Which restaurant to choose in Boston or anywhere else

About a month ago, Jane, Abigail and I enjoyed
a long weekend in Boston. Boston has been one of my favorite cities ever since
I ran the Boston Marathon in 2004 and 2005. If you’ve never been there I highly
encourage you to go! The mixture of old and new architecture, interesting pubs
and restaurants, Boston Commons, Cheers, and the Freedom Trail are just a
handful of cool things to do.
We spent a good bit of time at Faneuil Hall, a
well-know market where there are street performers, historic sites, interesting
shops and lots of restaurants to occupy your time. While we were enjoying an
unusually cool, beautiful summer afternoon walking through the market, I
overheard a young man say to his girlfriend, “When you see a restaurant without
a line and the others are crowded you don’t want to go there. There’s a reason
it’s not crowded.”
I doubt someone had to teach him the
psychology of persuasion for him to understand the reality that crowds usually
signal a good place to eat whereas empty tables typically mean the food and/or
service must not be so hot. What he described was the principle of consensus in real time – we
look to others when trying to decide on the best course of action. We can be
influenced by what many others are doing or smaller groups who may be similar
to us. Either way, to a great degree, we base our actions on the observation of
others. And this is only heightened when we’re unsure what to do.
It’s not uncommon at all for us to make quick
decisions based on the principles of influence just like that young man. That
shows how easily, and quite often unconsciously, we’re influenced by the
principles. Here’s another example. Several weeks ago I wrote about a study by
the University of California. Homeowners were given energy saving ideas and one
group was told if they implemented the recommendations they would save about
$180 on their electric bill in the coming year. Another group was told they
would lose $180 over the next 12 months if they didn’t adopt the
recommendations because they would overpay on their electric bill.
Whenever I share that study and then ask
people which group they think was more likely to implement the energy saving
ideas, everyone says the group that was told they’d lose the $180. And they’re
correct! The “lose group” had 150% more people take action than the “save
Again, like the young man in Boston they intuitively
got it. Yet time and time again we see people highlighting the benefits of some
change rather than pointing out what people might lose if they don’t go along
with what’s being asked or recommended. They’re bungling away an opportunity to
effectively persuade using the principle of scarcity!
I’m guessing you’re reading this blog because
you want to be more effective when it comes to persuasion. So the real question
for you is how you will use your knowledge of the principles. It’s not enough
to understand the principles (head knowledge); you have to put them into action
ethically and correctly.
For example, some people respond to “thanks” by
saying, “That’s how we treat all of our customers.” That’s a major bungle
because that’s not effective use of consensus. Telling someone you’re treating him
or her just like everyone else after you’ve done something to help him or her
only diminishes the special feeling we all want. Better to say, “We were happy
to do that. We appreciate your business.”
Back to our young couple. If they were like
most people milling around Faneuil Hall they were probably tourists and in the
absence of a recommendation from a local they didn’t know the best spots to go
for dinner. I don’t know where they ended up dining that night but odds are, if
they were willing to wait for a seat at one of the more crowded restaurants
they probably had a better experience. And that goes not only for Boston but
anywhere you’re looking for a good spot to eat.

P.S. Dr. Cialdini has a new book coming out that he’s coauthored with Steve Martin and Noah Goldstein, Ph.D. The book is called The Small Big and can be pre-ordered here.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.


Influence Tips for Running a Restaurant – Part 4

This is the final post in what turned out to be a four-part series on ways restaurants can ethically engage customers using the principles of influence to create win-win situations. If you’re reading this and you happen to be a server at a restaurant then pay attention closely because what I’m going to share next is something you’ll want to avoid. Customers always ask about different dishes such as, “How’s the fish?” All too often servers talk about how much they like the particular dish. The server will say something like, “It’s one of my favorites” or “I love it.” That’s a mistake because we all have different tastes. While both statements may be true, if the customer happens to not like it the recommendation it’s tied back to the server and that could hurt tips. The better response would be to engage consensus because people generally look to others to see if they’re making the right decision. The response I’d suggest would be, “It’s one of our customer’s favorites” or “Several people have already had it today and said it’s delicious.” Those responses engage the principle of consensus and deflect some criticism just in case the customer doesn’t like the food. Here’s another tip for servers. The liking principle tells us people like to do business with people they like. The more a server can get customers to like them the better the odds that they’ll be tipped favorably. Beyond saying, “I’m Sally and I’ll be waiting on you today,” try asking customers their names. I’ll never forget Ryan, a bartender at Friday’s, when I made a trip to Nashville many years ago. When he came to take my order he introduced himself, asked my name and shook my hand during this quick exchange. Each time he came by to check on me he used my name. “How’s your food, Brian?” “Would you like another beer, Brian?” “So what brings you to Nashville, Brian?” After a while I felt like a friend was waiting on me. Needless to say, he got a very nice tip. Little things can go a long way. The smart server is the observant person who can also find similarities and raise them to the surface. If the server connects on mutual interests, hometown, sports, similar names, etc., then liking is engaged and odds are the customer will enjoy the dining experience more. Another tactic that engages liking is to look for things to genuinely compliment. Abraham Lincoln was right when he said, “Everyone loves a compliment.” Find something worthy of a compliment, raise it to the surface and the customer will feel good. Those good feelings are then associated with the server and restaurant which is a win for everyone. And the nice thing about all of this is the server will like the people he or she waits on. After all, if the server finds things they have in common with customers and notices things worthy of compliments they convince themselves the customers are good, likable people. As customers sense their server really enjoys waiting on them they feel better, too, and everyone wins. I’m sure there are more things restaurants can do but simply incorporating the suggestions I’ve made over this series of posts can make a very positive difference to the bottom line because customers will be more engaged and enjoy their dining experience even more. And the best part, as I shared at the start of this series, it costs almost nothing to do what I’ve been describing. Brian, CMCT


Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Influence Tips for Running a Restaurant – Part 3

Here we are in the third part in a series of posts directed at those working in the restaurant industry. I believe the application of the principles of influence in an ethical manner can help restaurants, wait staff and customers in a win-win-win way. A couple of weeks I wrote about a way for servers to garner more tips. I’ll talk about another thing servers can do to increase their take home pay. Believe it or not, something as simple as a mint causes many people to tip more. Many of you might be thinking you’d never tip more simply because you got a mint. Not everyone does but if some are moved to tip more just because they got a mint then isn’t it worth the effort? In one study researchers found that servers giving a single mint to customers increased tips by more than 3%. But the investment of two mints did more than double that amount…it increased tips by 14%! That’s right; servers who regularly gave customers two mints saw their tips increase by 14% in the study. That takes no more effort than handing a single mint to each customer, so it’s the smart thing to do. You may be wondering why this happens. Researchers believe it has to do with reciprocity. This principle of persuasion tells us people feel obligated to give back to those who’ve first given to them. The act of giving mints taps into this principle and people open their wallets a little wider and the more mints they were given the deeper they dug into their wallets. As they say on some of the cheesy infomercials, “But wait, there’s more!” One more mint condition was tested. With a third group of servers they would give a single mint to patrons then start to walk away. However, they never got too far because they would suddenly wheel around and say something like, “You guys have been great,” and would give everyone another mint. Believe it or not, in this scenario the average tip was almost 25% higher than the control group! Like the group previously mentioned, it was only two mints per person but the fact that the giving was personal to that table was what really made the difference. Of course this tactic can’t be used on everyone because not all customers are great so it would be unethical, dare I say manipulative, to engage all customers that way. But there are some who are fun to wait on and if servers treat them in a special way when engaging reciprocity their tips should soar. Next time you’re eating out and see mints somewhere near the door as you leave you’ll know that establishment is bungling away a chance to help the wait staff make a little more money and satisfy customers. Of course, the smart server will invest in their own bag of mints because they’ll be able to buy them in droves with all the extra cash they’ll have from their increased tips.Next week we’ll conclude this series with a final post on tips for those in the restaurant industry. Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Influence Tips for Running a Restaurant – Part 2

I started this series last week mentioning all the traveling I’ve done during the first half of the year and how it’s given me lots of opportunities to see how restaurants operate. Employing the psychology of persuasion can help customers enjoy the whole dining experience more and that will help the restaurant because of repeat customers. Since my interaction is primarily with the wait staff most of the ideas I share will revolve around them. Have you ever had your server come up and ask, “Does everything taste fine?” Sure, you have and so have I. I’d have to say that’s what I hear more often than not. When I think about it that phrase it reminds me of the person who, when asked how they’re doing typically says, “Not bad.” So bad is the standard and they’re not bad. Many of you might be thinking you know what they mean when they say that and I do, too, but isn’t it more uplifting to hear something like, “Doing great. Thanks for asking”? Sure it is. From The Customer Rules : The 14 Indispensible, Irrefutable, and Indisputable Qualities of the Greatest Service Companies in the World by C. Britt Beemer; “Bill Pulte, founder and chairman of Pulte Homes, explains. ‘At Pulte, we work on the premise that we don’t want to satisfy the customer, we want to delight the customer. Here’s what I mean. When a husband and his wife go to a restaurant for dinner and have a nice meal, they are satisfied with it. So they go home and that’s the end of it. They forget about it. On the other hand if they had a fabulous meal and extraordinary service, what do they do? They tell their friends about it. With this in mind, we don’t think that just being satisfied is good enough.’” Let’s get back to our server. When you go to a restaurant aren’t you expecting the food to be good, great, tasty, delicious, or something else other than just “fine”? I know I am. If I were managing a wait staff my instructions would be that they ask customers, “Does your food taste good?” or “Isn’t the chicken delicious?” or some other phrase that gets customers to think about how good the food is…not that it’s just fine. If customers affirm that the food was good, tasty or something other than fine they’re likely to feel better about the dining experience. That will make them more likely to return and probably tip better. Why do I think they’ll enjoy the dining experience more and tip better? Because the principle of consistency dictates they will. This principle of influence tells us people feel internal psychological pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. If you want to remember that just think “word and deed” because people like their words and deeds to match up. If I affirm that the food is good when asked then it would be inconsistent for me to not come back for more at some point. The server can strengthen those odds by asking, “That’s nice to hear. Do you think you’ll be back to see us?” Again, most people would probably say yes to that question and more will return because of it. I said I think tips will be bigger too as a result. People usually tip based on good service and good food. Poor service or poor food is disastrous for the server who depends on tips for a living. Having them affirm that the food was very good helps move the tipping process along nicely because it’s only consistent to tip well assuming the service was also good.Next week we’ll take a look at more ways to run a restaurant using the psychology of influence. Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Influence Tips for Running a Restaurant – Part 1

Lots and lots of travel the first half of the year! By the time it was over I’d visited Baltimore, MD; Austin, TX; Nashville, TN; Chicago, IL; Greensboro, NC; Cincinnati, OH; State College, PA; Cleveland, OH; Milbank, SD; Des Moines, IA; Indianapolis, IN and possibly a few other places I’ve forgotten. With all the travel comes many nights in hotels and dining out. I’ve blogged before about how hotels are bungling away opportunities to get more people to reuse towels and bed sheets to help the environment so I’ll steer clear of that this week. If you want to learn about what those hotels could do then click here. As you can imagine, with all the meals on the road I’ve had ample opportunity to observe how restaurants operate. When it comes to engaging customers to help them enjoy the dining experience a little more, and ultimately help the restaurant’s bottom line, there’s plenty of room for improvement so I thought I’d share some psychological tips for running a restaurant — ideas I’d personally implement if I owned a restaurant. I’ll state up front that most of the ideas I’ll share can be implemented without spending any additional money or very, very little in some cases. Restaurant owners, do I have your attention? Because there’s a good bit to explore and due to the need to talk about the psychology behind my suggestions, this will be multi part series with short blog posts over four weeks. Let’s start with the menu and talk very specifically about wine. All too often after grouping the wines (Merlot, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Shiraz, etc.) the listings seem haphazard, at least to the non-wine connoisseur. Unless you’ve a very upscale restaurant with wine lovers for clients I think this is a mistake. Much of the time the cheapest wines are listed first which is an even bigger mistake! In psychology there’s something known as the contrast phenomenon which tells us what people see or experience first greatly impacts how they perceive the next stimuli they experience. For example, when buying a suit no good salesperson would start the sales process by showing the client accessories. If a salesperson did so the cost of the suit would seem too expensive. Think about it; if you are shown a shirt and tie combo that costs $75-$100 to start then the suit seems even more expensive by comparison. The smart salesperson sells the suit first because then, by comparison, the shirt and tie don’t seem nearly as expensive. Even if the customer doesn’t buy the shirt and tie a least the big ticket item was sold. How does this relate to the restaurant selling wine? If the average customer starts reading the menu and sees a $20 bottle immediately then by the time they get to the $200 bottle it seems way more expensive by comparison! However, if the more expensive wines are listed first then by comparison the $75 or $50 bottle starts to seem like a bargain. Simply rearranging the order of the wine from most expensive to least the next time new menus are made up should lead to increased sales becomes more people are apt to buy the more expensive wines. They still may not get the $200 bottle but they’re much more likely to consider some of the other more expensive wines. The same thought process goes for most other menu items. After separating the entrees from the sandwiches, and salads from the starters, the restaurant owner would do well to list food items from most expensive to least. Next week we’ll look at some things the wait staff can do to increase customer satisfaction and tips. Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.