Dear New York City,
Let me introduce myself. My name is Ned Donovan, but you may know me better as that guy who hawked falafel all summer on the corner of 6th Avenue and 17th Street at The Hummus & Pita Company. For visual reference, here is a picture of me in my work garments with my roommate’s cat, Lucy, on my shoulders.
Look familiar? No? Well then I can’t help you. But since this is my website and my blog, I’m going to give you some thoughts I’ve had about you since I became a very visible member of your city.
You see as an actor, I’ve made a living out of creating characters, becoming characters, and incorporating characters into the various roles I’ve played over the years. When I became the “Weekend Falafel Guy” for The Hummus & Pita Company (or as multiple heart-melting small children have said to me, The Hummus and Pi Taco) I didn’t quite realize how close you and I were going to get. I got to know you and your residents very, very well. I was given a job as the face for a company, handing out their fantastic product, for free, to the people of this city, and nothing brings out a person’s true character, like seeing how they react to something that is free.
A few caveats before we jump in. This is not a demonization of any specific person or persons, or any specific group of people; in fact, the types of people I have observed are refreshingly devoid of delineation by race, gender, class, nationality, sexual orientation, creed, etc. This is also not meant to belittle any of the customers of The Hummus & Pita Company (please don’t fire me, Dave, for writing this), I love this restaurant, the people are great, the food is unbelievable, the customers for the most part are patient, friendly, and exceedingly polite, and the company as a whole really does a great job. If you haven’t eaten lunch/dinner there, do yourself a favor and go.
Alright, now that I’ve done the prerequisite “don’t fire me” speech, here we go. In my observation, there are six different types of people walking your streets in regards to free samples, and I would like to offer other samplers out there some advice on how to recognize them, and how to deal with them.
1.) "The New Yorker"
This may seem like an odd choice to kick off this list of people within New York City, but the vast majority of human beings I interact with belong to this group. The New Yorker is busy. Very busy. They are on a schedule, they are focused, and they are going to get wherever they need to go. It doesn’t matter if they’re going to work, or if they’re walking to Wendy’s for a Frosty, their entire focus is on that Frosty, or on the phone conversation they’re having while walking to get that Frosty. Generally these people don’t care about you, or your company. They will, however, be happy to indulge in a free sample. For all you samplers out there, LET THEM TAKE IT AND GO! Do not pitch them, do not try and engage them in conversation, do not stand in their way, do not pass Go, because you will not collect $200. In doing any of this you will accomplish only two things, you will annoy them, and you will guarantee they will never give your business any time of day ever again, AND to make matters worse, they’ll refer to your establishment as, “that place with the pushy sample guy.” As a sampler, this person is not really to be liked, or disliked, because the fact is, you have no bearing on their day, and therefore they have no bearing on yours. They are a fact of the business, and they will take most of your samples, let it go. If they like the sample you give them, they will come back, or they will stop, 15 feet up the sidewalk, to look at your sign and make a mental note to come back.
NOTE RIGHT HERE AND NOW: Your entire job as a sampler is based on THESE people. Because they are the majority of people going by. Your job is to get them to take a sample, and mentally note what your establishment is called, all while not bothering them, hampering them, delaying them, slowing them, and without having anything that makes you seem pushy, obnoxious, or like a car salesman. I recommend saying "Fresh _________ samples, all made right here at _____________." That's all. Do not say "COME AND GET IT!" Do not say, "IF YOU LIKE THIS, THEN YOU'LL LOVE WHAT ELSE WE OFFER." Do not say ANY of that to these people, or they will never become your customer one day. If your restaurant does delivery, it's also distinctly possible that they will order from you some day, and that's also a win for you. So don't be annoying!
2.) "The Free-Loader"
The Free-Loader is the opposite of the New Yorker, because where the free sample had no bearing on the New Yorker’s day, the free sample is entirely the purpose of The Free-loader’s day. Free-Loaders are broken into two sects, the overt, and the embarrassed.
The overt Free-Loader is upfront with their wants, and can generally be recognized by a very simple act. They’ll see you standing there, saying whatever you say to get people’s attention, they’ll pause, look at what you’re offering, then point at it and say, “For free?” When you say yes, they will immediately rush to grab one for themselves, for their friend they’re walking with (even if their friend happens to be allergic to your food), for their children, and then usually say, “can I take two?” When you say, “only one per customer, please” they’ll respond with, “oh it’s not for me, it’s for my (insert significant other pronoun here) that I’m on my way to meet.” You get to make your educated guess based on the circumstance whether you’re going to say yes or no. Just know that if you DO say yes, they will be back every single day. They will, however, always point at your samples and ask, “For Free?” even though they found out that was true yesterday. Note that if you say “no” there is at least a 75% chance they will shrug and take the second free sample anyways. If you say yes, there is a 50% chance they will take two more and wink at you with a smile that says, “it’s totally okay that I just was a complete asshat and did that, because I winked and smiled at you in a manner akin to putting a finger on your lips and saying ‘shhhhhhhhhh’ while taking the sample.”
The other Free-Loaders are embarrassed to be recognized as such, and so they put on some form of act to pretend like they’re doing anything else. Some such acts include walking around the block with purpose, so they pretend to be a New Yorker every time they go by you and grab another. Or they’ll ask to use your bathroom; whether or not this is an actual necessity in their lives, they will take one more on their way out. The most common embarrassed Free-Loader act, however, is standing and talking to you about anything that is not directly related to a possible future purchase, i.e. sports, television, how long the restaurant has been here, a “crazy thing” they saw a couple of blocks back, etc. At the end of this conversation, they’ll lean in as though you’re now their friend and ask, “can I have another one?” Sometimes they’ll say it sheepishly like, "I know I'm not supposed to do this, but I'm just SO hungry." Sometimes they’ll say it jokingly like, “look at me making fun of all the people who ask you for a second one, hahaha those people are the worst--wait, I can? Oh well then don’t mind if I do.” Sometimes they’ll say it conspiratorially, like “I know I’m not supposed to do this, and neither are you, but we’re friends now, because we talked about the Red Sox for like 0.5 seconds, and so you must now like me more than your boss, because bosses are the worst, right? So therefore you know how you could stick it to the man? By giving me a second sample. Thanks buddy-ol-pal!” Despite them not knowing that I have a great relationship with my boss, and frankly, enjoy his company significantly more than this person who’s invading my personal space for no reason at all. Regardless of their approach, they will have reached for, and probably grabbed the second sample while still in the middle of asking for it.
Now here's the catch. If there’s no one around, it’s not worth the argument, just say yes. If there are people around and you say no, and you catch them before they’ve grabbed it, they’ll leave nonchalantly like, “it’s cool, because I stopped just to talk to you because you seem awesome, and I didn’t really want the second one anyways”. If they HAVE already grabbed it, they’ll look at you with their hand in the cookie jar, and usually think of something brilliant in the moment to say like, “well I’m already touching it so I shouldn’t put it back”, or more commonly they’ll revert to the line of the overt Free-Loader and say, “oh it’s not for me, it’s for my (insert significant other pronoun here) that I’m on my way to meet.” The Free-Loader is the worst. The worst.
3.) "The Tourist"
The Tourist is a tricky person to read, because it’s hard to tell if they’re going to come in and be a customer for a day. Tourists have very specific plans. They have sights they need to see, people they need to meet, experiences they need to try, and therefore, convincing them that using one of their precious vacation meals on your establishment is based entirely in how hungry they are, how broke they are, how good your sample is, and how cheap your menu appears to be. Since I’m assuming as a sampler you’re a nice person (which is probably an assumption I shouldn’t make) you will be a relief to them. You see it’s not that New Yorkers are rude, it’s that they don’t have time to slow down for even a half second, and therefore with a tourist pausing every 10 steps to look at a map, a phone, a sight, whatever, they have experienced a lot of negative energy today. By being friendly, smiling, and creating a “safezone” on the sidewalk where people are allowed to stop and stand for a second, you have given them an oasis. From here, it’s time to sell your product. The easiest approach for this person is to give them directions or ask what they’ve seen thus far on their trip. Once you’ve made that connection, offer them a sample with a “why not? They’re here, aren’t they?” attitude. This usually gets you a laugh, which is also a great help in your pitch. Once they enjoy your sample, give them your pitch. You have great food, the prices are right, and this way they’ll save for that super expensive New York City meal they’ve been planning to have before they leave. Access to Beer and Wine is also very helpful. These people also are the most common Yelp, TripAdvisor, and VirtualTourist reviewers, so treat them nicely!
4.) "The Expert" or "The Snob"
I am honestly not sure that this applies to all samplers, it certainly applied to me, being that I worked for an establishment serving primarily Israeli Food. However, I imagine The Expert will show up regardless of cuisine. They are either from or have visited the country of origin, or region of excellence for your particular sample, and they will loudly proclaim why yours is just simply inferior to the "real" cuisine from ________. Now it really doesn't matter the history behind your establishment. For instance, those who designed the recipes for The Hummus & Pita Company, are indeed, from the countries of origin. Many of the people working behind the counter can actually talk to you, in the proper language, about each and every item on the menu. Most of those workers, will also tell you how great and "real" the food is, and how it tastes just like it did back home. Doesn't matter. If someone who had ever once been to the Mediterranean or the Middle East came by my samples, they would loudly remark how offensive it was that Americans think they can make falafel. When I would tell them about how real it is, they would usually ask me, "are you Israeli?" I ask each of you to look at the picture of me above to realize how ridiculous that statement is, and so I would answer, "no, I'm Irish, mostly" and they would say, "exactly, what do you know?" Or, they would take a sample, take a bite, and then proclaim I was lying, because no true Israeli would ever make falafel so horrible. (Don't mind the fact, that I will stand by the sentence that The Hummus & Pita Company has the best falafel in New York City, bar none, and that sentence is backed up by countless customers and "experts") Didn't matter if they were from Israel, or had visited once. This person will turn off an entire group of interested potential customers without fail, because the person will trust the "expertise" of this random person in a bad mood, over your product you literally just handed to them. They could have already eaten it, and tell you how wonderful it was, but after The Expert walks by, they'll say they are looking for something more "authentic". There isn't much you can do about these people but hope they have an open enough mind that when they try YOUR product (which I'm sure is of high quality, if it's not, well then your establishment is screwed) they realize the folly of their ways, and bring back all of their "Expert" friends. You have about a 25% chance of that working, though. So really all you can do is hope that you don't meet them. The Expert will also have the annoying tendency to quiz you, by pretending they don't know about the product, and asking you questions. If you get one wrong, they will loudly tell you the correct answer. Or laugh at you and walk on their way. Resist the urge to punch them in the throat. It's really not worth it.
5.) "The Entitled Customer"
I know, I said it earlier, the Free-Loader is the worst. This is true, except for in some instances when it’s not. Those instances are always with an Entitled Customer. The problem with these people is there is NO WAY to spot them coming and therefore no way to start a conversation with anyone else that will keep them away from you and your tray. They can be old, young, male, female, any race, any creed, and height, weight, whatever. The entitled customer is a problem with society that can not be helped or fixed, so far as I can tell. I blame it on society’s amazing need for recognition. I would say it goes back to the recent explosion of “Achievements” as a whole. I think it started with video games giving you achievements for certain acts, and then everyone got in on the game. Websites now give you achievements for looking at some pages, airlines give you achievements for flying certain routes, FourSquare gives you achievements for going to 10 different pizza joints in 12 different cities between the hours of 10 and 12 with 3 other people named Margory (I made up this last one, but seriously, achievements are getting ridiculous, people.) Now that this is an industry standard thing, people feel it should apply to them all the time. Here’s how it will apply to you as a sampler.
A person will come out the door and walk up to you to take one for the road, this is OKAY and a common practice, let them, it makes them feel special, it allows you to make a joke, and everyone feels good about themselves, plus that person feels like they got an extra little bit for their money. What you run into, however, is this person who takes it too far. “I’m going to take a few, okay?” How anyone thinks that’s okay, is beyond me, and therefore you, as a good employee, respond with, “well you can have one!” They will then get irate and say the exact same sentence every single time. “Come on, (pronoun, most often it’s “man” but sometimes “buddy”)! I just spent a (noun meaning amount of, most often “ton” but sometimes “bunch”) of money in your store!” The first thing to remember is their concept of (noun meaning amount of, most often “ton” but sometimes “bunch”) is a completely useless argument. Regardless of how much you spent, you will receive the proportional same amount of food as someone who got more or less of the same thing. For instance if you go into McDonald’s and buy $50 worth of Big Mac Meals, to then ask for the guy handing out McChicken sandwiches on the street to give you one McChicken sandwich for every meal purchased is absurd, because you received $50 worth of food for your $50. End of transaction. I usually say to this person, “and we gave you a (noun meaning amount of, most often “ton” but sometimes “bunch”) of food for that money! Here’s your sample, have a great day!” They tend to dislike this.
The other kind of entitled customer you get, though, is the entitled Regular, and in a way, they are harder to deal with, because you really don’t want to lose their future business, so you have to tread carefully with how you interact with them. This customer LOVES being recognized as a regular, and so what they tend to do is come up when they see a bunch of people with samples, deciding whether or not to come into the store. They will then say “Oh my god, you HAVE to eat here, the food is incredible, I come in every day for (lunch, dinner, brunch, 5th meal, whatever) and am never disappointed! Seriously it’s great, go here!” While they say this amazingly awesome sentence that truly does make your job significantly easier, they will reach for five samples. Yep. Count ‘em. Five. Now you have a problem. If you do not stop this regular, you will have every one of those people standing there go and reach for a second, or even a third. However, when you do say, “only one sample please.” They will ALWAYS retaliate with the following. “Come on, (pronoun most often it’s “man” but sometimes “buddy”)! I eat here every day, and I recommend your place to everyone. I bet you get 50 customers a week because of me, and you’re gonna get on my case because I want more than one?!” There is no good way to deal with this person. I recommend thanking them for their patronage, telling them you’re glad they love the food, and giving them their one sample. If you see them again and there aren’t people around, apologize profusely but tell them you don’t want others grabbing for more, and give them an extra one for putting up with you. Always make the regulars feel special. Except for when they’re being asshats. Then don’t.
6.) "The Potential Customer"
The sixth and final class of New Yorker, is the customer. These people are actually looking for what your establishment has to offer, and they are going to stop and have a sample in order to see if what you offer is what they are about to spend their money on. They will stop and ask you questions much like the Free-Loader, but rather than about trivial things, they will ask you about your product, about your price range, about how YOU like the food (hint, don’t lie if they ask you about a specific meal, because they’ll know), they’ll ask how long the establishment has been there as a gauge to see if it’s successful, and most of all, they’re looking for something nice. Be nice. Be friendly. Answer their questions truthfully, and if you don’t know, DO NOT LIE, because they will ask again inside. If you don’t know, tell them you’re not sure, but someone inside can answer that for them, and make a mental note to learn the answer for future people. The potential customer is a hard one to find, because they only make up about 1-2% of the people you will see on the street on a day-to-day basis. So you need to grab each and every one of them that goes by you. They generally are walking slower, and you can see them coming because they’re looking in the windows of restaurants down the street, or they’re looking at every sign they go by in search of something catchy. When you greet them, greet them just like the New Yorker, except be ready for follow-up if they give you ANY sign of recognition. Do not be a car salesman, be knowledgeable and friendly, and trust that your product sells itself. That will get you significantly farther than working hard to convince them to come to the store. Talk to them as though you already know they’re coming in. Confidence in product from an employee begets confidence in product from a customer. Pushiness of a product implies that you think it’s less than average, and you’re making up for the rest with a sales pitch. This is an obnoxious trait, and people can smell it a mile away.
So there you go, New York City, those are the type of people in regards to Free Samples.
Perhaps you want to work on the crappy ones?
Think I'm right or wrong, or know of a category I didn't put up here, leave them in the comments below!
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Photo by Danny Bristoll
(fac·to·tum | \ fak-ˈtō-təm) noun - a person having many diverse activities or responsibilities
I find myself hilarious, and I use this blog to stroke my own ego. Thanks for indulging me.