"Fill it up," I said before I realized I was in a gas station for which I had no credit card. I quickly leaned out the window and shouted, "Make that five bucks' worth!"

Then I did the math: $5 of gas at more than $4 a gallon, getting about 21 miles per gallon ... I would get halfway back to the office before running dry.

"Make it $20," I sighed.

Gas prices have been like a roller coaster, except we haven't gotten to the big drop yet. They dip a bit now and then, but never enough for our vendors to remove their fuel surcharges. Then prices start climbing again.

After the gas went in, the attendant traded my $20 bill for a receipt–and a Hershey's kiss. I was shocked. It was such a simple, inexpensive way to thank their customers during a time when every station must have their share of complaints.

It's always important to show appreciation to customers, and even more so when conditions are rough for them. This little piece of chocolate reminded me that the gesture doesn't have to be extravagant.

During the summer months at our lumberyard in New Jersey, we used to send out a salesman with a cooler full of water and soda every other week or so, just to offer some relief to the guys sweating it out in the heat. We often deliver a bottle of wine to our kitchen clients after the final punch-list payment, and we try to send another one when they refer a friend.

I say "often" and "try" because these little touches are far too easy to forget or put off. Things get busy, they get pushed aside and forgotten. It's important to stay consistent, like the gas station: every receipt gets the candy.

Speaking of the candy, there was one problem with the station's great little thank-you gift.

That night, as my wife and I were going out to dinner, I told her about the gas station and the candy. Then I remembered where I had put the Hershey's Kiss–on the passenger seat where, in the August heat, it had melted deep into it.

Luckily, my wife's dress was a lovely dark brown.

So the sign of appreciation has to be appropriate, useful, and preferably not messy. The cold drinks and the wine fit the bill. Once, we gave away minor-league baseball tickets–for a ballpark an hour an a half away that no one had heard of. Not so useful.

Another year, for the holidays, we sent hams to our largest accounts, many of whom were away on vacation while the ice-packed hams thawed on their doorsteps–kind of like the melted chocolate in my car, just bigger and smellier.

Still, the little gift at the gas station impressed me as a customer, and reminded me of the importance of showing clients our appreciation.

It also taught me to eat the chocolate fast.

Tad Troilo is a manager for Cranmer's Kitchens by Design in Yardley, Pa.
E-mail: tadtroilo@mac.com