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How to Get Free Food, Great Service, and Sweet Discounts!

Over the last year or so, I’ve consistently gotten free food, great service, and excellent discounts from restaurants. More important, I don’t have to jump through any hoops, sign up for a crazy feedback program, or even go out of my way to do it. Although I am special (I know ’cause my mommy told me so), I’m not so special that you can’t get in on the gig, too.

Be the Customer They’ll Remember

The cardinal rule here is simply to be as personable, cordial, and informal as possible. Frankly, I think that last one is probably the most important piece of the pie, simply because it will help to set you apart from other customers at whatever establishment you’re patronizing. For those working in the mind-numbing service industry, the things that get remembered are the anomalies. And you, my friend, want to be an anomaly if you ever want to get the hookup.

For some reason, we Americans have this weird way of interacting when a professional or commercial barrier is placed between us. Suddenly, we become more formal, less friendly, and downright less human than we normally are. I think this is silly! When you’re ordering at a restaurant, the bottom line is that you’re one human talking to another human, and together, the two of you are trying to accomplish something. All too often, I see people trying to place an order with an abject formality that simply makes me want to puke. I sure as hell don’t want to be that formal in a one-to-one interaction, and based on my personal observations, the guys and gals at your favorite lunchtime joint don’t care to deal with that kind of formality either.

The next time you’re in a restaurant, check out the behavior of your hostess and your waiter/waitress. Occasionally, you’ll get a really good actor who knows how to break down your defenses (and these are the people who you’ll tip well), but most of the time, if you want great service, you’re going to have to break down their defenses. After all, how many people do you think enter a restaurant with the mentality, “I’m going to make friends with my waiter today?” The truth of the matter is that this is exactly the mentality you should adopt if you want to capitalize on great service, discounts, and even free stuff!

I stumbled into all of this because I really abhor social formalities. Not only do they make me uncomfortable, but it’s also weird to me that people seem to behave so differently in a semi-professional, social context. Whenever I’m out dealing with someone in the service industry, I chat them up and joke with them constantly. There’s some solid reasoning behind this, though, and I think anyone could use it to their advantage:

  • You’re more likely to give a discount to someone who is your friend.
  • If this is a restaurant that you frequently visit, don’t you want to be friendly with the staff in order to ensure great service on every trip?
  • Familiarity plays strongly on the human psyche. Be friendly. Be familiar. Be the customer they’ll remember, and they’ll treat you like a king!

Finally, breaking down these odd social barriers is a key ingredient to successful human interaction. Whether you’re ordering dinner, buying a TV, or even closing a sale, you’ll win every time if you’re the most friendly, most approachable person.

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31 comments… read them below or add one

Tom Flowers February 4, 2006

From my experience: more often than not, restaurant service is definitely not consistent; regardless of how personable I may, or may not, appear to be to the waiter/waitress. I’m not much on formality either, but other factors in the restaurant are more important in determining whether one receives good service; e.g., the number of customers; time-of-day; who’s cooking . . .

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Chris P. February 4, 2006

Tom, there’s no doubt that’s the truth. I’m one of these people who goes back to a place again and again, and I like to set myself up for primo treatment by establishing a rapport with the people who work there.

I do, however, think that if you operate this way as a general rule, you are a million times more likely to receive fringe benefits. It’s all about setting yourself up to be successful.

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tfro February 4, 2006

Man, you’re posting like crazy these days. Free food is a good deal, I need to work on this. I spend way too much money at Pei Wei to not be getting something free.

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Chris P. February 5, 2006

Target the girls, dude. If you’re sweet to em, they’ll go out of their way to give you a little sum’in sum’in in return. Who knows, you might even get the Pei Wei “happy ending!”

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dreams February 5, 2006

Hmmm, I tend to believe the exact opposite is true, Chris. When girls are nice to guys they tend to get what they want (‘can I get just a little more guac on my burrito, puhhleeease?’). Not to be sexist but guys guys feel once they give up something they’ll probably get something in return. As a guy I’ve come to realize girls are pretty keen when it comes to guys just being nice for the sake of niceness. Being genuinely nice does seem like a good idea, though!

Does anyone have any ‘success stories’ to share? Chris?

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Chris P. February 5, 2006

Although I haven’t written about it yet on this site (and I’m sure it’s coming), I am a ridiculously frequent flyer at Qdoba Mexican Grill. I literally eat there almost every day, and I average about 10-12 visits a week.

Within a month of month of moving to my current location (and going to this new Qdoba), I established a great rapport with the entire staff there. Since then, I’ve routinely gotten “freebies” like drinks, extra chicken, and extra salsas. Free burritos aren’t that uncommon, either.

Another place I visit frequently is my local Starbucks, and the staff there has been very receptive to friendly banter. We all say “hi” when we see each other and things like that. As a result of these exchanges, I’ve been hooked up with free 1/2 lb. bags of the black apron exclusive blends and also free coffees.

Finally, I also go to a local Thai restaurant about once a week. My girlfriend and I have gotten to know a young lady who works there, and she gives us excellent service every time we visit. I’ve also noticed that she’s stopped charging us for extras like peanut sauce or even my girlfriend’s Sprite addiction.

I’m just saying that this type of thing happens all too frequently to be coincidence.

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Fabian De Rango February 6, 2006

such a good idea :p

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Barry Bell February 6, 2006

But that’s their job. They look out for people like you, then sweeten them up with free stuff. It means you’re more likely to go back and spend $$$ again and again and again. And you’re also more likely to tell everyone you know about the place. Like on your blog, for example. ;o)

Nothing especially clever on your part – but damn simple and effective marketing on theirs.

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Chris P. February 6, 2006

I completely disagree with that assessment, Barry. Here’s an example of why:

When I go to Qdoba and get my meal free, I often see the people in line behind me looking at the person at the register, thinking, “Why does he get his free??”

We all know that it’s a good business philosophy to treat your regulars well, but my impression is that I personally receive more “freebies” than the average Joe. As I stated in the article, I think the fundamental reason for this is simply that I try to break down these people’s defenses and get past the commercial/professional barrier.

Moreover, you say that “[it's] their job” to tack on the bells and whistles for regulars, but there’s a problem with your reasoning. Technically, yes, you are correct. In practice, however, people who work retail often show complacent and go-through-the-motions tendencies. I’m suggesting that since they’re in such a mind-numbing position, they are more vulnerable to attacks of “niceness” or joviality.

I guarantee that I get more freebies (statistically speaking) than a large percentage of the population, and I also guarantee that there is a correlation along the lines of what I’ve suggested here.

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R February 6, 2006

I totally agree! I worked retail for 5 years – and hated it. People are always so grumpy and rude. All you hear your entire shift is “I want I want I want”.

So, yes, that one person that cracks a few jokes, flashes a few smiles, and is downright friendly, personable, and hilarious ALWAYS got better service and little perks from me.

For example, you might have one customer bitching about a coupon that expired 24 hours ago angry because I “can’t” let them use it OR you might have the other customer who is SUPER nice, VERY friendly and outgoing, cracks a few jokes, asks how work’s going tonight or what not and asks about using that very same coupon – which one would I call for management approval? You do the math…

Policies don’t mean shit in the customer service industry (unless they’re federally regulated of course – i.e. at the bank) the employee KNOWS there are loopholes and he/she definitely knows how to get through ‘em. If you use Chris’ plan of attack, you are definitely more likely to get the same special perks he gets!

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dreams February 7, 2006

Cool examples. I’ll point out that places like Chipotle (better! ;)) empowers their employees to do exactly what you’ve explained. Treat some ‘better’ than others. Who cares though? Chris gets free burritos and I don’t!

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Matt April 15, 2006

In response to Tom’s first comment – Who cares if the service is inconsistent?

There are givers and takers in this world. “Which one do I want to be consistently,” should be the question.

In my life I’ve noticed that when I am a taker, I am always needing to take more because what I have doesn’t last as long. This could be material objects, but this could be interpersonal “cash”, like respect.

Conversely, when I give respect or courtesy like Chris spoke of, before it is given to me, I find that I don’t need to worry about taking or “getting mine”. I end up with more (stuff, respect, etc) than I needed (or probably deserve)

Thanks for the post Chris – I’ve seen your designs everywhere on the web & thought I’d check out your site.

Tres classy : )

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gr3cko November 5, 2006

R. If you are on the receiving end in the service industry it makes life a lot easier to be like the nice customer, no matter what is being thrown at you. Treat any customer the same way as you would like them to treat you…whether they are or not. Apply a smattering of empathy and you will enjoy your day a lot more.

Chris. Have to agree with Matt – very chic design m8!

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mark November 14, 2006

It seems to me that courtesy reaping rewards is common sense. Although everyone has an agenda, not the least the waiter or waitress, dont you think that you are more or less likely to treat someone who is friendly to you as a friend. Waiters have refined this into an art or so it would seem.

they want a good tip and if you are ttreated with courtesy and respect, it iss a good bet that you are going to leave a nice tip

nice site btw.

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Chris P. November 14, 2006

Mark,

I totally agree that this is pretty much a common sense issue. Over the last couple of years, I know I’ve saved a couple thousand bucks thanks to friendly handouts, and I figured I may as well pass along some of my experiences.

Thanks, by the way!

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scott November 15, 2006

This friendly advice is applicable just about everywhere. Even without free pie you are paying forward to brighten someones day.

Great post, Chris… thanks again.

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bux December 1, 2006

Chris,

It’s cool that you are getting an occasional freebie at these places, but you are obviously spending so so much money there. Qdoba isn’t a cheap restaurant. In my opinion, it’s really kind of a rip off. Moe’s offers a much better price for more and better tasting food. That’s just my opinion and not really the point anyways. I’m just saying, Barry is right when he says that these companies LOOOOVE you. It probably is mostly you charm or whatever that gets you these little perks, but don’t be disillusioned to think that you are winning in this deal. You make them rich. A few free drinks a week costs them 50 cents. That same week, you’ve spent close to a hundred bucks. All that said, no one can say that a little informality and a good attitude like yours isn’t a good thing for the world. Good luck with the freebies. Be well.

Buxton

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i-ming December 22, 2006

great post:) thanks for the tip man, i’ll be trying it out

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qbr October 22, 2007

I say as a college student-waitress,if you kind and smiling,you’ll have bigger dessert portions from us(it’s the only portion we can control)ahah

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Kevin December 1, 2007

Well, I agree with you Chris,

It’s 1 life we get in this world & why spend it
being a Dick all the time, be happy, cheerful & smile sometimes,
That’s all u need to feel good & make others feel comfortable.

Good post Chris, keep on posting…… !! :-)

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Dave Zoekmachine May 18, 2008

I think the message here is very clear, even if you’re doing Business to Business…just act natural and be yourself and I bet you will get a better relation with your customers and prospects which will eventually lead to more conversions/sales.

Dave

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A Friendly Tip July 19, 2008

Hi,

Have you considered the chance of a opposite thing happening? The business might consider that since you are anyway too happy with the waiter and are realxed, they might spend their limited marketing bucks on wooing others who are not so friendly as you.

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Chris Pearson July 19, 2008

A Friendly Tip — Good businesses know that nothing is more valuable than the evangelist customer who comes back again and again. Period.

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Tom Gray September 16, 2008

Chris, I’ll absolutely attest to the effectiveness of your approach having just scored a free dessert at our favorite restaurant simply because we engaged our server at a personal level. Oh, and the fact that we’ve gone out of our way to make friends with the owner has resulted in several comped meals. Would we eat there even if we were never comped? Absolutely because the food, atmosphere and welcoming nature of the staff all contribute to a generally excellent experience everytime. The comped meals, free desserts just add gasoline to an already hot fire. Your response to “A Friendly Tip” is right on as well. It’s the evangelist who’ll go out of his/her way to promote your business. The ‘sour puss’ will harumph and go on his way saying, “yeah, I guess that didn’t suck,” but do little to send others your way. By the way, Chris, you run a fantastic site with over the top content. Thank you!

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Chad Warren December 30, 2008

Wow! Chris this post is 2 yrs old almost and still getting comments! I am a budding freelance web designer and college student. I work as a waiter at a steak house too. I have been there for about 2 yrs now and I can attest to the fact that the friendlier you are the better service you will get! I can’t tell you how many times I walk over to a table to greet them and before I get out the first hello, I am greeted with a response of, “We’ll take two waters with lemon.” GRRRR!!! Ok, I understand some people are in a hurry, had a bad day, whatever…but just incase you are confused, This is NOT the way to get great service. So what Chris says is spot on! If you are chatting and joking around with me, you pretty much are guaranteed to not be paying for your drink, your salad, or your soup, or anything else that I might be able to squeeze out of the kitchen without putting it into the computer first. I work for a chain of restaurants, and no its no the one from down under either ;-) One word of caution however, if you are chatting with your server, don’t be too chatty. Sometimes they are busy and need to attend to their other tables…you can be too chatty *hint* *hint*.

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Alanna November 12, 2009

I totally agree with Chris. I have always been a regular somewhere, and I have always built a rapport with people working in the restaurants/coffee shop that I frequent. I have always done it because I really like people, I enjoy a good atmosphere… especially where I eat and drink. I didn’t do it for freebies, but I have always gotten them as well… complimentary sodas, extra guac, extra salad when I take home my pasta dish (and don’t forget the extra bread sticks thrown in), etc… I tip 20% unless it was terrible, and I tip when I get take-out. One restuarant joked with me that I put most of their servers through college. LOL One benefit I realized later in life is that you don’t want to piss off your servers… especially before you get your food. I try to treat people well, and I get it back in return. Who cares if you do it for the freebies initially or not… you will get more back in just the good feelings that you treated people the way you would want to be treated.

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Rob McCance December 26, 2009

Chris:

I completely agree. I completely “wear out” restaurants by going to them a million times, until I can’t fathom the idea of eating there again.

In the process, I typically will become friends with everyone from the lowly hostess to the owner.

One of my current favorites is Verra Zanno Pizza on 141 in Johns Creek. I know everyone in there, including each waitresses personal situations, like where they go to school and what they are studying, etc.

When I go in, they are all jockeying to to get me in their section, or they just tag team me.

The benefits are nice, though I really do it for the benefits: awesome service, all sorts of freebies, and sometimes they will just say, “this one is on us.”

I’ve crested this environment at every restaurant I’ve ever “worn out” …and that’s a bunch!

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Pauline February 28, 2010

Its simple human nature – if you are nice to people then they are more likely to be nice to you. Anyway I think we should be trying to be nice in our interactions with others including when we are the customer. The people you are dealing with just want to get through their day at work with as little hassle as possible – don’t we all, wherever we work?

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jay September 9, 2010

All great comments and it’s nice to believe that ‘kindness is the best policy” BUT I do find that somehow being nice makes people think they can walk over you… for example: was out to dinner the other night and first there was a hair in my drink. Was very pleasant, said maybe it was mine, waitress insisted on bringing a fresh drink. Good because it really grossed me out… we eat our meal, ask for a glass of water, I’m sipping it and realize there’s a foil wrapper in the bottom of the glass. (someone should fire that bartender). Again, and politely call it to the waitress’s attention and she responds OMG, do you want more water? Check arrives, nothing comp’d and what now? We paid , left a moderate tip, but geeze if we’d been crappy about it we’d probably been offered a drink or something… again I’m all for being nice but…

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Ryan D. October 9, 2010

First off, awesome post Chris!

I work in a customer service type environment as a project manager for a website design and development company. My job is to work with the client to construct their website in a timely manner, while being “professional”. (and profitable of course). There are so many times I deal with clients that try to go the more formal route that we have all seen, “i’m paying for this, and im the boss”. There are a few great clients out there that do break the barrier and talk to you like a human being and not the drive-thru speaker at McDonalds.

When you have a good customer relationship that is based on trust, you tend to get more out of it.

Example:
(client 1)This client complains if I don’t respond to his email in ten minutes, or if I miss 1 of the 50 things he wants done on his website.

(client 2) This client calls me up and asks, “Hey bro, just checkin to see if you got my email. I know your probably busy, just give me a call when you have a chance”. When I am on the phone with this client he and I talk like two people sitting at the bar. I know if there is an idea that he has that will not look right on his website I tell him directly, “hey bro, I don’t think you want to do this, because it will make this whole page look like shit.”

What is the difference in these two clients? The answer is one thinks I am a robot and he is my only client, and the other understands that they are not my only client and I am an honest guy with his best interest in mind.

So what happens with these clients? “Client One” WILL get charged for every possible upgrade that they will need, and if I could take a dump on their website without betting crap all over my screen, I would. “Client Two” on the other hand has gotten an awesome looking site, totally tweeked out, and has a website that would normally cost $10K. In total he has paid around $7K.

Moral of the story is that treat people like they are human and its more rewarding for both parties. Don’t be that jackass that thinks you hired someone and that you are better than they are, because the blink of an eye the tables can turn.

Have a good day all!

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prince omar March 15, 2011

First off, awesome post Chris!

I work in a customer service type environment as a project manager for a website design and development company. My job is to work with the client to construct their website in a timely manner, while being “professional”. (and profitable of course). There are so many times I deal with clients that try to go the more formal route that we have all seen, “i’m paying for this, and im the boss”. There are a few great clients out there that do break the barrier and talk to you like a human being and not the drive-thru speaker at McDonalds.

When you have a good customer relationship that is based on trust, you tend to get more out of it.

Example:
(client 1)This client complains if I don’t respond to his email in ten minutes, or if I miss 1 of the 50 things he wants done on his website.

(client 2) This client calls me up and asks, “Hey bro, just checkin to see if you got my email. I know your probably busy, just give me a call when you have a chance”. When I am on the phone with this client he and I talk like two people sitting at the bar. I know if there is an idea that he has that will not look right on his website I tell him directly, “hey bro, I don’t think you want to do this, because it will make this whole page look like shit.”

What is the difference in these two clients? The answer is one thinks I am a robot and he is my only client, and the other understands that they are not my only client and I am an honest guy with his best interest in mind.

So what happens with these clients? “Client One” WILL get charged for every possible upgrade that they will need, and if I could take a dump on their website without betting crap all over my screen, I would. “Client Two” on the other hand has gotten an awesome looking site, totally tweeked out, and has a website that would normally cost $10K. In total he has paid around $7K.

Moral of the story is that treat people like they are human and its more rewarding for both parties. Don’t be that jackass that thinks you hired someone and that you are better than they are, because the blink of an eye the tables can turn.

Have a good day all!

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