The Lost Art Of Suggestive Selling

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This will be relevant by the end of the post.

“Subtlety is the art of saying what you think and getting out of the way before it is understood.” –Anonymous

We as a society have really lost the power of subtlety.  It could be because we have lost the patience to unravel it.  We receive far more information on a daily basis than our ancestors a hundred years ago could even process.  Most of this information is not subtle.  It is blasted at us with bells and whistles to get our attention.  The news channels do not just report the news, they also tell us what to think about it.  Movies no longer imply that a couple is about to “make whoopee”, they show us the scenes in the trailer.  In a few generations we have gone from Marilyn Monroe standing over a vent to Britney Spears getting out of a limousine.

With all of these changes, we have forgotten what it means to be “suggestive.”  This is particularly true in restaurants.  A few decades ago, corporate restaurants determined that they wanted their servers to be sales people.  The also determined that they had no interest in paying for the training necessary to actually accomplish this.  Instead, they decided to teach their servers to use adjectives and “suggestive selling.”  One of the first posts on this blog was declaring my disdain for the overuse of adjectives.  I recently realized that I never discussed my equal dislike for the corporate restaurant incarnation of “suggestive selling.”

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A World Without Tips

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A world without tips

I am still incredibly grateful for my recent guest post on tipping.  It inspired my response that discussed the economics of tipping.  It also raised a few other interesting points that I am now learning are common misconceptions about restaurants.  For people who have never worked in a restaurant, these misconceptions can easily be mistaken as facts.  Upon further consideration they may not be wise to pursue.  One interesting idea that she raised in the post was raising the wages paid to server by restaurants to replace tipping.  While on the surface it seems quite logical, it would have a disastrous impact on the industry.

Restaurants are operated on incredibly thin profit margins.  As discussed in a previous post, large corporate restaurant chains are extremely susceptible to anything that affects their stock prices. With a huge spike in the cost of labor, restaurant stock prices would crumble.  Independent restaurant owners struggling to stay afloat would shutter.  Consumers would lose choices.  A vast majority of restaurants would survive this initial wave, but be forced into the next step.

The remaining restaurants would set a wage for servers considerably lower than what the servers make now.  Professional servers with years of experience would have to settle for the new rate or venture into a new career field.  Between servers quitting and terminations, restaurants would reduce the size of their server staff by about a third.  Servers who worked four table sections before would now be required to work six tables for less money.  This would reduce the damage to the restaurant’s bottom line, but also drastically reduce the quality of service that was provided to guests.

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Leadership: Empowering Others

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Provide the power and watch your staff come to life.

“If you don’t understand that you work for your mislabeled ‘subordinates,’ then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny.” -Dee Hock

You have two choices as a manager.  You can force every staff member to do things as you would do them or you can encourage them to achieve the results you want to achieve.  The first choice will force you into a great deal of resistance and move you further from your goal.  The second will reduce your stress as your staff finds innovative new ways to achieve your shared goal.  In the past I have addressed the desire for autonomy as a vital motivating force for restaurant employees.  Today I will address it from the perspective of a leader and how it benefits the leader as well.

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Leadership: Creating A Shared Goal

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Each person climbs the mountain for their own reason

“Leaders don’t force people to follow-they invite them on a journey.” -Charles S. Lauer

The fundamental question behind the desire to manage rather than lead is, “How can I get people to do what I want them to do if they do not want to do it?”  Failure to answer this question is what leads so many managers to lead by force and threat of force.  The answer to this question is simple.  You must create a vision for your staff, which allows them to achieve what they want by achieving what you want.  This is what I will refer to as a shared goal, vision, or sense of purpose.  I have discussed the idea of selling a sense of purpose in the past.  Today I want to go deeper into how to develop it.

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Making a Difference

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Hey guys could we get some saucers?

The weekend is upon us.  Friday and Saturday nights get busy and take a lot out of us.  The pace is faster, the side stations are more crowded, and all of the saucers in the restaurant seem to hide.  The guests do not seem to understand any of this and have far less patience.  This leads to frustration on our part and the feeling of  a battle.  A normally nice restaurant turns into a fortress.  The staff fortifies as an army defending against the invading hordes.  Trying to get them fed so they will retreat.  The evening ends with the restaurant looking like a battlefield.  We gather our wounded at the end of the night and plan our invasion of someplace that stays open later than our restaurant does.

Friday and Saturday nights are called “amateur hour” because the guests are less restaurant savvy.  They are not as aware of the burdens they place on us by all deciding to come out to eat on the same night.  They are less patient, less informed, and less generous.  We wish for one moment they could step in our shoes and know our struggles.  Yet, how often do we extend them the same courtesy?  Take a couple minutes to watch this video before answering.

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Aspirational Dining Defined

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Aspirational Dining

I am a Mac guy.  This means only the occasional interruption for updates from Microsoft.  These are most often for Word for Macs.  Yet in none of these updates have they added to my spell check dictionary words like “Barack Obama, Al Qaeda, or Facebook.”  If they do implement this change they can use this as my “Windows 27 was designed by me” testimonial. When they do develop this technology they should also add the word “aspirational” to my spell check.

The phrase “aspirational” has been used to describe many things you might find endorsed by Martha Stewart.  It is used to describe the desires of people to own, do, and consume things they view as entitlements of the rich.  Anything from a new luxury car to really expensive cheese can be labeled as “aspirational.”  They are the things we want even if we know they are not truly in our price range.  These are the adult versions of that cool bike you thought would bring you a lifetime of happiness as a kid.

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Set Schedules As A Manager

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"Did you get my note on the back of a bubble gum wrapper asking for this thursday off?"

One of the most time consuming tasks a manager faces during the week is writing the server schedule.  Hours can be spent digging up scraps of paper and consulting server availability just to get coverage for a particular shift.  This is followed by the inevitable complaints from people who work too little or too much.  It is a task most managers dread.  It is also one that can be avoided.

This week I have discussed the advantages and disadvantages to having a set schedule from a server’s perspective.  Today I wanted to wrap this topic up by discussing the impact it has on managers.  All things considered, I think this can be tremendously beneficial for managers.  There are some downsides though.  Knowing both the advantages and the disadvantages will help you make a better decision when debating set scheduling.

There are a few disadvantages to implementing set schedules as a manager.

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Cost vs Profit

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In a previous post about why restaurants charge for different extras, I discussed the difference between the guest’s perception of profits and reality.  It is not uncommon to hear a guest say, “I can buy this for half as much at the grocery store.”  The problem is that food in a restaurant carries far more costs than the price of the food on a plate.  I thought of a number of different ways to address this.  The easiest way to explain a complex topic is in relatable terms.  For this reason I have decided to look at the topic by addressing the most common item on restaurant menus: The Cheeseburger.

A friend in the business was able to supply me with the actual numbers from a Midwestern restaurant that is part of a far larger national chain.  These are the actual costs broken down to their individual components on a hamburger.  I won’t name the chain for obvious reasons, but it is fair to say that their volume allows them to buy these items for less than their independent counterparts.  Here is how the actual cost of a half-pound cheeseburger and fries break down.

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Extras and Upcharges

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upcharge

Upcharges come in a variety of shapes and sizes

I received a message the other day from a friend and reader of the blog who is not in the business. She recounted going out to eat and asking for a few extras. When the bill came it was filled with minor charges for each of the items she requested. Her concern was not that the charges were there, but that they weren’t mentioned in advance. She wondered what I thought the protocol was here.

The answer is not really a simple one. There are no hard and fast rules because there is a fundamental lack misunderstanding between restaurant owners and guests that servers are forced into the middle of. Restaurant owners feel that they have priced meals for value and if you ask for something extra, the costs should be passed along. Guests believe that they can make the same item for less at home so owner’s profit margins are sufficient enough to give away the extras. Servers are forced to defend both sides while staying loyal both to the owners that gave them a job and the guests who pay them.

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The Evolution of Free Bread

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Lamberts

Home of the Throwed Rolls

In the far corner of Southeast Missouri is a town called Sikeston.  If you have heard of Sikeston, MO it is probably because of a restaurant called Lambert’s Café.  I’ve eaten at Lambert’s a number of times over the years, but don’t recall what I had.  I always remember the food being good, but nothing amazing.  The menu isn’t what made Lambert’s famous though.  Lambert’s is known around the world as “The Home of the Throwed Rolls.

If you are unfamiliar with Lambert’s, the atmosphere is best conveyed on video.  You almost have to be on guard at all times while eating there because any stray glance could result in a roll being unintentionally thrown at your head.  The rolls aren’t the only thing they give away. Fried potatoes with onions, macaroni with tomatoes, black-eyed peas, fried okra, and sorghum are all handed out free of charge around the dining room.  At first glance it makes no sense to give away so much food.  Yet this small town restaurant is thriving and has spawned three other locations.

In contrast, several years ago an girlfriend at the time worked for O’Charley’s when they released this video on their website.  I immediately declared it the single stupidest marketing move I had ever seen a restaurant make. Why would they spend money to advertise something they are giving away that directly trades off with the things they are trying to sell?  It is at exactly 1:53 in that video where they completely missed the point.  After relaxing with a couple rolls while considering the menu guests face a decision: buy an appetizer or eat more of these delicious free rolls.  Anyone who has ever waited tables can tell you how that decision ends.  At the end of the meal, guests ate too many rolls to buy a dessert, but one more roll sounds good.

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