Give yourself a raise — don’t treat everyone the same

It was a beautiful Sunday, and I decided to take a ride to the beach. I love to watch the water. When our lakes are frozen, I have to go to the Seacoast to get my fix.

No doubt there are many good restaurants on the Seacoast, but I particularly like the venerable old Ashworth-By-The-Sea at Hampton Beach. I usually have a sandwich at the bar (their turkey clubs are pretty good) and watch the water. I like the nautical decor with fine pictures of old sailing yachts, even including a fine model of a yacht. In fact, I like the atmosphere so much (especially since they went non-smoking), I’ve written a number of articles on my little palmtop computer right there at the bar.

Best of all is Rita, certainly one of the best bartenders on the Seacoast. Truly outstanding service really stands out, and Rita’s attentive service was hard to ignore. She made an impression of being a cut above.

A few weeks later, I found myself there again, and Rita astounded me by remembering what I wanted. I was truly impressed. Here was someone who still remembered weeks later. In fact, I noticed a couple across the bar pointedly asking her when she’s on duty. They obviously wanted to know the best times to come.

Now it’s hard to come to the beach without stopping in to see Rita. Frequently, I hear customers ask the perennial question about her hours. I’m always impressed with superior performance, so I decided to find out more.

Rita never went to college, although now she wishes she had. After high school, she worked as a hostess, then as a waitress. When her customers ordered drinks, and she went to get them, she watched the bartenders mixing. That’s how she learned; she never went to bartenders’ school. She does claim to have learned a lot working with “Jenny, the bartender of bartenders,” early in her career.

According to Rita, “mixing drinks — and learning how to do it — is the easy part. Learning to work with customers is a lot tougher. Everyone is different and they all react differently. What one likes, another will not.”

Talk about genius — she doesn’t treat everyone the same! Instead, she notices what we like and does her best to accommodate. Indeed, she makes everyone feel special, like she’s glad to see us.

What’s interesting is her sage advice doesn’t apply just to bartenders, but to every profession. I was educated to be an engineer, and I always found engineering to be the easy part. Getting people to go along with my ideas — now there was a challenge. I think of it as human engineering: How can I explain this in a way that will make them want to do it?

Managing is another challenging job, but it’s not the planning, budgeting and all those other duties that make it a challenge. Again, it’s the people. Have you noticed they don’t always follow the plan the way we would like? How can we make them “want” to do what they should?

As Rita pointed out, treating everyone the same just doesn’t work.

What’s interesting is Rita works in a job where she can give herself a raise anytime she wants, and she obviously has figured it out. Improving service improves tips instantaneously.

Regardless of what we do, we can also give ourselves raises too, though most of us can’t do it as quickly as Rita. We may have to wait for promotions and review cycles, but the principles work for us just like they work for her.

I’ve never measured one of Rita’s drinks to make sure it’s just right; I doubt anyone else has either. To a fair degree, we take competence for granted. We think she’s a great bartender, not for her precision in mixing drinks and serving food, but because of how she treats her customers. There are a lot of competent people around. Treating those around us a little better can be a real differentiator, even more than an advanced degree.

If you’re on the Seacoast, stop in and see her. Look at the water, but also notice how she treats people. It’s a pleasure to watch such talent at work. Who knows? You just might pick up a few pointers. nhbr

Ronald J. Bourque is a consultant and speaker from Windham. He has had engagements throughout the United States as well as in 12 nations in Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 898-1871; fax 894-6539;;

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