Cooking School Secrets: Subtle Manipulation

I love gaining insight into someone else's life, particularly when I get a chance to understand the nuances of their jobs or relationships (5+ decades old and I'm still trying to make sense of the world.) Working as a restaurant host and server for a few weeks offered up a few revelations that only an insider would ordinarily know.

Most disturbing concept? The guests are our lab rats. (Maybe - hopefully - that's just because we are a school-based restaurant.)

Easiest way to make a good impression? Say hello. (Not being greeted immediately is the #1 complaint people have about restaurant service.)

My favorite? Use the alpha personality to your advantage. Let me explain. The greatest profit margin in restaurants comes from alcohol and coffee/tea, so finding a way to influence guests to order more than entrees is essential. This is easiest to do if you can quickly identify the alpha personality at each table...because, typically, as goes the alpha, so go the others.

Here's how it's done. Alphas make find out who matches with the name in the book. If there's no reservation, the host can generally figure it out by lead the guests to the table and pulling out seat #1. (Tables and chairs are numbered to help identify who ordered what and to enable other servers to step in if necessary.) The alpha will make his or her way to that chair.

Of course, "ladies first" can wreak havoc with this approach, so it works best with all male or all female groups. With mixed groups, you can pretty much count on the fact that alphas will tell the others where to sit.

Once you've identified the alpha, you are ready to influence the group's most influential member. So sell, sell, sell.