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How Do You “Set the Table” for Your Clients?

Photo by Tae Fuller from Pexels

Early in my marketing career (and long before getting into the car sales business), I was given an assignment to survey restaurants and bars in several communities and the first question on the form was intended to categorize the restaurant by what was the most obvious distinguishing characteristic: Do the tables have white linen tablecloths? (Plastic tablecloths did not count). If the answer to this question was No, the restaurant was therefore either:

  1. Fast Food
  2. Diner
  3. Roadhouse
  4. Pub or Tavern

The point was to visually group the restaurant into either a fine-dining establishment or one of those that most of us are familiar with as everyday eating establishments. At the time, I thought this was a smart distinction. White linen tablecloths on rows of tables send the message in a visually compelling way that this is a fine-dining establishment and also sets the expectation that the food and service will be superior to what would be found in any of those fast food operations without the white tablecloths. 

If you think about it, the type of service and the way it is delivered varies by the type of tablecloth. In a pub or diner, you will probably get a waiter and table service where you pick from the menu or even pick up the food at the counter (such as at McDonald’s).  Whereas, in a white linen tablecloth establishment, the waiter is expected to offer appetizers and talk about the characteristics of specific dishes and even make recommendations based on what you tell him/her about the types of foods you like. 

In this environment, the customer feels safe trying a dish they might not otherwise choose. They are willing to take a “risk” when they feel they are being taken care of by a knowledgeable waiter in an establishment that is clearly committed to a high level of customer service. In this establishment, you can be guaranteed to get a hard-to-resist dessert presentation at the end of the main course where samples of the actual dishes are brought to your table (not just pictures on a menu).

As I surveyed several hundred restaurants during this marketing project, I noticed that in the white linen tablecloth establishments, the waiters and busboys were usually all dressed in black and white outfits and took great care to be attentive to clients without being pushy. The atmosphere was always one of “service” as opposed to one of “selling”. The point is that everything about the restaurant and the staff was designed to reinforce the expectation of a great dining experience provided by professionals in that business.Relating this to the car dealership and the car salesperson, it is worth asking yourself, as a car sales professional, is your sales persona closer to the “diner” model or the “white linen tablecloth” model? Are you simply serving what’s on the menu or helping your client select a vehicle and a method of paying for it that is tailored to their needs and desires? Are you delivering a “dream come true” experience or just getting them what they asked for? Does your persona, demeanour, and energy level communicate that you are a “white linen tablecloth” professional? How do you “set the table” for your clients?

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