Beliefnet
Some folks learn what they need to know about life in kindergarten. Others, from watching Rocky; still others, I'm certain, from watching those "reality based" shows on TV. Me? I choose to mull my life lessons over eggs--over easy, that is, with toast, fried potatoes, and a generous helping of compassion at Hanne's Breakfast Nook.

Each week, my friends and I stop by Hanne's Breakfast Nook for a heap of good food and a refresher course in humanity. At first glance, Hanne's appears to be a cozy, family-owned restaurant, with fresh flowers on the table, children's drawings on the wall, and hockey souvenirs declaring an undying loyalty to the Philadelphia Flyers, but in reality, Hanne's is the perfect place to study the art of being human.

The first clue that Hanne's is no ordinary eatery is the absence of menus. Ask for any combination of breakfast foods, and Charlie, part grill man/part owner, will accommodate most of your requests. Isn't life more fun when you're able to create from within, rather than be constrained to established choices? Fair warning, though: Creamed chipped beef is only available on Wednesdays--further proof that some things in life are worth waiting for.

Chrissie, part waitress/part owner (and cook on Charlie's day off), uses no ordering pad. She brings sparkling eyes and a warm greeting to the table, but no pen or paper. As customers order, Chrissie nods, "Got it." When the table is finished ordering, Chrissie reels off each request flawlessly, sounding like a breathless caroler finishing "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Once satisfied with the accuracy, Chrissie turns around and announces the order to Charlie over the buzz of conversation and radio music. Incredibly, meals always arrive quickly and with very few mix-ups. It's a masterful lesson in the skill of remembering the wishes of others.

While it's true that some days Lorna helps out, most of the time, Chrissie and Charlie hold down the fort. But help comes in many forms. When a booth opens up, customers are free to pop behind the counter and grab utensils, napkins, coffee, and juice. Children delight in making their own chocolate milk, mixing the right amount of powdered chocolate into their glasses--just like at home. Helping yourself is the key to happiness both at Hanne's and in life.

Need a refill? Just get up and grab the coffee pot from behind the counter. But, if you carry the pot back to your seat, it's customary to ask each table along the way if they'd like a refill as well. After all, the only thing greater than helping yourself is being considerate to others as you do it.

Sitting at the counter has its own set of rules. On very busy days, you may be asked to swivel around and hand a plate full of food to the table behind you. Once, after watching a man get up from the counter to deliver four plates, one at a time, I teasingly asked how much he was being paid. The man responded with a broad smile, "No money--but lots of good will." And who couldn't use more of that?

I must admit, the "rules" of Hanne's felt awkward at first. What happened to customers staying seated and ordering by number from plastic-coated menus? But then I noticed how satisfying it felt to pour steaming coffee for someone I didn't know. In return, I received a smile and kind words from people I would've previously passed right by. And as the laws of karma promise, there are many times a fellow diner graciously refills my cup, just when I need it.

After the toast and eggs are gone, Chrissie often swoops by to clear the table, and we enjoy the luxury of someone cleaning up after us. But there are many times we methodically stack our plates, collect our mugs and glasses, and grab the rag to wipe down the table. No one keeps track. It doesn't matter.

When you want to pay, there's no need to wait for a check--there isn't one. Just stand near the register, Chrissie will appear and recite exactly what you were served with uncanny accuracy despite having done a dozen tasks since you ordered. This is your cue to confess how many glasses of OJ and chocolate milk you drank, or the number of sodas you took from the refrigerator case by the door. Regardless of what I eat; I never seem to pay more than four or five dollars.

Trust is alive and well at Hanne's. Customers trust that they'll be charged a fair price. Chrissie and Charlie value the word of their patrons. It's a powerful bond, far more effective than any marketing tool to date.

Breakfast at Hanne's is ultimately a lesson in faith. After all, isn't faith simply confidence and trust in action? It takes a lot of confidence to order with no menu and no prices, and trust that you'll receive your money's worth. Chrissie and Charlie reciprocate that confidence by trusting customers with unusual access and freedom.

Gifts come in all shapes and sizes. The best ones usually appear without wrapping paper or fanfare. And every Thursday morning, the gifts of faith, honesty, and loyalty come with a bottomless cup of coffee and hash browns on the side.

And that's pretty much what I need to know about life.

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