The Impact of the Salad Bar Nazi

I sat there defiantly with a soup spoon in my hand. Thoughts of mayhem raced through my mind.

My adventure had begun about a half hour earlier when my wife, Erica, and I decided to go out for dinner. Our boys were both occupied, and this gave us an opportunity to share a meal and catch up on one another’s day.

One thing that Erica and I have missed since moving from Silicon Valley are some of the great salad bar restaurants, which featured just about every salad component you can imagine (along with a few you probably can’t imagine).

There is, however, a restaurant nearby which features a reasonably good salad bar. And while it wasn’t exactly ideal for a night out, it was good enough. We made the drive up the hill for dinner.

One of the first things you see when you walk into this restaurant is the salad bar with its myriad containers of food nestled under a clear plastic shield. You also see abundant signs which state; “No sharing of salad bar items. Everyone who eats anything from the salad bar will be charged.”

They take their salad bar seriously.

Erica and I looked over the menu and made our choices. My meal came with a trip to the salad bar, but I wasn’t interested in a salad. Her meal came with a bowl of soup in which she wasn’t interested, and our deal was sealed. Her soup for my salad.

After ordering, I went to the bar and built a salad that fit Erica’s tastes. (I was very careful to make sure that I ate nothing. I was even careful that no blue cheese dressing ever touched my fingers.)

I returned to the table and made our soup and salad exchange. That’s when it happened.

Our waitress came up scowling. “You were supposed to be having the salad!” The accusation hung thick in the air.

Not liking where this might be heading, I calmly replied, “I know. I made the salad. I made certain that I ate nothing from the salad bar. I gave it to my wife, so there is only one person eating from the salad bar.”

Our eyes locked. Like a bull and a bullfighter in the ring we sized each other up. There was an awkward pause. The salad began to wilt.

“Well,” she said with a huff. “I’ll let you get away with it this time.”

Get away with it? Get away with it?

I sat there defiantly with a soup spoon in my hand. Thoughts of mayhem raced through my head.

This was, as they say in customer service books, a “pivotal moment.”

The waitress had forgotten why she was there. She was no longer serving a customer or creating a pleasant dining experience. She had become a soldier for the restaurant, defending the cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices from enemy insurgents.

I smiled politely and returned to my soup. I also made a silent vow that it would be a very cold day in hell before I, my family, or anyone I knew would return.

Let’s focus on the economic impact of that “pivotal moment.”

The goal of just about any business relying on repeat business is to be added to a customer’s “favorites list.” Every radio station hopes to become one of those assigned buttons on your car stereo. Restaurants hope to become one of your favorites so when you decide to go out to eat, they are one of those considered when you decide where to go.

Because of our very busy schedules, my family eats out a few times a week. Once a restaurant makes our “favorites list” they can plan on seeing us at least once a month.

So what are we worth as customers? Well, assume a conservative 10 visits a year at $70 a visit, That comes to $700 a year. So what is our lifetime value to a restaurant that treats us well? Realistically, it will fall somewhere between $4,000 and $10,000

Compare that to the cost of cherry tomatoes.

Here’s how this principle applies to your business: The most important customers you have are your existing customers. If you take care of them, they will come back again and again. Do it well, and you will have a customer for life.

That can add up to a rather large amount of money.

Ironically, businesses regularly undo a lot of marketing effort and expense with bad customer service.

It’s like a football player who catches the ball, runs all the way down the field, only to fall down on the two-yard line.

That’s why I always become a user of my client’s products or services. I listen to how the phone is answered. I taste the food. I experience what real customers experience.

When we find that the customer experience is deficient, it’s one of the first things we fix. It takes a great deal of effort and expense to attract a new customer. You don’t want to run them off with bad service.

Right now businesses are competing harder than ever to get and hold on to customers. So it just makes senses that you would spend some time sorting out how to enhance your customer’s experience. You may want to have a friend who is unknown to your staff become a customer and report back what they experienced.

You may be shocked. You may be pleasantly surprised. In either case, the impact on your business can be significant.

So, focus on your existing customers first. Make sure they are happy and will keep coming back. Next, begin the process of finding new customers and assure that their first experience is an exceptional one.

Are you looking for new customers? Or, are you looking for ways to recover customers who have gone astray? You need to call Sentium to set up a marketing review. We’ll show you how to get more customers and we’ll share ideas on how you can keep the ones you’ve got. Call (800) 595-1288.

To your business success,


Looking for help getting the right message to produce exceptional results for your business? The first step is to make a simple phone call. Call Sentium to set-up a no-obligation telephone consultation. It will cost you zero, zip, zilch, nada, but could give you answers that can dramatically boost your sales results. Call us at (800) 595-1288.

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Richard Wilson is the Founder/Chief Marketing Strategist for Sentium Strategic Communications which helps companies craft the right message for extraordinary results. Over the past 31 years, his clients have ranged from start-ups to major technology companies.
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