Small Orders (Issue 579)

In which we are reminded to leave a good taste in customers’ mouths, even if they place small orders.

8:30 pm,  Saturday night. With brief thunks just audible over the roar and clatter of 150 meals and diners , water glasses met table as our server, John, who only moments before had greeted us warmly, expressed his irritation with our small dinner order, about half the ticket he might have expected from three adults on a noisy, busy, Saturday night.

We’d come in from a very full, long day –  hot, sticky, sun blocked,  sunburned, flip-flopped,  itchy in our shirts and beach shorts, hungry, and wanting to finish the day with a light meal  in the cool, darkened restaurant.

So, in this cavernous, cool, semi-darkness, we sipped our waters … and waited….. ate the bread…and waited…. I thought one of us might pick up the bread basket and empty the crust crumbs into his mouth ….. and waited, our conversation just barely discernible in the soup of restaurant surround sound.

When John arrived with our dinner … it’s a kind of funny move some waiters have…. as he placed our plated food on the table, he looked away from each of us and surveyed the crowd each time he extended his arm, almost as if he didn’t want to see each plate hit the table, like a little ‘disdain’ move, and then… just as he was about to release each plate, he gave it… I don’t know… and little ‘shove’ somehow so it turned and thumped down.


And how could John have known that, once we grazed through our small initial order, that two of the three of us at the table would probably lay it on REALLY THICK for dessert… and coffee… and probably one after-dinner drink….  and maybe another dessert, just for good measure?

But, by reducing his voice warmth, setting plates down with just a little attitude, and not checking back with us during our first grazing round, he lost the chance.

I understand his dilemma – how much time to invest in an apparently small order when there were larger, louder, more jovially ravenous parties to either side of us?  Nevertheless, he lost the chance to expand our meal and diminished, just slightly, our fondness for this restaurant.

All of us make these time management choices. All of us, from time to time, think of  a prospect or a client and say,  “I need to focus my attention elsewhere.”  The trick is, what taste do we leave in their mouths when we make that choice?

In John’s case, he started well. “Good evening, welcome to the ABC Restaurant.  Glad to have you here. Have you eaten here before?”   Once hearing our “yes” to that question, taking our order, thinking about the time of night, and looking at our clothing and sun-burned noses, he might have said, “Ah, a light finish to the day. How did your day go?”

Upon hearing our answers, he might have said, “Wonderful!  And I have a couple of ideas for later that might finish your evening perfectly”  or something similarly encouraging yet tantalizing.  In other words, he could have acknowledged us, connected with us, played along with us, and made us feel valuable, even though our order was small. By so doing, to encourage us to come back again.

Same deal when we have to focus elsewhere with clients and prospects.  First, we never know when an apparently small prospect or customer might be willing to spend more money than we ever thought possible.   Second, we want to create fans who might refer us or speak well about us to others even if we’re not working with them.

The exact words to use will vary, depending on the setting, the opportunity, whether they’re a prospect or customer, how we were introduced, and so on.

The main point is: …. Engage – connect with the prospect or customer. Communicate respect or admiration for what they’re up to, however great or small. And make suggestions about others they could speak with or other ways they could think about their challenges. In other words, bring some value to the table so that they are willing to share some value with us later.

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