What waiting tables can teach you about growing your business

| January 29, 2013 | 7 Comments

RavingFanServerEach time I dine in a restaurant, I have a soft spot in my heart. That’s probably because as a high-school student and for a brief period during college, I waited tables in a steak and seafood restaurant. Like most in that field, I started as a busboy – clearing tables and refilling beverages. I think that everyone in business should spend at least some time in the role of a waiter or waitress.  Why?

Why waiting tables is a good thing?

Waiters and waitresses today are most often referred to as servers. And, for the good ones, that’s what they do. In order to be successful, you must be in the business of serving others. The best servers don’t merely take orders and sling food, they ensure that the customer has an exceptional experience. They steer them away from mistakes when ordering, and may even offer suggestions to their clients that would lead the client to a better experience – “save room for our incredible cobbler that we only serve this week.”

There are important lessons that parallel the business world

These lessons are especially valuable for those selling professional or business services or technology:

  1. Great service can compensate for average food, but not for bad food
    If you do an exceptional job serving your clients, it can compensate for mediocre food (or solutions). But, if you cannot consistently deliver results to your clientele, then even though you make them feel like royalty, what you deliver might still make them nauseous. Ensure that your firm delivers an above average product or service. If you combine that with serving them well, they might see what you offer as being a cut above the competition;
  2. The client needs an appetite
    Restaurants cater to people who are seeking a meal. This just might explain why most restaurants are not busy during non-meal times. Similarly, think about the types of “cravings” you solve for your clients. If you say you offer legal services, or accounting services, or IT services, it is analogous to a restaurant advertising “food.” Would you tell your friends to go the place that offers “food.”  In fact, you are most likely to refer them to a highly specialized restaurant.  Determine your top three dishes that you offer your best clients, and make sure to be clear about the appetite you are satisfying.
  3. Great reviews can turn the ordinary into something special
    Meatloaf or grilled cheese sound pretty ordinary. But, if you do them exceptionally well, then your ordinary clients will become raving fans and will go to great ends to ensure that their friends and loved ones experience your genius on what might sound ordinary. Do what it takes to create experiences that take your clients from “satisfied clients” to “Net Promoters” or “Raving Fans.” This will be one of the topics I will address as I speak at the Net Promoter conference sharing the stage with Steve Dorfman and Stephen Denning in Miami this week.
  4. You are ultimately there to serve
    When the server delivers recommendations that satisfy the diner’s appetite, they are serving their client’s need while actually selling something (that’s what happens when money changes hands). A good server might see if they can entice a client to try a dessert, but the great server might not even show dessert options to a guest that clearly is watching what they eat. In his latest book, To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink points to research that shows that being too pushy is the kiss of death in sales. So, demonstrate the options you have available to satisfy a specific appetite, and then step back and perhaps give your client/guest some room to make a decision. When they can see that you are serving their best interest, they will want to do business with your firm (or dine in your restaurant to continue the metaphor).Would it be corny to say that I am tickled pink to have the honor of sharing the stage with Dan Pink in a few weeks?  Thought so.

If you take the time to provide an exceptional experience for your clients, the ordinary will seem extraordinary, they will want to tell their friends about it, and you might even be rewarded with a big tip (or contract).  Oh – and remember to keep their water glasses full.  My old boss would not be happy if the glass was less than ½ full… or more than ½ empty (you can pick).

Where do you struggle serving the appetite for your potential clients?

 

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Category: Consultative selling, Professional Services, Professionals, Sales Eduction, Sales Tip, Upside-Down Selling

Comments (7)

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  1. Phil Zipin says:

    Ian:

    Always enjoy your insightful posts. The analogy with food is very apt to my world, in which I provide legal services. If I tell people I am a lawyer, it means virtually nothing. If I tell people “I handle overtime cases,” it immediately gives them a clear idea of the problem I am ready to solve for them. Thanks for crystalizing this distinction so well.

    • Ian Altman says:

      Phil,

      I’m so glad you stopped by for a visit to the site. You can also read my articles now each week in the Huffington Post. Keep your insights coming. The best value comes from the members of the community like you.

      Ian

  2. My daughter is 9 years old at the moment, but I’m going to encourage her to try this once she’s in High School. Waiting tables can provide a good start to any young persons’ education on human nature and sales / marketing.

  3. Tom Cooper says:

    Ian,
    Once again you are SPOT on with your message. I worked my way through college as a busboy and waiter. I learned lessons in that season of life about great (and lousy) customer service that inform my behavior today!

    Learning to serve others – really meet them where they are and address their felt needs – powerful ways to make a difference, and build loyalty.

    Customers like people who meet their needs – and applaud with their dollars.

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