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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Leadership: Leading by Example

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Leading by example

“Good leaders must first become good servants.” -Robert Greenleaf

The reason why the notion of a “natural born leader” is so offensive to many leaders is that it is often used as an excuse.  Rather than using leaders as role models too many people will say that the leader has some sort of intrinsic ability that they could never develop themselves.  It is rooted in a defeatist attitude.  Leaders possess qualities that inspire others, but generally are not born with the qualities.  They develop them over time and more importantly these qualities become part of their character.

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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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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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The Advantages of Set Schedules

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If you were curious, this is what this blog looks like in paper form. Can you think of a picture for this topic?

Yesterday I discussed the disadvantages of having a set schedule.  While I think I managed to make some valid points, it was sort of hollow.  The primary reason I am still at my current job is because of my schedule.  It took about two and a half years, but I managed to get my ideal schedule.  I get the opportunity to change it from time to time, but I can’t figure out how to improve on it.

Set schedules are not perfect, but for a server who wants to maintain some sort of structure in their life it is as close as can be asked for.  This is a tremendous tool for recruiting and retaining employees.  It is a no cost benefit a restaurant can offer that allows them to stand out from the competition.  There are still many variables inherent in the restaurant business, but this is one of the best ways available for employers to try to alleviate them.  Once you have worked with a set schedule, it is very difficult to walk away from.

There are four significant advantages to set schedules that make them desirable.

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Memorizing Orders

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When I started my first serving job years ago I worked for a company I will affectionately refer to as “Five Four.”  That isn’t what it says on the signs out front, but it what we all called it.  My first day a manager who introduced himself as “CSV” told me that if I couldn’t figure out how to carry three plates at once by the end of the shift, I was fired.  I wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth, but I learned to carry three plates.  A couple days later I was training with a guy named “Timmy” who never wrote down his orders.  I asked him why and he said, “Only rookies write down orders.”

There are any number of managers who would read that last sentence and be horrified.  The thought of not writing down orders puts fear in the heart of managers who are responsible for the rise in food costs related to misrung food.  A former boss once put it this way; “I would rather have a stubby pencil than a sharp mind.”  The debate on whether or not to write down orders has pretty much been won by the side of managers who want to eliminate mistakes.  I do not disagree with them, but I also do not write down orders.

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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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Supply, Demand, and Chicken Wings

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I only chose this picture because I heard she was an economist

Yesterday’s post on extra charges for the various items a guest requests caused me to ponder on a larger scale.  It is remarkably common to hear guests say, “I could buy that steak/wine/etc at the store for half that much.”  This is the same principle as walking into a car dealership and demanding a price based on the total price of the steel, glass, and plastic contained in the car.  In both cases, the price of production goes far beyond the cost of the raw materials.  Next week, I will be addressing in detail the difference between the actual cost of an item as simple as a burger and also the actual price of production.  When the cost of labor and overhead is factored in, a burger is far less profitable than the average consumer would imagine.

First, it is necessary to establish as a premise that food is a commodity.  A meal is comprised of many components each of which has a finite supply.  There are only so many acres of wheat or corn being produced.  There are also only so much beef, poultry, pork, and seafood being brought to market.  This means that supply is more of less the same and therefore demand is what determines the price restaurants pay.  The commodity we are all most familiar with is oil.  When demand for oil rises worldwide the price rises as well.  This is followed shortly by a rise in the price of gasoline.  We as consumers understand why this affects gas prices, but rarely do we relate it to restaurants.

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