Doing my job

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April 26, 2004 // UPDATED 1:24 pm - April 25, 2007
By: sue rich
sue rich

OK, she's been picking up dirty plates, crumpled napkins and ashtrays for an hour -- when is this woman going to stop smiling?

Happy face buttons, inspirational posters and pert-and-perky coworkers often trigger a wince instead of positive vibes. However, once in awhile a truly disarming someone melts the your defenses, and you can't help but grin back.

Veronica Smith has that effect.

The 46-year-old North Minneapolis resident spends her days prepping salads, doing dishes, changing soda kegs and tending to the dining room. Yet between filling napkin dispensers and Parmesan- and pepper-shakers, cleaning tables and picking up tossed napkins from the floor, Smith looks downright blissful.

Maybe it's the young grandmother's lack of wrinkles that give her such a fuss-free face. Or maybe it's simply how she does what she does.

The Happiest Worker in the World has a keenly sensitive social radar screen.

When patrons are immersed in discussion or simply look like they prefer not to be bothered, Smith whispers, "Is it OK if I take this?" and gently, slowly takes their plate after getting the nod. If a customer seems to be looking around for a little company, Smith said, she'll say something like, "I'm tired, let me sit down for a while," and join them at their table.

When asked if a patron has ever declined her offer or been rude (what fast food worker has gone unscathed?), Smith responds, "I haven't had that problem yet," as if she's never considered the possibility.

Manager Kathi Prois said she's delighted with Smith's interactions with customers. She says there's been a "comment card blitz" since Smith started and "it seems half are about her [Smith]."

Having previously operated a daycare from her home for a decade, Smith said she's enjoying all the adult interaction. And while she admits to missing working with kids sometimes, she said she often sees munchkins while on the job and is the first to bring them a box of crayons, cookies and balloons -- "whatever we got."

Tired of the up-and-down income of the home-daycare business, Smith set out to "join the work-world" last December. It proved a tough road, "I have a job search coach, and we went place to place to place," she said.

After submitting more than 20 applications to everyplace from Wal-mart to Payless ShoeSource, Smith and her Access to Employment placement agent came to Davanni's Hennepin Avenue restaurant. Prois, who was there to take Smith's application that day, said she was immediately impressed with Smith's ebullience.

Smith fondly recalls the date she was hired, Jan. 23, and said she quickly mastered her to-dos. "I don't need no checklist," said the woman who dubbed herself "Manager of the Dining Room."

In addition to vacuuming the floor and wiping the tables, Smith also tends the dining room flowers, making sure they have fresh water and informing the higher-ups when they need to order fresh ones.

"So far, I've been picking them out," Smith said, "I like the tulips and the yellow daisies. They go well with the red and black of the dining room, and they help bring out the happy-happy feeling."