Omnivore - A lesson in salesmanship

It takes a special kind of person to be good at sales. Maybe I’m alone on this, but it seems to me that traditional sales techniques always leave the customer feeling ripped off because the whole premise is selling someone something they probably do not need. In stores when I get a pushy salesperson, I always leave without buying something. I simply do not trust the hard sell or the smarmy false friendship that comes with the talented salesperson.

This type of salesmanship extends into the restaurant world in the form of waiters who take the hard-sell approach to service. I was reminded of this over the weekend when I took a group to C&S Seafood and Oyster Bar. Our waiter was all the things an old-fashioned salesman should be: personable, a little overbearing, charming and radiantly positive. Before we had even taken our seats, he swept by the table and, in the process of welcoming us, said, “I’m sending a basket of Parmesan truffle chips out to you, which should get you started off well.” Not a question — a statement. Don’t you think I should feel, as a guest of this restaurant, that they wouldn’t sheister me into paying $8 for a basket of potato chips I did not order? Did my polite nod to the waiter (before I even had a chance to look at the menu) indicate that I was willing to pay whatever they cost? Or should I have said something like, “Hold on a minute there, buddy, how much are these potato chips going to cost me?” I assumed they were compliments of the house, seeing as they were offered and not requested. I was wrong — when the bill arrived, there they were, $8 potato chips. Should I have raised a fuss? Perhaps — but that, too, is putting me in the position of having to call attention to my unwillingness to pay for something in front of my guests. If I were not reviewing, I would probably have said something, but that is beside the point. The waiter relied on the fact that we would not want to question him when he originally offered, and would not want to raise a fuss when the bill came (or would not look closely at the bill). That type of salesmanship has no place in a restaurant.

The funny thing is, I think these tactics are not the most effective, at least not on a restaurant floor. I am a terrible salesperson. I have been fired from every job I ever had that involved coercing money out of someone. But I was a fantastic waitress. If a chef had a special he wanted sold, I would sell it out in the first hour of service. Here’s the secret — to engage the customer, to listen to them, to find out what they like and to make recommendations that cater to who they are. This kind of service breeds trust, which in turn breeds sales, and also breeds return customers.

The next time I go to C&S, I’ll be on guard against sneaky up-sells. I wonder if the extra $8 they made was worth it.

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