My best friend graduated from college over the weekend. It’s been a long haul for her, as she has been plagued with health problems that prevented her from getting her degree earlier. I’m so proud of her!
To celebrate her accomplishment, several of us took her to dinner at our local Carrabba’s Italian Grill. My husband Tom and I had never been to Carrabba’s before, and it was nice to know that we had an overnight babysitter so we could enjoy a nice dinner out with adults and not worry about hurrying home to the little guy.
Our cast of characters includes Jillian, the graduate; Steffany and Tara, the friends from NYC, and Tom and me. I don’t recall our server’s name, but I’ll give her a nickname shortly.
The food was delicious. We had no complaints about that. The dinner conversation was enjoyable. Our server was very attentive… but she made us very uncomfortable.
You see, our server appeared to be about 10 years younger than us; we were a table full of 30-somethings. Her manner could only be described as a cross between kindergarten teacher and Disney Princess. I have dubbed her Giselle in my head, after the heroine in my current Disney favorite, Enchanted.
Giselle arrived at our table with a sing-song voice. “How are you doing tonight? My name is [Giselle] and I’ll be taking care of anything you need tonight.” We could’ve let this pass after making a few comments amongst ourselves as to what “anything” would involve for us. A million dollars. A back massage. A new house.
On every return trip to our table, she called one or more of us “Sweetie” or “Sweetheart.” It was funny at first, but it grew to be more and more irritating as the evening wore on. Especially when she said it to my husband.
Jillian noticed something I did not, as I was sitting on the inside of the booth. When Giselle walked away from our table at one point, she said, “You could stop touching my friend’s husband.” Giselle was getting touchy-feely with Tom, and my friends were as protective of him as I was. They joked about taking our chipper little server outside and beating her up. (Disclaimer: This never would have happened. We’re not a violent bunch.) But she got just as handsy with Tara, too, touching her arm on subsequent visits to the table as much as she did to Tom. We don’t think she was trying to be inappropriate… she just didn’t that she was making people uncomfortable.
She continued to appear as if she was flirting with Tom throughout the meal. When he placed his order, she said, “Oh I see, you’re a meat and potatoes kind of a guy.” In a tone of voice suitable for responding to a guy’s story at the bar after he bought you a drink.
And then she offered him – I kid you not – a gold star for cleaning his plate. “I guess you didn’t like it,” she joked. “You should’ve told me and I could have brought you something different!” Tee hee. “But seriously, you get a gold star for cleaning your plate!” As the rest of us finished, she offered Jillian and me gold stars as well. “Sweetheart.” Jillian remarked that anyone who wants to call her sweetheart should probably buy her a drink first.
Giselle had some other faults, as well. She would sneak up on poor Tara and scare her half to death by asking if we needed anything – about 10 inches away from her shoulder. She would hover a few feet behind Steffany’s chair and interrupt intense conversations when someone was mid-sentence to ask if “everything is alright.”
At one point, we were discussing a television show, and Tara said, “She must have slept her way to the top!” Giselle appeared and said, “Stop that! You shouldn’t say that. It’s not very nice.” Tara was just shocked and didn’t know what to say. Jillian said, “Do you even know what we’re talking about?” Giselle admitted that she didn’t, and Jillian said something that served as a dismissal. Tara was offended that she had been scolded by our server. “She doesn’t know me!”
We ended up not getting charged for our desserts when we got the bill. I think she realized she’d handled us badly.
Reviewing the Situation
I think Giselle could be a very good server. She would be fantastic with children and with senior citizens. You can call kids and older people “sweetie” all you want and they’ll beam at you for being friendly. Grandfathers generally don’t mind having a pretty young girl touch their shoulder when taking their order. And my son might actually try to clean his plate if the nice waitress offered him a gold star for doing so.
But take the same approach with a table full of four women and one man, who you obviously recognize as being in their 30s when you declined to ask them for ID when they ordered drinks? You’re risking the tips you’re working so hard to get. (We didn’t short Giselle, especially after the apologetic way she comped our desserts; we left over 20%.)
How This Applies to You
You’re probably not a waitress if you’re reading this post, but you can still take away a lesson from Giselle’s performance. You have to assess your customers – your audience – and adapt your approach accordingly. You can’t use the same copy for a Web site geared toward freelance digital artists as you would use for a Web site geared toward C-level officers of companies who employ digital artists.
Whether you’re designing a Web site, writing copy, designing graphics, or creating scripts for your customer support staff, you need to think about the end recipient of the information. You may need to design different landing pages for various target demographics who are interested in your product or service.
If you aren’t adapting for your audience, you risk alienating a large percentage of your customers or potential customers. Maybe you can save the relationship later on, like our server did with the free desserts, but that’s not the best use of your resources – and you won’t be able to make up with everyone. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches (and money) by doing it right the first time. One size fits all rarely fits anyone properly, and it’s poor planning to assume that one way is “good enough” when you’re conducting business.