Understanding and Using ‘Influence Patterns’ with Restaurant & Cafe Customers

Ever fallen into the trap of doing things you didn’t want to do? You may have given money to someone hustling in the street; signed up for products you had absolutely no need for or let a person cut ahead of you in a line for no justifiable reason.

In most instances you responded more or less automatically. They ‘influenced’ you in a way that caused you to act differently to what you thought was ‘rational’.

In most instances, the reason what you did was because you weren’t thinking clearly. You responded in a more or less automatic fashion.

As a business person, your ability to influence the actions and beliefs of others is of crucial importance. Each situation, though it may share many common features with others, is unique, with its own distinctive qualities. These qualities must be discovered through a thoughtful approach if you are to gain the maximum from each situation. Therefore, if you find yourself responding to similar circumstances in similar ways and in an unthinking, habitual manner, it may be time to reconsider your approach.

It is impossible not to influence others. So when we discuss the issue of influence, we need not ask the question. “Do we, in the course of our interactions, influence one another?’. A more appropriate question would be, “How, when, where, and why do we influence others?”. These 6 Influence Patterns come from the famous book Influence by Robert Cialdini. Let’s see how they apply with service in a cafe or restaurant…

Reciprocity – a favour for a favour
Do you have friends who always ask you to dinner, and you feel you ‘owe them’ a return favour? When we give something, whether it is information, food, money or whatever, the other party feels compelled to give back equitably what you have given in order to cancel out the obligation. Be the first to give service, information and concessions and your customers will repay in kind. Examples:

  • A small taste of tonight’s special arrives on the table as the menus are delivered – enough to whet the appetite and show the generosity of the waiter. You are more likely to ‘order up’ from the menu.
  • A waiter offers you a great window seat/nice compliment/free extra serve, knowing that this is likely to be repaid with a good tip.
  • You ask the party organiser from a local business to have dinner with your compliments, as you know she’s planning this year’s Christmas event.

Scarcity – don’t miss out!
Ever bought something (that you didn’t need) at a sale because it was the very last one? Possessing scarce or exclusive items, conveys information about one’s status, intelligence and wealth. As objects of value become less available to people they increase in value. Use the unique information that you possess about a product to harness this rule. Examples:

  • ‘We don’t take bookings, but if you are here at 6pm you can claim the window table…’
  • ‘We only take bookings up to 7pm…’
  • ‘The double chocolate mousse sells out every time we make it – will I keep one for you?
  • ‘No-one has been able to get Crowdy Creek Chardonnay after that great review – the boss must have pulled some strings…’

Authority – 9 our 10 dentists recommend…
Authorities gain their power through conditioning – an experience common to us all. Even as adults, we become respect the opinion of individuals in positions of power. By establishing your business position through professionalism and credentials, you are more in a position to execute influence. Examples:

  • Waiter says: ‘I’ve tried all these red wines and I would recommend this as the best to go with your meal…’
  • ‘The owners only drink Mt Lofty Spring Water, never plain tap water…’
  • ‘The chef recommends fresh beans as the best side vegetable with the fish…’

Consensus – everyone agrees…
When deciding what to do in an unfamiliar situation, it is helpful to look to others in that situation for an answer. You can unleash people power by providing information on trends and similar mass movements of others and by showing evidence of the success of others. Testimonials on how good your product serves as ‘social proof’ of the product’s benefits. Examples:

  • ‘It’s our most popular seafood dish – everyone loves it…’
  • ‘Lots of kids order this pasta – it never comes back!’
  • ‘Peroni is our most popular imported beer…’

Commitment & Consistency – the same as last time…
We tend to like individuals who act consistently because it allows us greater control in a situation. When a person’s behaviour is relatively consistent, we know what to expect from them. By having your customers make a small commitment you are more likely to be able to influence them to add to this commitment. They’re need to stay consistent to their word comes into play here. Examples:

  • ‘Our family always has Mother’s Day Lunch at La Perla – they really know how to look after us’.
  • ‘We will call you in the afternoon to confirm your Saturday night booking – may I have your mobile phone number?’
  • ‘Would you like a bottle of Jason’s Creek Merlot like last time?’
  • ‘They always know exactly how my partner likes his steak done…’

Liking – we prefer to be served by nice people…
We tend to like (and be influenced by) people like ourselves. That is because they reinforce who we are, what we believe in, and what we value. Uncover similarities and opportunities for cooperation with your customers and you will not only achieve your goals, but also those of your customer. Examples:

  • ‘The chef is so helpful – I know she would make a special birthday treat for you…’
  • ‘It’s really nice to see you here again – would you like to sit at the same table? ‘
  • At a minimum, this means all your staff are likable and ‘nice’ – it’s not an old-fashioned word! Say goodbye to people who can’t or won’t smile.
  • Name tags help build familiarity and liking for your staff
    Is this all just manipulation? Cialdini suggests that ‘you can not not influence others’, so why not do it effectively rather than by accident or random. You be the judge…

This video is a good summary of the general principles of Influence