The Art of Offering a Sample

In my local mall’s food court, there is a restaurant / fast food place that offers some great food. I like their chicken teriyaki and admit to going to the mall a couple of times just to eat it.

As I wait for my food, though, the people who work there proceed to essentially attack the people walking by and offer them free samples with a sales pitch mixed in. They don’t leave from behind the counter, but they scream from across the mall “chicken teriyaki with rice and vegetable. $4.99. free sample.” More often than not, the employees will add the words “hey lady” or “hey man” before the offer.

From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem like an effective tactic. The other restaurants in the mall usually offer samples to potential customers much more subtly and more professionally. Adding a greeting like “hey lady” to a passerby is a completely inappropriate way to greet customers.

The employees don’t have to be poets by any means, but being professional and polite in their communication with potential customers should be important. Samples aren’t meant to scare customers away, they’re meant to encourage customers to come and try some food and learn more.

The way the Chinese food place at my local mall offers a sample is very different than the way Publix, the biggest supermarket company in my area, offers samples. If Publix does what I call “blind samples” where you haven’t shown interest in the type of food, they setup a booth, usually near the door, that is staffed by a Publix employee. He or she makes the food right there, the recipe is listed on a nice sheet on the counter, and the relevant food items are always near by. It’s done very well and very professionally.

Publix also has another type of sample offering that I think is fairly common among grocery stores (Publix has about 100% market-share near me, so my experiences are relatively limited). If you are at the deli counter or at another such counter and want to try something, they’ll almost always cut you a slice or offer you a sample. They’ll offer you a sample to make sure its cut to your specifications or to ensure that what you ordered is actually what you want. It’s a very classy, and very effective way, to offer a sample.

Publix’s method works, too. BusinessWeek named the company 19th on its “customer service elite” list (right between Apple and Hertz) and the company continues to get larger and become more profitable.