Skip navigation
Consistently great service is the key to selling the ‘Garbage Burger’ and creating repeat guests

Consistently great service is the key to selling the ‘Garbage Burger’ and creating repeat guests

At 12:30 p.m. on July 27, 1991, I went to a well-known Denver-area sports bar. I remember the time and date so exactly because that’s the day a server recommended, and I tried, a “Garbage Burger” for lunch. That experience changed forever the way I would think about the connection between the customer and the customer-facing crew. In fact, it opened my eyes to a completely new way of looking at service and selling in the restaurant business.

The night before, I participated in a Denver restaurant volleyball league tournament. Our team lost badly, early and often that night, as we usually did. No matter, that merely meant we bought the first round, and in a tournament featuring nine other teams, we braced ourselves for a long night. Designated drivers were thankfully in force, and that evening I learned two things: First, bartenders are merely pharmacists with a limited inventory; and second, never question your wife’s judgment. Look at who she married.

The next day I had off of work and woke up both late and hung over. I called a fellow restaurant manager, George, and asked if he wanted to meet for lunch at the aforementioned sports bar, locally famous for their burgers and beer. He agreed and we met at half past noon.

After being seated, an energetic server named Anne greeted us with a smile, two big ice waters, and a quick once-over.

“Well, well, well,” she said. “Did we have a good time last night, gentlemen?”

We mumbled something in the affirmative. George was wearing sunglasses and mine eyes had seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. And they looked like road maps.

“Close your menus,” she insisted. “Close ’em.”

We complied.

“I want to make this the easiest and best lunch you ever had,” she said. “You like burgers?”

We nodded.

“Good,” she said. “’Cuz even if you didn’t, you’d love ours. They’re a third-pound of 100-percent ground chuck and they’re fresh, not frozen, ever. Here’s what I’m thinking.”

She paused slightly to insure she had our attention. She did.

“Do you like mushrooms and onions?” she asked. “Yes? Good. Because our mushrooms are jet-fresh from Pennsylvania. We sauté them for hours in red wine and beef bouillon. And the onions are Vidalia, straight from Georgia, the sweetest and best onions there are. Here’s the plan, we chargrill two burgers, cover them with the sautéed ’shrooms and onions, top them off with double slices of Wisconsin cheddar cheese, then pop ’em in the salamander broiler until that cheese gets bubbly and melts all over the burgers, mushrooms and onions. We’ll lay them on a butter-grilled toasted sourdough bun, fill up the plate with our homemade French fries and then…”

“We’ll take ’em,” George said, cutting her off. We were both salivating.

She smiled sweetly. “Just one more thing I’d suggest,” she said. “Let me also suggest I bring you each a cup of our homemade green pork chili with your burgers. You can dip each bite in the chili, and you won’t believe how good it will taste. It’s not on the menu, but we call it a ‘Garbage Burger.’ It is the best burger you’ll ever have. Sound good?”

Good? We could have eaten her description!

“We’ll take them, and I’ll have another water when you get a chance,” I said.

Anne paused. “Maybe a pitcher of iced tea?” she countered. “The caffeine might help.”

Another good idea, and we agreed.

Well that Garbage Burger was the most messy, drippy, juicy, gooey and best burger I’ve ever had. Anne upgraded us to two ice-cold beers midburger, and George was eventually able to remove his sunglasses as we devoured every morsel of this truly interactive and delicious meal.

A burger at this restaurant listed at $5.95. The loaded Garbage Burger obviously cost more, but we didn’t mind, not when you’re in the hands of a great server who knows how to make a memory. Our tab was $28 and we left Anne a $20 tip. It was worth every penny. We talked about it all the way home and then shared the experience with our colleagues at our weekly manager meeting three days later.

We eagerly described the burger and the service to the other managers. Two of them decided to go to the same restaurant that day to get a Garbage Burger. Unfortunately, Anne was not their server, and the experience was not the same.

When they requested the Garbage Burger, the server stared blankly back at them.

“Never heard of it,” she said.

That’s OK, our colleagues explained, it’s got mushrooms, cheese and sautéed onions on it, and—but then she hastily interrupted.

“Those are all extra,” she snapped.

No problem they explained, they still wanted them on the burger, and they’d also like a side of the homemade green chili to dip the burger into.

“Gross!” the server replied. “You wanna dip a burger in spicy-pork green chili? Seriously?”

They replied in the affirmative, she shrugged and wrote it down. Before she left the table she warned, “I’m gonna total this up first and let you know how much these are going to cost before I turn it in to the kitchen.”


Not surprisingly, her mood affected the food and the meal was as disappointing as the service. One of our friends later asked me: “What in the world did you guys see in that place?”

True story, every bit of it, and there are three key lessons to be learned here:

In the hands of a great server who engages her guests, customers will happily spend more money.

Agreat server experience means that current customers will enthusiastically recruit additional customers for your restaurant—without you having to spend one penny in advertising.

If a restaurant only hires some enthusiastic servers or only trains some of their servers to suggestively sell, then every other customer is likely to have a variable experience. This means they’re more likely to be disappointed, more likely to spend less, and more likely to never recommend the place to their friends or family. Since consistency is the foundation of trust, and trust is the foundation of repeat business, can you see what happens when one server enthusiastically engages your customers and the others do not?

Customers want us to respect three things in exchange for their business: their time, their trust and their money. Savvy operators earn that respect by hiring smart, providing value in every interaction, and training servers in a way that is habitual and consistent.

That’s how you sell the sizzle—and the Garbage Burger—every time.

TAGS: Workforce
Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.