By Rosa Walston Latimer.
Research of Fred Harvey and his inventive approach to business has revealed his contribution of many familiar hospitality-related practices such as the “blue plate” lunch special and requiring men to wear coats in the dining room. However, perhaps the Harvey “way”’s most influential and long-lasting impact is dedication to exemplary customer service.
You can imagine how unusual it must have been for early 20th century railroad passengers to encounter impeccable table settings and Harvey Girl service in the mostly uncivilized Southwest! Today the few remaining Harvey Houses that provide food service remain loyal to the Fred Harvey way of doing business and nowhere will you find more dedication to that principle of customer service than at the Slaton Harvey House. A visitor from Nebraska provided this review of her recent stay:
A recent stay at the 1912 Slaton Harvey House proves that vintage charm can be combined with modern upgrades to provide a most relaxing stay. From the re-created newsstand now serving as the registration desk to the convenient elevator every amenity is provided. But be sure to make at least one trip up the original staircase with metal steps and imagine the Harvey Girls at work. The bedrooms are furnished with comfortable beds and up-to-date bathrooms. Decorative accessories provide era-appropriate ambience. Spend a night or a weekend. Enjoy the sitting area. Prepare yourself for a most delicious breakfast. Savor West Texas hospitality.
This current review of a Harvey House experience in many ways echoes similar complimentary communication from satisfied customers written through the years. Since Harvey opened his first restaurant in 1879 I would guess thousands of satisfied customers took time to express their appreciation.
Outstanding service at the El Paso Harvey House was praised in a letter to the Fred Harvey company headquarters from “A Unit of Nurses” dated April 20, 1946.
For a long time I have intended to write to you. Seeing the movie “The Harvey Girls” made me know more than ever I must write. The advertisement in Fortune Magazine showing the Syracuse china made us appreciate the dishes our food was served from. Not a chipped or cracked one on the table.
In our travels we were transferred to El Paso, Texas. It was between eleven and twelve at night when we arrived at the station. Several of us went into the Harvey House dining room; after days of traveling in hot coaches and having only two meals, we were so pleased to be in a cool room, where everyone was so pleasant.
The most courteous and sweet gray-haired lady took our order. We all noticed the efficient way she served her customers. All agreed someone should write and thank her. Through you we want to tell her that we will never forget the person that showed us how to be gracious.
[signed] A Unit of Nurses.
The nurses’ emphasis on their gracious server reminds us that the “face” of the Fred Harvey service was the Harvey Girls. The following letter was written to the Fred Harvey company by Mr. H.R. Pattengill of Michigan in 1910. The final sentence is priceless!
Nearly forty days of travel and experience along the Santa Fe, and corresponding familiarity with the Harvey eating-house system, leads us to pay this tribute to its force of dining-room girls. In all this time, in a score of different hotels, and of the hundreds of waiters, the editor did not see any unladylike or flippant action. The young ladies were, without exception, neat and becomingly attired, courteous and expert in their work, dignified yet cheery, bright eyed, clear faced and intelligent. It is also worthy of note that they received from the thousands of guests whom they served the courtesy which their bearing demanded. Some of the traveling show troupe women, with their bepowdered, enameled, ready-made complexions, peroxide puffs, wienerwurst curls, loud talk and louder behavior, might well get some wholesome lessons in womanliness from the Harvey House waitresses.
Thank you, Fred Harvey, for setting the standard high! And thank you to Harvey Houses such as the restored bed & breakfast in Slaton, Texas for continuing the tradition!
#1 Fred Harvey Blue Chain china serving pieces from the collection of Everet Apodaca. Photo courtesy of Mr. Apodaca.
#2 Unidentified Harvey Girls. Photo courtesy of Brenda Thowe.
#3 Original Fred Harvey restaurant sign. Photo courtesy of Skip Gentry Fred Harvey Memorabilia Collection.