I learned a lot of networking lessons from my waitress

I do a few meetings a week around lunch time and I meet a lot of different waiters and waitresses.  Some are ok, some are not ok, and some are awesome.  One young professional I will call Betty (not her real name) showed me how to really network while waiting tables.

I know, most of you do not think that someone taking your food order is networking.  However, if they know their craft, they are networking and looking for a very positive return on their time with you.  And it is the epitome of the 30 second commercial.

Let me set the stage.  What do you want when you are at a networking event?  Permission to talk to people and to find out what they want.  The first thing Betty does when she approaches your table is write her name on a napkin.  She will then place it on your table so you can read it, introduces herself, and asks what you want to drink.  She is now no longer a waitress that is stuck with you as a customer.  She has established a personal connection (allows you to know and use her name) and has sent out the first hand shake by asking what you want to drink.  This is the same thing you want to do at any event.  Also, wear a name tag on the right side of your coat, shirt, or blouse.  This allows for the eyes to travel up your arm when you do your handshake and ask what they do.

Betty then walks away to get the beverage order.  When she returns she asks in a cheery voice what can I get for you?  Not if you are ready to order or if you have decided what to order.  She is offering to do a service for you – not force a conversation.  How many times after you meet someone at a networking event do they launch into a data dump of everything they know about their job or expertise?  Does not sound like they are very interested in you does it?  Betty shows she is interested in getting you something.

After you place your order and it gets delivered, Betty does check back with you to see what else you need.  And it is not asking you how is your food, how is your drink, do you need anything else.  She simply asks you if  you are enjoying your food.  You get away with a simple yes or no.  This is a closed end question which is not designed to elicit a long response.  So, as you progress through your meal, she will always ask again “what more can I get or do for you?”  This is designed to elicit a longer response, and she lingers at your table while you answer.  Most wait staff make a high speed pass as they ask you (usually with your mouth full) if you need anything.

The result is predictable – Betty makes larger tips than the rest of the wait staff.  Here is the kicker – I have asked different waiters and waitresses at the establishment Betty works at if they know what Betty does. They all reply yes, but they will not provide this type of personal attention as they cannot be bothered to do so.  It just baffles me that people will not do anything to improve their networking or waiting experience with a few very simple tips on how to be more effective.

The next time you are networking, apply these tips from my experience with Betty and pay attention to the results. How does your networking improve? What are the quality of the connections you make? Share your experiences here on this blog. I’d love to hear how it goes!

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