square for 45 years.)

We walked through Harvard Square to Bartley’s, turned into the entrance, and found it…. closed. On a Saturday night?!!!!  A handwritten sign in the door indicated that Bartley’s is closed for the weekend, the Bartleys having vacated for something having to do with the Boston Red Sox.

“I am VERY disappointed,” she growled.

“Third time unlucky,” I commiserated, helpfully…

… as this was not the first time we’d had this experience.  Seeking a post-concert bite on April 27th (not to put too fine a point on it), we found Bartley’s closed (again, the Red Sox). And on one additional occasion this year, the same.

Still seeking a good burger, we moved a mile down the street to the Miracle of Science, there for her to enjoy her burger. Which she did. Burnt to a crisp. Lots of mayo.

I would say Bartley’s is still her first choice in burgers but now we ask the question… “I wonder if they’re open?”

Sure, we could call the restaurant to ask…… who wants THAT extra step?….. and the point is, seeds of doubt about availability. “I wonder if they’re open?”

Which leads to the question about our own availability.  Bartley’s put up a sign, “Closed for the holiday weekend.”  Fair enough, the sign let everybody know what was going on, just as we do when we post away messages on our emails or voice mails when we’re out of the office.

And, probably, our away messages are not enough to deter our clients from calling back or to send them down the street to other providers…and the point is, seeds of doubt about availability.  Away – not there when needed.

Better, in our case, NOT to post away messages, rather to ask colleagues to retrieve and respond to voice mail and email in our absence so that our clients feel we are present, although gone, and well cared for.

4 Responses to Seeds of Doubt (Issue 690)

  1. John Hoskins says:


    Sounds like you should take me to Bartley’s next time so I can really understand what it is that makes you want to go back for “strike three”? – pun intended. Yum.

    Perhaps after 45 years Mr. or Ms Bartley have a big enough treasury to say – customers be damned I’m going to a ball game. If they don’t like it and go elsewhere that is fine. They’ll be back.

    One has to wonder sometimes if we all are a little too eager to acquire a new customer or retain an existing one at the expense of our own peace of mind.

    Here is the follow up. Go interview Mr. Bartley. Show him the article and write about his response. I think we all would be curious about the mind of a successful small business person who affords to close on what otherwise be the busiest night of the year. (or perhaps not).

  2. Dave Scribner says:

    Nick, you have eloquently identified a kernel of truth that we should all consider. Keep them coming.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tagged with:
Navigation Menu