SERVICE: 'Anchovies ... are they any good?'

June 21, 2005

Here's an all-too-common question diners ask about menu items: "Is it good?"

And what do you say? Do you affirm their choices or suggest ones you like? (Or worse, do you answer simply, "It's all good!") The answer isn't as cut and dried as you might think.

The dilemma in affirming a diner's choice is actually somewhat risky because it's an interjection of our personal preferences into our tableside marketing tactics. When diners ask if a product is "any good," they really want to know if you think they'd like it, not whether you like it. They want affirmation from you that this possible choice would fit their basic expectations. (If they ask, "What's your favorite dish here?" then that's a whole different thing. They consider you an expert and are seeking your advice based on your knowledge of the menu, not your knowledge of what they might like.)

When I work

Paul Paz

as a secret shopper, one of my favorite information-gathering strategies is to ask the waiter about the anchovies on the menu. (You can see clearly how this applies to the pizza business.) You can imagine the responses: automatic smirks, frowns, rolling eyes, curt answers, or curled lips to the question that convey a personal dislike of the savory, salty fish -- which, frankly, I love. (And don't forget, even if you're asked a similar question over the phone, the customer can sense the honesty of your response. A lot can be discerned from tone of voice and speed of response.)

Wrong response and big mistake!

When customers ask about the quality of your products, what they really want to know is that the product comes with the server's assurance that they will enjoy it. It's affirming their dining preferences and purchase. It gives them confidence that this experience will be a good one.

I compare this to retail shopping, where a good salesperson will say, "Oh, you're going to love that. ... That's a great deal. ... That's one of our most popular items. ... Those are selling like crazy." Such phrases affirm the customer's choice. It compliments his taste, style, shopping savvy, ego, etc.

So it is with the dining experience. When the diner has an eye on a particular menu item, the sale is only half finished because he's not yet committed. The "close" nearly always comes with the waiter's affirmation (using some of the above retail phrases) that the diner is making an excellent choice.

And I'm not talking about saying "excellent choice" about everything they order, as you still hear in some high-end restaurants. Not only does that appear robotic and become boring, it's typically perceived as inauthentic. Therefore, if you find it necessary to affirm a guest's choice, be creative. Say, "That's the owner's favorite," or "We sell a lot of those; you'll really like it."

Use affirmative phrases proactively as well. For example, "The special pizza tonight is selling like crazy. People love it." Or, "Since you're feeding the whole family tonight, this is a great bargain for a lot of food."

All customers want to feel they have made a good choice from your menu. So share their excitement with a final statement after their selection. "You're going to love our anchovies!"

In the meantime, Make It Fun... Make It Easy... Make Some Money!™

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Topics: Service

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