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: 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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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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Management Mentality Mistakes

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Motivating servers is a tricky business.  Without question servers crave autonomy and tend to resist being told what to do.  At the same time, managers in general are given very little guidance on what is perhaps the most important part of their jobs.  Two similar restaurants in the same company with the same menu and with the same amount of sales can produce radically different results.  The difference generally boils down to leadership.

Restaurants go to tremendous lengths to train managers on how to control costs, increase profits, and manage the balance sheets.  Very little time is spent on developing skills for leading a staff.    Recruiters look for management skills, but seldom can assess accurately the leadership traits that are effective in a restaurant.  To make matters worse, a manager starting out with the best attitude can lose it after months of the daily rigors of the job wearing them down.   To prevent this it is vital to keep a continuous focus on training for leadership and monitoring the methods a manager is using.

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The Rules of Serving: Rule Five

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Rule Five: Always recommend what is in the guest’s best interest, not yours.

(Note: There are many hyperlinks today that will send you to posts were I have previously addressed specifically issues that I address in this post.)

This is the second time in two days I have sat down to write this post.  Yesterday, I got caught up in a tangent which I think serves as an important preface to this post.  It even inspired a comment immediately that proved its accuracy.  In the preface, I discuss how restaurant companies have encouraged servers to focus on upselling and thus significantly damaged the relationship between servers and their guests.

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How Money Motivates

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(Note: this is part three of a series based on research presented in part one.  Yesterday, I addressed why contests and financial incentives do not motivate servers.  If you have not read these posts, I highly recommend doing so in order to fully understand the premise of this post.)

Yesterday, I discussed why contests do not work to motivate servers.  I made the case that servers were not primarily motivated by money.  Like all other employees they are more motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  I hope that instilled greater credibility to those who read it that this research is as true for servers as it is for any other profession.  In the original post, this message was highly counterbalanced in the original by a very strong caveat.  This caveat cannot be ignored.

The research did make it very clear that if you do not pay people enough, they will not be motivated.  In no way should the fact that contests do not motivate servers be taken as an indication that servers do not care about money.  Servers care about money.  So do their landlords, credit card companies, student loan agencies, etc.  It goes back to the old adage, “Money can’t buy happiness, but being broke can sure make you miserable.”  The message of the research is that money provides a comfort level to focus on higher motivators.  If the servers are not making the base level of money they need to be comfortable, they cannot focus on the higher motivators that lead to increased performance and personal satisfaction.

When a service staff is not making adequate money, you end up with three types of servers:

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Why Contests Don’t Work

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(Note: This is the second part of a series I am posting over the holiday weekend.  The first part of this series lays out the basic premises this post and the rest of the series is based on.  In order to full appreciate this series, please read “The Epiphany” where the research behind this post is presented.)

Over the years I have been in countless serving contests.  The manager comes out at lineup and explains that whoever sells the most of the evenings fish special wins a lovely pink women’s size small t-shirt with the phrase “Buy Me a Tequila Rose” across the front.  Immediately visions of sporting this stylish shirt out to the club on my six-foot tall frame to pick up women go through my head.  Nothing says “class” like liquor company promo shirts.  All I have to do is regale my guest with mentions of the finely aged fish special that guests who came in the last three nights did not choose.  Tonight I can tell them that it truly is a limited time offer.  I will leave out that if they don’t buy it the kitchen manager can no longer in good conscience avoid throwing it out.

Fortunately, most of the contests were not as bad as the previously mentioned tale.  Most managers have accepted that cash is “one size fits all” and far more effective in the aforementioned club.  What surprises these managers, and myself in my time as a manager, is how poorly it works as a prize to motivate a staff.  The previous post outlines numerous studies that show cash incentives actually harm performance.  At first glance, this seems to make no sense.  Servers tend to be highly money motivated as a whole.  Yet cash incentives don’t lead to better performance.  Upon further examination though it can be easily explained.

Here are the basic reasons why financial incentives in the form of contests fail to motivate servers:

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Ways To Motivate Servers

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Given the popularity of last Monday’s post on management styles, I decided to follow up with another management post.  This may become a regular Monday feature depending on the feedback.  While I am a server, I have worked on the other side of the office door.  I prefer serving.  I enjoy making guests happy and connecting with them.  Managing led me to have to deal with too many angry ones and not have the opportunity to prevent the problems in the first place.  As a manager, you spend your day fixing the problems your staff creates.  I moved back to serving years ago and don’t regret the decision.

In my time as a manager, I had the chance to test some of the theories on management that I had developed as a server.  It is far more difficult than it seems.  I decided when I made the switch that I was going to be the type of manager I wanted to work for.  This is where my theory of “Sergeants and Generals” was born.  Make no mistake about it; I was a Sergeant.  I always made it clear that I would never ask my staff to do anything I wouldn’t do.  I was forced to stand behind that principle enough times that no one doubted it.

At my first management job, I instituted three very specific ideas to motivate them.

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