Nine Ways to Get Attention-Resistant Guests to Sit Up and Listen

Today’s tired, wired, and distracted guests have little appetite for listening. While rattling off specials, I bet you’ve felt you could light yourself on fire…and no one would notice. Not to worry, you’re not alone. So, let’s explore.

1) Get yourself together. Professional appearance alone makes you a better salesperson. Okay, the obvious. Clean pressed shirt and pants/skirt, matching socks, shined shoes, minty breath, and a fresh, not overly perfumed, presence are just the price of appearance entry. However, it’s not just what you wear — but how you wear it. Think George Clooney or Kerry Washington. When you’re put together with the right fit and style, you at least have a fighting chance.

2) Roll out the nonverbal red carpet. Another surefire method to inspire guests is to warmly welcome them onto your stage. Sure, you want to smile and make eye contact. But go beyond. Help escort guests to the table, assist them with their jackets and belongings, and pull out their chairs. Guests wake up when they experience a class-act approach.

3) Touch the table. Rearrange the salt and pepper shaker, move the fresh petunias. Guests will stop, look up, and wonder, “Why are you touching my table?” Bingo! Now you’ve got their attention.

4) Capitalize on cues. The underlying current of your guests’ wants and needs is revealed in a vast sea of cues — in the 20,000 gestures of their body language vocabulary. Attention-getting experts read and respond with heightened sensitivity to nonverbal signals. Take note of the countless gestures and expressions that say everything from “Shut up, take my order, and go away” to a look of confusion while perusing the red wines.

5) Use the big enchilada. Most tables have a leader/buyer, and why is it so important? That’s the person who hangs onto your every word. It’s the dude who’s on your side or the woman who acts as your assistant salesperson. They tell their buddies to shut up and give you the floor or direct friends to pay attention. Always stand across from them when delivering your presentations of the wine list, menu, and dessert offerings. Humans are, after all, herd animals who like to play follow the leader.

6) Engage, don’t drone. Sorry, but “Hi, my name is Johnny, and I’ll be your waiter tonight,” won’t cut it. Like a flight attendant rattling off exit row instructions, your guests will drift into “it’s time to check my phone” mode. Penetrate the wall of resistance with a well-crafted vocal performance. Be sure your voice is loud and clear and your presentation is well-paced and organized. Great speakers cast a spell that’s irresistible.

7) Have a compelling stage presence. How you come across to your audience determines whether guests tune in or blow you off. What kind of stage presence do you have? Are you quiet and efficient or flamboyant and funny? How about suave and charming? Or, are you the thoughtful and nurturing type? Perhaps you’re a walking encyclopedia of truffle trivia. You might even be the dramatic and charismatic waiter who outsells everyone this side of the Mississippi. And, although few of us are Jack Nicholson or Meryl Streep, our job is to fine tune the one-of-a-kind way we present ourselves to the world. Develop your own unique lines, routines, and gestures. Your audience will notice.

8) Amuse with stories. Tell the story of Sid Grauman, owner of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. He marched across the street to the Brown Derby and summoned owner Bob Cobb to rummage up a midnight snack, the ingredients of which now make up the “Cobb” salad. Remember, if you’re a boring, generic-talking, order-taker, you’re destined to be painted invisible.

9) Use brain stickers. Now for the most powerful listening trick of all…what I call the brain-sticker technique. Here’s an example: “Eric Brisban, our bartender from Holland with the pink ponytail, makes a great Grey Goose Martini.” What do participants remember? The pink ponytail. Why? Because when you use out-of-the-norm names, places, and brands, it awakens a sleeping mind. Participants tell me that, long after a workshop, they can’t stop thinking about that dammed pink ponytail.

When Millennials spend only seven minutes in personal conversation and more than seven hours in front of a screen each day, you need every tool and tactic you can muster. Your expressive voice, infectious smile, and impeccable appearance play a part. But, the jump-out-and-grab-me magnetism essential to hook today’s over-stimulated, engagement-resistant audience can be achieved only with a heavy dose of attention-getting strategies. Get busy.

About the Author

Bob Brown, president of Bob Brown Service Solutions,, pioneered Marriott’s Service Excellence Program. He has worked with clients such as Disney, Hilton, Morton’s of Chicago, Nordstrom, Olive Garden, and Ritz Carlton and works internationally with the prestigious Burj Al Arab in Dubai. He has appeared on the Food Network and is author of the bestselling The Little Brown Book of Restaurant Success, selling over 100,000 copies worldwide. Contact Bob for keynotes, workshops, breakouts, and executive retreats at 571-246-2944 ©Bob Brown Service Solutions 2016.

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