mething from the Bar?
Something from the bar?
This has to be the lamest question ever uttered, and it’s uttered a million times a day in restaurants all over the world.
It might elicit an actual drink order from a customer who always wants the same refreshment before dinner, but for everyone else it causes hesitation, confusion, reluctance, panic.
We don’t know what you have, how it’s priced, whether your bartender is frugal or licentious, which of the countless ways you might want to take advantage of us is in play . . . .
In other words, it creates an environment precisely the opposite of what the server intended, which was to make the customer comfortable, appreciated, and catered to (in a word, spendy).
Here’s what your customer at Table 13 visualizes when you attack her with your demand that she order a drink:
It’s no wonder that, when you make her select from this ridiculous array of alternatives—on a strict social deadline!—she panics in the moment and says the only safe thing: “I’ll stick with water.”
And you wonder why you don’t get bigger tips!
Hint to the metaphor: Readers do the same thing. Faced with too much new data or too many choices—in absence of clear guidance—they retreat to their bunkers where you can’t begin to persuade them.
How to Serve
You don’t understand your job, which is to serve, and by serving to guide, and by guiding to sell, and by selling to improve your employer’s bottom line, and—by helping out absolutely everybody—to take home bigger tips from happier customers whose enjoyment has been lubricated by expensive cocktails.
The best servers use their power to their advantage.
And when I say “servers” I mean “writers.” You understand this is an extended metaphor, right?
- They are the subject matter experts
- They have already examined the pertinent evidence
- They have come to the right conclusions
- If they establish your trust, they can guide you to the right conclusions
- Everybody is happy when you come to the right conclusions
How to Write
How to serve; how to write; they come down to the same set of rules. Stay in charge of the subject matter; approach it like the expert you are; guide your reader (diner) to the right conclusion.
One of the images below demonstrates the right way to offer up appetizers. The other is the way we write too often without even knowing we’re doing it.
NOTHING is accomplished if I tell you “We have a wonderful assortment of delicious appetizers; what do you want?”
But if I extend to you a limited sampling of carefully selected delicacies (by which I mean data and evidence because we’re still talking about writing, remember?) and stand there smiling, offering by my benevolent presence to guide you through the options with pleasant but persistent patience, then we pretty much both understand you’re going to order one of these little beauties . . . probably the one on which the house earns the biggest markup.
Get it now?
Lessons from the Server
NOT TO DO
- Don’t ask open-ended questions.
- Don’t promise that you’ll have important information to share . . . later.
- Don’t blame the kitchen.
- Don’t apologize for what you don’t have.
- Never contradict your customer’s preferences.
- Instead of open questions: We have spectacular cocktails from our certified mixologist (I know. I didn’t know there was such a thing either, but she has the certificate to prove it! ) But if you’re not drinking, I have flavored teas, a full line of soft drinks, fresh coffees and teas. I’ll even put a big bottle of sparkling water in a bucket of ice. (But I won’t let you think that “sticking with tap water” is an alternative.)
- Instead of saying there are countless options: For big appetites I have a 22-ounce porterhouse; South Jersey magazine raves about our chicken Parmesan; but the best bargain on the menu is the brick oven pizza: 15 bucks and you’ll take half of it home.
- Instead of blaming the kitchen: We’re not used to being so crowded on a Thursday, but the review that came out in the local paper has us really hopping.
- Instead of saying the owner forgot to order seafood: There are no good mussels in the market this week after that storm in the Gulf; fortunately, the Maine lobster was unaffected and the 2-pounder is on special.
- Instead of arguing about your customer’s favorite cut: A lot of people say that, and I agree, so this is hard for me to say, but the filet mignon actually has less flavor than the rib-eye which benefits from all the marbling. Our chef handles both cuts really well. Want to try something new?
Do I really have to do this, or do you get it?
- THE KITCHEN is NOT the entire world of knowledge. It’s whatever you’ve been able to gather from your research. You’ve had just a few weeks, for crying out loud. It’s everything you could afford, and everything you could keep from spoiling in your limited refrigerator space (your White Paper; your Brain).
- THE CHEF is you back there working with dull knives and too little butter on the one working burner that isn’t devoted to all your other classes—the ones that really matter to your major!
- THE SERVER is also you. Once you graduate, you can hire someone to do the serving for you, but for now, you have to cook and deliver everything to the table.
- THE CUSTOMER is your reader. He’s an arrogant blowhard, full of opinions about what’s good and what’s bad about food. You have to figure out what he thinks he knows, charm him into questioning where he got that misinformation, and sell him that the Tortellini-Tre-P that he always thought was cruel to animals happens to be an ecological blessing in exactly three ways, which you delineate for him with pleasant and persistent patience.
You collect the big tip for introducing him to guilt-free sausage. He goes home with his utterly infatuated date who has no idea what she’s in for, and you—with your obvious command of the data—attract the attention of the stunning brunette with the dangling earrings and those magnificent teeth.
For sticklers keeping score: Yes. You win twice. But it cost you a semester and he only had to pay the check. Fair’s fair.
If this is exactly like the advice you’ve received in every other writing class you’ve taken, I’d love to hear about your earlier experiences.
If, on the other hand, it’s a fresh way to consider the task of crafting an academic essay, well, I’d love to hear that too.