One Sure Way to Lose My Business

And One Surprising Way to Triple My Morning Order!

I don’t like a lot of acknowledgment when I go out to eat. Maybe it’s the Yankee in me. Keep your distance, please. Some people want to go where everybody knows your name. Not me. A smile and a bit of friendly talk is more than enough. I get uncomfortable when it’s more than that—it’s like I’m being watched. It happens occasionally when I’m out shopping, too, but not nearly as often as at restaurants.

Two points:

1. I want a smile and just a bit of small talk everywhere I go, not just at places I’ve been before. So do all most of your customers. Treat ‘em all with a little friendly acknowledgment, not because they are regulars (which makes others feel like “what am I, chopped liver?”) but because you hope they will be. Don’t reserve this for the “friends” of your establishment.

2. When it’s done with just the right touch, even a cool New Englander can be pleasantly surprised by a bit of familiarity.

• I walked into my favorite local morning hangout today. (Which one? Read here, or here.) A face I recognized was ready to take my order, and she said with a smile, “Hi. You’re early today.” Which I was. I don’t go there daily, but it wasn’t my usual time of day. I was only stopping in for a drink, but her friendly tip of the hat changed my mind, and I got breakfast. Result: I gave them 3x the money I intended to when I stopped there today.

(Note also: “Hi. You’re late today,” would have struck entirely the wrong note, reminding me of a failing instead of complimenting me. I hope she knew the difference and saves a comment for when she can make a customer feel good.)

• Contrast: A couple of weeks earlier, same place, a nice enough cashier who hadn’t been there long enough for me to recognize him, tried to guess my order from seeing me the week before. Annoying because I switch my order pretty often, and he got me wrong anyway, which led to one of those “aren’t you the blueberry with the garden veggie” kind of conversations. Nope. Too uncomfortably familiar, and a little smug, too. Result: I didn’t come in again for over a week. Not a grudge, exactly, but just needing a little distance.

Your turn: How do you feel about familiarity? How much is too much when you’re out, and what policy is encouraged in your business? How do you balance a little formality with a little friendliness to enhance your Customer Experience?

Grow and be well,


About KellyE: I've been FoH and BoH. Although I'm now Out of House, Restaurant Experience is one of my favorite obsessions. For more posts about Experience Design, visit the Maximum Customer Experience Blog.

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  • Keith,

    Poise, grace, I think they may be a bit higher than I would dare to hope. I'm not really trying to rant, either... what got me started thinking was what a lovely experience I had yesterday a.m., although obviously I did draw some contrasts.

    It's Experience as plan (policy) that really interests me. I think the style and intention of human interactions should be part of the plan as much as any other part of Experience Design. Obviously the human side of business is full of surprises, but integrating a plan for customer service into the overall Vision greatly increases the chances that servers will convey your Vision consistently.

    On the other hand I could name six or seven places within thirty miles of me where poise is de rigeur, and that absolutely can contribute to a great Experience.


  • Dennis,

    Ah, yes. When I was a twentysomething chef and used to go out with friends from FoH, we'd get a kick out of seeing how long it would take to get attention again after the order was taken ("server blindspots" I think they called it)... of course none of my friends had the problem, they just knew how to spot it. ; )

    Unless the server was looking to see if you'd put your credit card out. Then they had radar.

    I wish I could say that this behavior is extinct, but I don't think so....

    Restaurant owners and managers, don't let your servers go to this extreme, either!

    Thanks for the comment,

  • Matt,

    Thanks! I agree, the situation can dictate the level of banter I'd like to put up with. When I'm out at night it's fair to say I may be slightly more interested in familiarity than when I just want my caffeine, darn it. Subtlety in service is a great start; taking your cue from your customers helps.

    There's a place near me where the servers have apparently been taught that if there is a last two inches on the bench they should slide in next to you and get cozy to take your order. It didn't take me more than a couple of visits to decide that was never going to work for me, no matter how large the Long Island Iced Tea. As a policy, it doesn't really take into account that patrons have varying levels of required personal space!

    (It's a darker green... I'm still playing with it but it is much better, thanks for noticing!)


    Walking that line really is an art, and sensitivity is hard to teach. Who is it that said he'd rather hire good people and teach them to do what he needed than hire people who knew how to do it all, but weren't really good people in the first place? (I'm mangling that quote horribly!)

    I'd say the woman who took my order today learned more about how to treat people right from Mom and Dad than two weeks' staff training can do at any establishment.

    Future servers will take their cue from you, and it sounds like at your cafe you've got the balance just right.


  • Kelly, these are awesome points. As a former server, FOH manager, and GM, you always have to gauge the mood of your customers and tailor your level of involvement accordingly. Some tables welcome a friendly conversationist, others want to be left alone. And for myself at least, I go from one end of the spectrum to the other on any given day. It depends who I'm with and what we're discussing or working on. When it's a romantic evening, servers need to learn to stay away or be inobtrusive. When it's a business meeting they need to stay away or be inobtrusive. If it's a night out with the guys and we're having fun and drinking, they need to be more attentive and it might be appropriate for them to interact.

    Definitely this is a great tipic, and nice work with your page...The lime green is much more readable and easier on the eyes.

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