Like the old saying, "you catch more fly honeys with vinegar..." or something like that.

Years ago I had the good fortune of working for a man named John Maria.  I have had many bosses over the years, but none had a better fundamental understanding of human nature than John.  One day he gave me a book and told me to read it.  He said the answer to almost every life problem was found in this book.  It was a pretty bold claim, but I did learn a great deal from reading the book.

I pulled out the book recently and read the chapter regarding this topic.  The book is called, “Get Anyone To Do Anything” by David J. Lieberman, PhD.  While the title is a bit of hyperbole (hence me writing this blog rather than living in Bill Gates’ mansion with Alyssa Milano) there is a great deal of wisdom in it.  Dr Lieberman gives incredible insight into human nature and how to use it to your advantage.

In the book, Dr Lieberman makes a very convincing argument that there are two important factors that primarily determine whether or not people like you:

People like people who like them.



People like people who are like them.


This seems incredibly basic.  Most everyone would agree on these principles.  If you look at your friends, you are probably most drawn to those who like you and have similar interests.  While most people would agree with this fact, implementing it in a server/guests relationship is the root of the problem.  Too often servers will ignore these fundamentals when relating to hostile guests.  Even though they know how to make people like them, they refuse to use this knowledge in interactions with their guests.

Now that we understand what makes people like us, we just need to perfect the technique to make guests like us.  This is a technique and not a trick.  It only works if it is based on a sincere desire to make a guest like you.  Hostile guests are suspicious and will react poorly if they view you as a “phony”.  You must want the guest to like you.  Once you understand that, then it is just a matter of how to convey this to the guest.

There are four ways you can demonstrate to your guests that you like them and are like them:

Be Nice: This should go without saying.  Yet when a guest is hostile towards the server, most servers respond in kind.  This is the opposite of how you should handle the situation.  With hostile guests you have to be even nicer.  This allows them to realize that your kindness is sincere.  Find a way to exceed their requests.  If they ask for lemon with their water, bring them out a plate with several lemon wedges nicely arranged.  If they send back a drink because it is too weak, have the bartender add a bit more booze.  It is cheaper than comping or remaking the drink.  If they ask for substitutions, tell them that you can make it happen for them.  Find a way to make them feel special by going above and beyond to be nice.  This trait works for all five groups mentioned in the last post.

Be Humble: It is very easy for the confidence of a great server to be interpreted as cockiness by a hostile guest.  This is disastrous for winning over the first three types of hostile guests.  You must find a balance between humility and professionalism.  Your professionalism should be comforting to your guests, but not intimidating.  Acknowledge your mistakes.  Compliment them on difficult questions.  Make sure they feel like they are in control of the meal and your role is just to put their plan into action.  This shows that you care, removes the intimidation factor, and differentiates you from other servers.

Be Competent: This is the counterbalance of the previous point.  Being humble does not mean you fail to do your job well.  Being competent on the other hand does not mean being cocky.  You need to show your guests that you can handle their requests while still letting them guide their own meal.  Being knowledgeable and concerned with their needs is the middle ground.  Their requests must take priority and fulfilled promptly.  By doing this you allow them to enjoy the meal without the need to micromanage you.  This will cause them to let down their guard and warm up to you.

Be Different: You have to add a bit of personality into the experience.  Remember the third and fourth groups dislike you because you are a server and a person.  This means you must be different than other servers and people.  Be sincere and human.  Find any opportunity you can to compliment them or show that you are like them.  Their dislike of servers (and people) is based on their stereotypes of the generic version.  The further you can be from generic (within reason) the more you can avoid being held responsible for past experiences with servers.  Remember the third rule of serving: generic servers receive generic tips.

These four characteristics are the antidote to the poison a hostile guest brings to your section.  All four steps will improve the situation with any of the five types of hostile guests.  Each of these characteristics must be used until you determine which works.  The upside is that they are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, each of these characteristics compliments the other.  In tomorrow’s post, I will describe exactly how to integrate each of these steps into serving your guests.

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