The Guide on how (not) to Call Restaurants

Categories: restaurants,seattle — Tags: , — Posted by: Grant @ March 15, 2008 : 3:32 pm

English high school teachers always love to explain the difference between an assumption and a deduction. Let us clarify with a some examples:

Our assumption is that restaurants hate being called about sales.

This deduction is based on the amount of times we’ve been yelled at or hung up on.

The ironic part however, is that we’ve never once made a ‘sales’ call to any restaurant. Being the restaurant guide that we are, it’s important for us to have accurate data on each restaurant. We simply assume that restaurants would be happy to share their information with us. It’s beneficial to them and we wouldn’t dream of charging for publicly available information. Things aren’t so easy, however.

“Hello, my name is Grant and I work with, a restaurant review and listing website. I was wondering if I could take a minute of your time to ask you or your manager some questions about your restaurant?”

This type of approach will guarantee one of the below:

  • “We’re not interested.”
  • “You’re part of what?”
  • “Call back later.” (when the restaurant is closed)
  • “You’ll have to talk with my manager.”
  • “Sorry we don’t have time.”
  • Hang up.

Ouch. This initial approach apparently seemed to generate feelings of hostility. This led us to believe that restaurants are often the target of solicitors, telemarketers or other unsavory characters trying to sell a product or service. If this was the case, we had to brush up that business and social IQ and try again.

“Hello, my name is Grant and I work with a restaurant listing service. I’d like to ask you a few questions about your restaurant that will only take a minute of your time?”

The changes? We dropped the part about identifying ourselves, as the identify of the organization calling seemed to have negative effect unless we were associated with a known brand like the Yellow Pages. In addition, we took out any mention of a review site, as that seemed to make people uneasy hearing the word. Last but not least, we took out mention of the word ‘manager’. That word alone seemed to immediately cause the person answering the phone to attempt to escalate the call or assume we were in sales.

The results:

  • “Call back later.”
  • “What kind of questions are you going to ask?”
  • “Which service are you with?”
  • “Uh, sure…”

Reactions are obviously far better than before, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Hesitation and uncertainty were some issues, as we could see that they were wondering about our motivations. It’s akin to a stranger on the street who says, “Can I ask you a question?” You’re thinking he might be asking for directions, so you don’t want to be rude, but he might also be asking if you believe in aliens. Time to refine and try again.

“Hi, my name is Grant and I’m gathering information on restaurants in the area. Can you start by telling me what hours are you open?”

In this even shorter version, we don’t even mention that we’re part of a restaurant listing service anymore. This seemed to be a hang-up for many restaurants in talking to us. Next, instead of passing the conversation with an open ended question that forces a decision, we instead pass a common, closed-ended question. This would lead to an easy segway into other questions, once we have initiated a conversation.

The results were beautiful. Restaurants answered without fail and we were able to hit them up with all our relevant questions after that short and simple opening. Only after our questions are answered do we get the questions of who we are or how we’re going to use the information.

We’re sure that any telemarketing specialist had a good laugh at our initial approach and can even improve our current method, but we’re pretty satisfied as-is. In the end, it was a neat experiment of sorts in the power of words.

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