4 Customer Experience Lessons From Your Wait Staff

It’s not very often I give a 40% tip at a restaurant, and it’s not because I’m cheap. But the other night was a different kind of customer experience, with lessons for marketers about successful customer engagement strategies.

customer experience

It’s not very often I give a 40% tip at a restaurant, and it’s not because I’m cheap. But the other night was a different kind of customer experience, with lessons for marketers about successful customer engagement strategies.

It was a crazy night and hard to find a restaurant that could take our party of seven. We were stressed and so was the wait staff, who had plenty of reasons to be stressed and just go through the motions to get the job done.

This young man was different. He replaced the stress of the night with a calm smile. He asked about our evening and totally empathized with our “issues,” never mentioning his own. He told us in advance that the cook was a little behind but he would do his best to get us served quickly.

He noticed we were hungry and it was late so while our order was being processed, he brought us a complimentary appetizer; nothing expensive, but enough to tide us over. When he brought us our order, it was faster than we expected  given the crowd, and it was clear he had listened to our special needs, made sure that everything was just as we asked it to be, and had even gone a step further to make sure my gluten-free daughter was not exposed to any gluten indirectly.

And throughout dinner, he checked in. With a smile. And asked how we liked our food, did we have any other needs or even suggestions? His conversations were relevant and cheerful to the point that we left feeling like we had made a new friend.

It was a pleasure to leave him a $40 tip.

Waiting tables may seem like a simple process that is simply a routine. Yet there are a lot of insights to gain here for customer engagement strategies and success. Let’s change this scenario to a sales call:

  • You have a customer who is stressed, tired and needs a solution soon.
  • You have a big backlog or a long queue of customer orders.
  • Timing is critical for this customer and, if you can’t deliver, they may go elsewhere.
  • They have some very specific needs that have to be met with precision.

Implementing What We Learned

So how do you “serve” them to get them to purchase,then to satisfaction and loyalty?

Recognize upfront and immediately a customers’ stress, anxiety, and needs. Empathy for those needs and issues goes a long way. We connect with people who are like us, understand our pain and concerns, and give us even a little hope that they will be resolved.

While challenges and obstacles can’t be overcome in a day in most cases, find a way to minimize the pain (or hunger) with a small service or added value while they wait for the full resolution. Be transparent about any shortcomings you might have for providing the products or services needed and assure customers you will do your best to meet their needs. Regardless of your business, you can almost always find something to ease the process. If your wait time is longer than normal, offer a discount for their patience, which gives them a reason to stay with you vs. shop for a faster solution.

Follow up. It is simply amazing how much money is left on the table (and I don’t mean tips) after sparking interest in your products and then not following up personally with a close. With all of the emails and ads and messages we are exposed to daily, while multitasking at home or at work, we simply do not respond to messages of interest immediately. But when someone calls us a few days later to see if we have all we need, we often go for the order, just like we often go for dessert when we had no intention to before being asked if we wanted that tiramisu or chocolate mousse vs. the fresh key lime pie?


Pay attention next time you have a really good waiter and watch how subtlety and skillfully they earn a good tip by following these simple steps above. Try the same kind of touchpoints in your customer journey and watch your sales and stickiness take off!

Author: Jeanette McMurtry

Jeanette McMurtry is a psychology-based marketing expert providing strategy, campaign development, and sales and marketing training to brands in all industries on how to achieve psychological relevance for all aspects of a customer's experience. She is the author of the recently released edition of “Marketing for Dummies” (Fifth Edition, Wiley) and “Big Business Marketing for Small Business Budgets” (McGraw Hill). She is a popular and engaging keynote speaker and workshop instructor on marketing psychology worldwide. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging B2B and B2C purchasers' unconscious minds which drive 90 percent of our thoughts, attitudes and behavior, and provide actionable and affordable tips for upping sales and ROI through emotional selling propositions. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging consumers' unconscious minds, which drive 90 percent of our thoughts and purchasing attitudes and behavior. She'll explore how color, images and social influences like scarcity, peer pressure and even religion affect consumers' interest in engaging with your brand, your message and buying from you. Reach her at Jeanette@e4marketingco.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *