Know Your Audience and Improvise: A Lesson from a Restaurant Server


Understanding your audience’s motivation is key in finding opportunities to reach them. That point was driven home a while back during dinner at J. Alexander’s in north Atlanta. Our server, Jimmy, did something I haven’t seen done much lately in a restaurant. He assessed the situation and improvised, getting our gratitude as well as up-selling us another course.

audience jimmy kibler

Jimmy Kiblere understands his audience

As I looked at the description for the sea bass special, the words “puddle of brown butter sauce” got my attention. I told Jimmy I was trying to eat clean and if there were an alternative to my butter dilemma. Shortly after our exchange he asked if we wanted an appetizer. Since our options were fried, cheesy, or fried and cheesy, I declined. Thinking on his feet, literally, Jimmy asked, “What about our seared Ahi tuna appetizer?”

Interestingly there was not an Ahi tuna appetizer on the menu. “It’s not there, but I can make a special one.” Sold.

Not only did I feel special and cared for, but Jimmy quickly up-sold me when I was already determined not to have anything that was high in calorie or high in fat and had decided to bypass the first course.

When you understand your audience’s motivation, in my case eating clean, and improvise to tap into such motivation, the seared tuna with greens, then  you have a win/win combination. I wonder what the growth in sales across the entire J. Alexander’s restaurant chain would be if servers were tuned into their patrons’ motivations, were able to improvise and adjust the menu to offer them what they were really looking for. Not only would the customer satisfaction index go up, the economic impact would be significant, I’m certain.

How aware are you of your audience? In a world of customization, are you able to improvise to serve your clients and your bottom line?

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if any of your entreprenial readers are thinking of hiring him for their own organization? He can be taught a skill, but his talent in customer service translates across businesses.

    Tim Dahl

  • chasingphoto

    It’s as simple as listening and responding. I love this blog.

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