Pathetic (Issue 968)

In which we are reminded to ask (at least) several questions before deciding on a sales recommendation.

My wife and I decided to “get away from camp“ for a night, choosing a village on Cape Cod and a small harbor-side hotel built in the late 1800s, a classic Victorian edifice surrounded by houses built in the same era. The hotel boasts the best dining room in the village.

After a leisurely afternoon tour of the village and the surrounding area, we settled into the expansive dining room for dinner. In the current “socially distanced” environment, the tables were quite far apart; however, from one’s table, the beautiful harbor still seemed quite close.

In its heyday, when this hotel and the village were one of the premier summer vacation spots for urban Victorians, this room, with its wood floor and wood ceiling, must have been magnificent with white coated waiters and all the accoutrements of formal summer dinners.

Different times now and the hotel’s menu is somewhat more limited due to COVID-19 circumstances. This reduced my vegetarian options significantly.

One of the menu offerings, a Cobb salad, looked pretty good to me: avocado, hard–cooked egg, tomato, jack cheese, seasoned black beans, roasted corn, mixed greens, served with a chipotle ranch dressing.

When Dan, our server, arrived at the table, I asked him, “How big is the Cobb salad,“ remembering some that could have served me for three meals. He held out his hands and indicated a salad plate about 12 inches across. That seemed a good size to me, so, I ordered the salad. My wife ordered the house burger with a side of truffle fries to be followed by crème brûlée for dessert.

The Cobb salad that arrived at our table was… pathetic. Pathetic! A handful of lettuce leaves that looked so tired that I thought it might be time for them to go to bed. Positioned at three o’clock on one side of the dish, a half cup, if that, of black beans that looked like they had just come out of a can. Positioned at nine o’clock, on the other side of the dish, about a third of a cup of roasted corn. Between them, at noon, were five small cherry tomatoes, split in half. And, at six o’clock, two small slivers, less than 1/8 of an avocado. All of this was topped with about 1/3 cup of gently tossed shredded jack cheese. Dressing on the side. No egg, as requested.

I looked at the salad for a long time. My wife gave me one of those spousal sideways glances that said, “I see you’re not happy with that but I’m not going to ask.” And, not wishing to upset the apple cart of a nice evening, I started with the avocado and the beans. “Yes,” I reflected, “it is true to the menu description, it was not positioned or priced a full dinner salad; even so… pathetic.”

How could this have gone so wrong? Well, this was a little like asking a prospect or a client one question about a particular issue, hearing one clue that there might be a need, and then making a decision about a product recommendation without asking additional questions to understand other details.

I asked one question – “How big is it?“ – and received an accurate answer. Had I really wanted the full picture of the Cobb salad served by this dining room, I could have asked questions like, “What kind of lettuce do you use? How much black beans and roasted corn? How much avocado? Do you mix them together?” But, I have a history with Cobb salads and I thought the answer to my single qualifying question, “How big is it?”, would be a sufficient foundation on which to make a dinner decision.

So unsatisfying was the salad that, toward the end of our meal, looking at the half burger that my wife had left on her plate (“I’m saving myself for the crème brûlée”), I went completely off plan and ate the rest of her burger. It’s good to have a little iron from time to time.

Nick Miller trains banks and bankers to sell to small businesses. Additional columns and an expansive array of articles on other topics can be found on Clarity’s Web site.

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