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Applied psychology: How a waiter sizes you up at restaurants

Looking through the view of HIGH-END RESTAURANTS to understand human psychology, sales, and communication skills.

Ramit Sethi

In college, I got the privilege to study human behavior through dozens of different lenses: Human-computer interaction, group dynamics, trauma and stress, even magic and deception.

Now I get to do the same for you.

This week we’re looking through the view of HIGH-END RESTAURANTS to understand human psychology, sales, and communication skills.

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Restaurants are actually a great metaphor for life, because:

  • Most people think you walk in, sit down, order food, eat, and leave. In fact, there’s an entire game being played around you. What you order, how you order it, what you look like…they all affect the experience you have.
  • Interestingly, many of us believe we want it to be EFFICIENT: Ugh! Why did it take 15 minutes to be seated? Why is that waiter taking so long? But if we had a 100% efficient experience, we wouldn’t even like it. What we THINK vs. what we actually DO is very different.
  • You are paying for something you could “technically” do on your own. This is mind-boggling to cheap people who don’t understand paying for value.

I still remember one of my most memorable restaurant experiences. It was at Benu in San Francisco, a restaurant that later became Michelin-starred. I could only get reservations for the 9:30pm seating. When we walked in, they recognized me on the sidewalk (how’d they do that??) and said, “Welcome, Mr. Sethi.” We sat down to a 17-course meal which was, in retrospect, way too much. I went to the bathroom TWICE during the meal — not because I had to go, but just to move around. I also fell asleep at the table.

Anyway, even though I would much rather eat a spicy Asian dish than some high-end food, I will never forget that meal.

And as I got more interested in studying human behavior through different lenses, I stumbled across an amazing blog: waiterrant.net.

This anonymous waiter wrote about all the things you and I never see at restaurants. For example…

Would it surprise you that waiters can usually tell what kind of customer you are within the first few seconds of meeting you? (How do they do that?)

In an instant, they know how much you’ll spend, what dishes you’d like, whether they can “upsell” you on certain items, etc.

What can we learn from these experts on the front line of customer service? How can we apply their skills to how we handle our own customers, coworkers, or bosses?

I have the great fortune to be able to ask some of my heroes to share their expertise with the IWT community.

This week, I’m thrilled to bring in Steve Dublanica, author of Waiter Rant: Confessions of a Cynical Waiter, who gives us a surprisingly honest look at what’s going on behind the scenes in restaurants in a 2-day video series.

I invited Steve into my studio to share nearly an hour’s worth of insights from his 10 years in the restaurant industry. And my team cut the video up to show you some of his best advice.

In the first part of this video series, I’m sharing a 16-minute clip that’ll let you swipe a lesson out of Steve’s customer service playbook.

In this segment, you’ll learn:

  • How to spot a customer’s “tells” so you know precisely who you’re dealing with and how best to serve them (1:58)
  • How to (ethically) separate your customer from the maximum amount of their money possible (6:07)
  • Why you DON’T want to pitch people your most expensive product (7:30)
  • How customers are like Amazon (9:04)
  • How to deal with bad customers and keep your sanity (10:17)
  • The one thing you aren’t doing that can set you apart in the eyes of your CEO or interviewer (12:21)

Want to know what every single top performer I’ve interviewed in Brain Trust (including CEOs, athletes, and best-selling authors) ALL have in common? Simple. It’s habits. Successful people don’t just catch a lucky break and coast — they systematically identify and integrate winning habits into their lives, day in and day out, for years.

Ramit’s Brain Trust is now closed indefinitely. But before we closed the program, we extracted all the juiciest success habits from our guests and packaged them into a 7-part Ultimate Guide to Habits that you can read anytime, anywhere — absolutely free.

 

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Maybe you want to start eating healthier, or cook a meal once a week. Maybe you want to start a business, or even just read one book a month.

No problem. Start small. Pick 1 or 2 things to use these powerful techniques on, and watch what happens.

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