When the Waiter Is the Customer

In the final part of our interview, my good friend Dr. Steven Berglas, one of the foremost authorities on career guidance and author of the recently published book, Stay Hungry and Kick Burnout in the Butt, talk about a counterintuitive idea: treating the waiter like a customer.

Most of us think, “I’m paying the bill, I’m the customer, they should take care of me.” Steve brings up a fascinating point that I absolutely agree with: treat the waiter like the customer and you’ll be amazed at the results! Following is a brief excerpt from our interview.

Marshall: Steve, give me a little background on you. Where did you come up with this concept? You were a bartender, weren’t you?

Steve: Yes. And, the thing I would hate most is when someone would come in and tell me exactly how they wanted a drink made. Johnny Walker black scotch sour. We would laugh. You can’t taste Johnny Walker black or old … you can’t taste anything under sour mix!

If you want a Bloody Mary, don’t ask for a particular vodka, say, “Do me a favor. I want a bloody Mary. What’s the best way to make it?” The bartender knows what to do. If you go to a restaurant, the waiter knows what’s in the kitchen, what’s fresh. You’ve got to respect that individual’s intelligence and expertise.

Marshall: I totally agree with you. I’ve had the privilege of eating at every Michelin 3 Star restaurant in New York, and I think this is even more true when you eat at higher end restaurants.

Let me give you a story from my own life, it really made an impact on me as a young man. I was brought up very poor and I’d never been to a fancy restaurant in my life. I go to New York and I look at the top 10 restaurants. At that time number seven was a French restaurant. I went there, totally intimidated. I’d never been to such a place. I looked at the waiter and said, “Sir, I’ve never been to such a place. I have no idea what I’m doing here. I made a lot of money today and I want to spend a hundred dollars,” which back then was a lot of money. “I have a hundred dollars to have a nice meal including the tip. If you don’t mind sir, could you bring me a hundred-dollar meal and then explain to me what everything is, so I can learn something?”

You know what he said? “Don’t worry young man. I’ll be more than happy to.” I kept track of what he brought me. He brought me a $150 meal! He was so nice and kind to me and right then I realized something. When you go to place like that, don’t show off. Don’t act pompous and pretentious. As you said, “They know far more about the food than you do.” And as ironic as it seems, treat the waiter like a customer.

And, there’s a second reason to do this. As a human being, it’s a better way to live. It’s a better way to live. The only negative experience I’ve ever had at a high end restaurant is when I went with a person once who acted snobby and critiqued everything. I was embarrassed. We had terrible service. I don’t blame the waiter. No one likes to be talked down to. I remember Henry Kissinger was sitting right across from us and I felt like telling my friend, “You know if Henry Kissinger wants to act like a snob, he’s kind of earned it; you haven’t, just shut up, you’re embarrassing all of us here.”

If you go into a restaurant, treat that waiter like a customer. It’s a good way to look at life! Treat everybody like a customer and 1) you’ll probably get a lot better service; 2) they probably know more than you do in most cases, anyway, and 3) you’re going to have a happier life.

Steve: I couldn’t agree more. Thank you, Marshall!

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