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Winning Waitress

November 22, 2009

Salesmanship is the key skill in every business. Whether you are an attorney or an accountant, run a restaurant or a retail shop, in manufacturing or in medicine, the ability to sell is what separates average from excellent.

If selling is the key skill, you need to be sensitive to how your product or service is sold. As this story of the “surly server” points out, having a positive attitude is not a bad place to begin.

Vacations and family schedules turned my home into a bachelors pad several weeks ago. My son and I opted to eat breakfast out rather than cook for ourselves for several days. There were a host of choices for breakfast. I knew a couple of friends who regularly visited one restaurant for their “morning coffee”, it was nearby, and it had those intangibles that just made you feel that it would be a good spot for breakfast. Restaurant #1 received the first opportunity for our business.

The first day we ate there was O.K. With my nose stuck in the morning paper, I don’t remember anything particularly good or bad. But that’s bad for who ever owns that restaurant. When you get a first time customer in the door, you want to give them a strong reason to return.

Creatures of habit that we all are, we returned next day. Our waitress made us feel like products on an assembly line, just passing through, only to be replaced by others, just as unimportant. A second waitress refilled a coffee cup and cleared the table, all the while giving me the impression that I was little more than an intrusion in her already unpleasant morning.

As we departed, I saw one my friends sitting at the counter. Does he put up with this on a daily basis? Maybe a true “regular” gets better treatment. Whatever the explanation, I was going to find a new spot for breakfast tomorrow. They had lost our business.

The next morning my son and I walked a few extra blocks and went to restaurant #2. After being pleasantly greeted, we were cheerfully and efficiently served. A cheerful smile and efficient service can get your day started right. Over breakfast we discussed the importance of starting the day with a positive attitude, its impact on your work and those around you. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it. I pointed out that restaurant #1 probably doesn’t even miss our business, an opportunity lost that they never knew existed. If that happens often enough however, they will be sentenced to mediocrity and be wondering why.

Just as we were about to finish our discussion, who walks into restaurant #2, you guessed it, the “regular” from restaurant #1. “What are you doing here?”, I inquired. “I just can’t take that other place anymore” he responded. The lost opportunities might be greater than I first thought for old #1.

“That’s funny you mentioned it”, I said, “we had breakfast there the last two days and just decided we weren’t going to put up with that surly waitress again.”

“Which one” he asked. “They’re all that way there. My wife thinks I’m crazy for going there, it gets to be a habit, but I think I’ve finally had enough”.

Bad attitudes are contagious, particularly first thing in the morning. That’s really the reason we took our business elsewhere, who needs to pay a grouch first thing in the morning when you probably can find one for free without looking to hard. How many others had reacted the same? It’s hard to tell, but it’s clear we weren’t alone.

Some restaurants view their servers as mere clerks and transporters of products from kitchen to table. Others view their staffs as elite professionals Either can be irritating

The true role of the server is that of salesperson. There is no more important position in any business. They are in face to face contact with the customer, they have a product to sell, they can alter the size of the order, the sale of high margin extras (desserts, wines etc.), influence the the customers perception of the value received, and impact repeat business and future sales.

If you believe bad attitudes are contagious, start by checking yours. Maybe you feel entitled to be a bit of a grouch first thing in the morning. Unfortunately however,your employees might pick it up and pass it on to your customers. Something you would never do directly, but that’s the problem with a bad attitude, it’s contagious.

Because it’s your business, determine who the sales people are and use good old fashioned selling methods, beginning with a positive attitude.

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