I Make A Mean Cherry Limeade

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If my tombstone was written by coworkers, guests, or bartenders it would read, “Here lies Dave, he made a mean cherry limeade.”  I have declared this to every table I have served in the last three years.  When you order a cherry limeade at my restaurant, the chit prints up at the bar with simply my name.  Guests who I have waited on before recognize me from the line.  Perhaps no one other than Sonic has done more to increase awareness of cherry limeades in my town than I have.

Here is the initial drink pitch:

“How can I get you started?  I have a great wine list on the back of the menu.  All of my cocktails are made with fresh squeezed juices and shaken by hand.  Which also means I make a mean cherry limeade.  What sounds good?”

Here is a little secret: I actually have never made a cherry limeade (the bartenders do that) and I really don’t even like them. In general, I am hoping to sell something much more expensive than a cherry limeade.  So why push the cherry limeade?  The answer is simple.  This line has nothing at all to do with selling cherry limeades.  When I do sell one, it is purely by accident.

The power of the line is in what it allows you to learn from the table and what it plants in your guest’s mind.  It is just six words (coming soon to this blog: the power of the six word sentence) but used and interpreted properly it holds tremendous ability to diagnose your guests and unlock their imagination.

Here are six effects of this simple line:

Read the Table: As a server you are constantly trying to read the table.  Great servers want to give their guests the dining experience they came in for.  Unfortunately. Guest’s don’t come in with nametags that say, “please entertain me” or “leave me alone and let me eat.”  Their response to this line lets you diagnose from your first interaction what type of dining experience they want to have.  If you don’t even get a courtesy chuckle, tone down the personality while staying prompt and efficient.

Show Some Personality: Serving rule number three states: “Generic servers get generic tips.”  People have predetermined the normal tip they will give to servers.  They have not determined how much they will pay someone who connects to them in a way that makes them more than the generic server.  Until you find a way to do this, you will be limited to generic tips.

Determine “Pitchability”: If you can make a guest pause to consider a cherry limeade, even if they don’t order it, you have determined they are susceptible to a sales pitch.  While you didn’t get the sale here, you have determined that recommendations on the meal to come will carry a lot of weight in their decision making process.  Get back and hit them with a pitch.

Diffuse the Table: Someone out there reading this is thinking, “but I work at too upscale a restaurant to say this.”  The fact is this line has impact because I work at a nice restaurant.  Some people walk into fancy restaurants nervous of being judged.  For these tables, the line reduces the tension instantly and allows them to relax.  It also makes it clear that you are not judging them, but are there to help.

Get Out of the Box: One very important word was left out of my drink pitch.  Never use the word “drink” to ask a guest what they want to drink.  The logic here is that guests have a nearly Pavlovian response to the word “drink.”  It forces them back to their normal beverage choice to get a decision made.  By offering something outside the box you avoid the generic reaction and instead get them thinking about something different all together.  Even if it doesn’t sell a cherry limeade, it moves them away from their generic drink order.

Bring Back Memories: Most people reading this are pretty indifferent about cherry limeades.  Some of you have never had one.  There are some people though who have already thought about their memories of cherry limeades.  I cannot tell you how many of these memories have been shared with me by guests.  Multiple times I have had grown men fighting back tears while telling me about going to get them with a parent or grandparent who has passed away.  I wonder how many more of my guests just didn’t tell their story.  The ability to trigger these positive emotions while taking a drink order will put you light years beyond the generic server.

It’s just six words.  It takes less than six seconds to say.  The effects are incredibly powerful.  Maybe where you work it is a “mean” Arnold Palmer (“they taste so good they named a golfer after it.”)   With other drinks you still get the first five advantages.  This is easily enough reason to work it into your initial pitch.

Give it a try.  Let me know how it works for you. Shoot me some feedback.  Have a great cherry limeade memory?  Need a good recipe?  The comment section is open for you.

A special thanks to all the bartenders who squeeze limes for me every time I accidentally sell a “Hayden” and to the only slightly cranky waitress for sending half of you here.  She rocks and makes me laugh daily.

Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips is the new book from the author of The Hospitality Formula Network.  It contains the 52 essential skills of the exceptional server.  This book teaches the philosophy to turn average service into an exceptional guest experience that will rapidly increase your tips.  This book shows how you can provide better customer service and dramatically improve your tips.  Enter the coupon code “squared” to receive 20% off your copy today.

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10 comments on “I Make A Mean Cherry Limeade

  1. juniper on said:

    OH my god. Those steps are unbeleiveably accurate. Spot effin on. I love this site David Hayden. It applies to WAAAAAY more than waiting tables. It’s how to communicate and be understood when you’re talking to people and creating a positive environment for everyone. Could there be a better job? Your job is to be happy and spread the joy…and get paid for it. You can apply All the steps of service with daily life and teh control you have over it by choosing to be charming and positive. It’s a life lesson. It’s for me one of hte perks of server work…you have these exhanges with strangers who, like you, have the ultimate goal of having had “a great time’. That’s not just in the restaurant world, but knowing it…only makes you more money and gives you job satisfaction. win win dude.

  2. juniper on said:

    OH my god. Those steps are unbeleiveably accurate. Spot effin on. I love this site David Hayden. It applies to WAAAAAY more than waiting tables. It’s how to communicate and be understood when you’re talking to people and creating a positive environment for everyone. Could there be a better job? Your job is to be happy and spread the joy…and get paid for it. You can apply All the steps of service with daily life and teh control you have over it by choosing to be charming and positive. It’s a life lesson. It’s for me one of hte perks of server work…you have these exhanges with strangers who, like you, have the ultimate goal of having had “a great time’. That’s not just in the restaurant world, but knowing it…only makes you more money and gives you job satisfaction. win win dude.

  3. Great list of tips. I struggle with being generic at times–my particular corporate restaurant seems to be trying super hard to squeeze every bit of individuality out of every last employee, to the point sometimes of telling us we have to suggest two specific drinks at each table (and advertising this to guests with a flyer that says they get free dessert if we don’t). I sometimes get exhausted trying to find ways around it and just go with it.

    • I would look at it slightly differently. The more generic the restaurant the greater the opportunity to stand out. Even the nuttiest person in your restaurant would be pretty tame if they were at Burning Man. Being surrounded by people trained in a corporate manner and doing the corporate minimum gives you more opportunity to differentiate yourself.

      The other part is an example of exactly what I am trying to fight against. Suggesting drinks is a good idea. I do it to every single table whether I am required to or not. I would argue for three instead of two (topic for another post), but it will increase your sales. The problem is the corporation that has the numbers to prove that it will increase your sales, didn’t approach it that way. They are instead taking an approach of punishing you for not doing something that is in your best interest. This automatically creates the impression that it is not in your best interest and causes people to fight it. There is a logic to doing it that I outlined in the post and if they would have presented it in that way, they would have servers wanting to do it.

      I have huge issues with the changes I have seen in the industry in my 15 years. This is a big one on that list. Hopefully I can get some traction in my fight to get restaurants to fundamentally change the way restaurants train their servers.

  4. Great list of tips. I struggle with being generic at times–my particular corporate restaurant seems to be trying super hard to squeeze every bit of individuality out of every last employee, to the point sometimes of telling us we have to suggest two specific drinks at each table (and advertising this to guests with a flyer that says they get free dessert if we don’t). I sometimes get exhausted trying to find ways around it and just go with it.

    • I would look at it slightly differently. The more generic the restaurant the greater the opportunity to stand out. Even the nuttiest person in your restaurant would be pretty tame if they were at Burning Man. Being surrounded by people trained in a corporate manner and doing the corporate minimum gives you more opportunity to differentiate yourself.

      The other part is an example of exactly what I am trying to fight against. Suggesting drinks is a good idea. I do it to every single table whether I am required to or not. I would argue for three instead of two (topic for another post), but it will increase your sales. The problem is the corporation that has the numbers to prove that it will increase your sales, didn’t approach it that way. They are instead taking an approach of punishing you for not doing something that is in your best interest. This automatically creates the impression that it is not in your best interest and causes people to fight it. There is a logic to doing it that I outlined in the post and if they would have presented it in that way, they would have servers wanting to do it.

      I have huge issues with the changes I have seen in the industry in my 15 years. This is a big one on that list. Hopefully I can get some traction in my fight to get restaurants to fundamentally change the way restaurants train their servers.

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