Retail Strategies: Lessons from a Piece of Pie

retail strategies tom shay beverage dynamics

I recently had dinner at a local diner. It was the kind of diner that we all enjoy, with home cooking and a pie case that you could not miss seeing when you walked to your table.

This dinner was an interesting experience in selling versus simply taking orders.

As others at the table asked about items on the menu and the dressings available for their salads, Shelby, our waitress, mentioned that it was her fourth day on the job. Not to be deterred by her newness in the position, she made a point to obtain answers to each question.


When I noticed and commented that the “Breakfast served all day” sounded good, I quickly followed with, “That wouldn’t sound good with my having a piece of pie for dessert.” Shelby agreed, and then suggested that I try something else for dinner.

All three of us at the table enjoyed a delicious dinner, but I was surprised when Shelby stopped by and quickly dropped the bill on the table. I picked up the bill and held it up until I was able to get Shelby’s attention from a distance. She came back to the table.


“Aren’t you going to sell me a piece of pie?” I asked. To which she responded with a typical, “What kind of pie would you like?” “Do you want it heated?” and “Would you like ice cream on it?”

When she returned with the dessert, the teaching side of me came out.

I said, “As you have been here only four days, let me share a lesson with you. Your job is not to take orders; your job is to sell food. The more food you sell us, the bigger our bill. And as your tip is proportionate to the bill, you will wind up getting more money for yourself.”

She said she would write that down, but as she turned to leave, I followed up with another question.

“Aren’t you going to try to sell dessert to these other two?” I asked. “It is selling, Shelby. Your job is to sell food, not just take our orders and expect that we know exactly what to order.”

The same is true in all kinds of businesses.

We hurt our sales, and we show a lack of interest and lack of skills, when we say things like, “Is that everything?” or “Did you find everything you needed?”

There is a substantial difference between what a customer needs and what a customer wants. There is even a step further when we can offer things a customer has never seen or thought of. That is our job.

In a situation like at that restaurant, it can be easier to demonstrate to a person like Shelby why they should be a salesperson and not an ordertaker. She will easily see the reasoning when she gets her tips for the week.

However, in a beverage retail store it is much different.

You pay a person by the hour, and they get the same amount regardless of how much they sell. This is not a reason for you to change everyone to commission selling. But it can help explain why you do not have salespeople.

Now what can you do with that kind of information?

Tom Shay is a lifelong small-business owner and manager. He has authored 12 books on small business management; a college textbook on small business financial management and co-authored a book on retailer/vendor relations. Read his recent column, Has Your Sales Floor Changed?



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