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How We Serve at Samovar


I think it’s fair to say that the number one survival skill in the professional world is sales. You can have the best product in the world, but if no one buys it, it doesn’t matter.

At Samovar we focus on sales by actually NOT focusing on sales. All day long we’re bombarded again and again by ads: online, in the news, in the movie theater, everywhere. We’re trained to be on the defensive and revolt against anyone who tries to push something on us.

Instead of a sales pitch, what Samovar offers is connection. Genuine connection. This makes hiring and training hard; it’s challenging to find team members who truly care about connecting with total strangers. But it’s worth the effort, and customers often comment on the friendly, supportive service we provide.

And service is the best way to sell. No, we’re not a non-profit, and we can’t carry out our mission if we’re not profitable. But our focus is on understanding what our customers really need. We’re not here just to feed people and keep them hydrated. We’re here to give guests what they truly crave: a respite from the rigors of life. The opportunity to unplug, slow down, and connect with themselves, and with others.

If we compete just by selling lots of tea, we’re up against giants like Tazo Tea and Lipton. But if we compete by solving the true needs of each guest, we are wholly unique.

The typical restaurant has employees that are essentially “order takers.” It’s scary because if all you’re doing is literally “taking orders,” I’d say that your job isn’t very secure. There’s probably an app coming out for restaurants that will do just that.

Instead, we empower staff to be problem solvers and to really connect with guests. Each day our team will encounter hundreds of unique scenarios which we can’t plan ahead for. But equipped with a solid understanding of our mission and vision, staff can develop creative solutions and meet customers’ needs without being prompted.

How We Serve at Samovar

1. Greet with a smile

Smiling is so easy and so important. A genuine smile makes a huge difference. You feel good when people smile at you, so you smile back, which makes you feel even better. We aim to make eye contact and greet every single guest with a smile when they enter Samovar. Often we take a moment to ask, “How are you today?” Then we pause to really listen.

2. Take the customer into the fold

We welcome customers into our space, ushering them in from the hectic world outside. We don’t leave them with the responsibility of choosing a seat. Each of us has so many decisions to make each day, and the accumulation can lead to stress and anxiety. Once a customer’s visit to our oasis has begun, we’re here to host them and guide their experience.

3. Start the relationship.

“Have you been here before?” This opens the door to talking. If they are new to Samovar, we welcome them and offer an overview of the menu.

4. Solve the unspoken need.

It takes work to find those real needs. You have to really listen, and connect with each person. One customer just got laid off from their job and they’re looking for a quiet corner where they can reflect on what their next step should be. Another customer needs to brainstorm with friends on their big startup idea. Another customer just got engaged and is here to celebrate. We train staff to tune into those “hidden” needs, and meet them without being asked.

5. Share about the featured tea.

The featured tea is something new, rare, and unusual that is worth hearing about. It gives us the chance to connect more and to educate guests a bit about tea. Also, if they’re overwhelmed by the number of teas on our menu, this gives them an easy option. Then we give them a few minutes to peruse the menu.

6. Within three minutes we return to the table and ask if they have any questions.

Often if it’s their first time, guests aren’t sure which tea to order. But with a few gentle questions, such as “Do you prefer a caffeinated tea, or non-caffeinated?”, or “Do you prefer a hot tea, or a cold tea?” the server can make recommendations to help the customer find a tea they’ll love.

What we don’t ask is, “Are you ready to order?” That’s a recipe for becoming an order taker – which we don’t want to do.

7. Encourage sharing.

If guests order one tea to share, that’s fine. However, we also suggest getting a couple teas to compare and contrast, for a mini tea tasting. New customers who are excited to get into tea often feel this is the perfect solution.

8. Serve through silence.

Silent service isn’t nonexistent service – it just means being tuned in and ever present, but not contributing to distraction as customers enjoy the experience of connecting, relaxing, and refueling. We don’t want our guests to have to look for us, ever. Not to order an additional item, not to ask for more water, not to have empty dishes cleared. We want to be ever-present and ready to serve, yet never intrusive.

9. Don’t require them to make unnecessary decisions.

After they’re clearly finished with their meal, we don’t ask them if they want to see the dessert menu. Rarely would they say yes! Instead we make it easy. The server just shares the dessert menu, and tells them their favorite dessert and what tea goes great with it. The menu also features a suggested tea pairing for each treat. The majority of the time, guests appreciate our suggestions, and go with them.

10. Help them continue their experience at home.

At the end of their visit, we also let guests know that if they really liked their tea, we also sell the loose leaf tea in the Tea Lounges and on our website, so they can enjoy the same great teas at home. We thank them, tell them to please take their time, and give them the check.

Everybody Wins

The perfect sale is when everybody wins, and nobody feels sold. The customers had their hunger and thirst needs met, but more importantly, we filled their need for relaxation, mental space, and human connection. The employee built a relationship, made someone’s day better, and got a big tip in the process. And the business wins by achieving the mission: Creating Positive Human Connection.

Here are a few great books that will help you approach sales not as a smooth-talking, manipulative pitch, but as an opportunity to find and solve real needs:

The Education of Millionaires, by Michael Ellsberg

Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, by Mark Goulston

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, by Seth Godin

To Sell is Human, by Daniel Pink

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