By Kim West
— Editor’s note: This story is the second in a two-part series that focuses on customer service workers in Limestone County. More photos of service-sector employees will appear in the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday editions of The News Courier.
For Lila Luttrell, the challenges of being a restaurant server — long hours, inconsistent tips and juggling multiple tables — are much preferable to dealing with the deadline pressure and job demands of being a project engineer in her native Indonesia.
After earning an engineering degree, Luttrell spent her days worrying about weather delays, reviewing design plans and meeting construction deadlines.
“This kind of environment is more familiar and comfortable to me,” said Luttrell, 30, a server and cashier at Samurai’s Steak House in Athens who once received a $90 tip left by a group of Tennessee Valley Authority laborers.
Despite now logging 70 hours six days per week, she said her biggest concerns now are saving enough money to start her own restaurant and ensuring her customers are satisfied.
“I’m more happy now, and this is not as stressful,” said Luttrell, who spends her free time visiting friends, traveling with her best friend Miki and caring for Mochi, a Shih Tzu she purchased from one of her customers. “If we finished a project early, we would get a bonus. If we built it late, there was a penalty even though you can’t really fight nature.”
Luttrell, who is bilingual and has visited more than a dozen states since moving to the U.S. at age 22, is a favorite among regular customers for her uncanny ability to memorize complicated orders and connect with children.
Athens resident Drew Young takes his family on Wednesday evenings to sample the sushi or dig into the hibachi entrees. Young, who works in Huntsville, describes Luttrell as “by far, the best waitress in town.”
“Lila stands out just by having the most sincere, polite and friendly attitude, said Young, who worked in customer service while in high school at the former Kroger’s grocery store. “She anticipates your (order) and usually brings you what you were looking for before you ask for it.
“On top of that, she is great with the kids. She always goes out of her way, and the kids love it when she is our waitress.”
Krista Swanner of Athens visits Samurai’s once or twice during the week and on Sundays after church with her son Blake, 11, and husband, Braxton.
“As soon as we sit down, she remembers us and knows exactly what we’re going to order, and we’re not the only family she remembers,” Swanner said. “She is pretty awesome and just easy to talk to. She really is the best server, and she has us so spoiled.”
National Customer Service Week, which celebrates customer service professionals, is Oct. 7-11.