Try An Incentive


World-class customer service arts advice and training for restaurant and hotel owners and managers plus servers — for over 25 years.  

Try an incentive.


Do you like eating and drinking? I do.


Do you like saving money? Me too. I’m so cheap sometimes I feel almost embarrassed.


Are you curious? Of course, or you wouldn’t be reading this.


So last Saturday, I went with a companion to The Cornucopia Cruise Lines. It sails along the Hudson River – with views of the New York City Skyline, Battery Park, East River, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, and past Ellis Island to the Statue of Liberty. The deal: half price on the food.


The meal was excellent, and the boat was full. So, being curious, I asked the lady at the door how many people had come because of the offer.

“About half”, she said.


They surely didn’t lose money on us when we were paying nearly $80. You would have spent more, right?


Meanwhile, a girl I know works at a very good hamburger restaurant in Jersey City. Every day between 4.30 and 6.30 it’s almost empty; so she spends her time rolling paper napkins around knives and forks.


The manager, whom I also know, keeps saying they should run promotions – but they seem scared to.


It still astounds me how so few people realize two things:


1. Incentives pay if used wisely.

2. If you use them all the time you cheapen your brand.


Why do they pay? Because generally you get all the people you would have got – plus a few you wouldn’t have. I guess about 15% – 25%. And the extra ones convert into customers at much the same rate as the others.


Perhaps the wisest, and certainly the wittiest client I ever had was Roger Borsink, Vice President of Marriott International Hotels New York City division.

He said: “I have never seen a relevant incentive fail to pay for itself.”


If you’re not trying incentives, do.


If you are, test alternatives (it may make a huge difference).


So why do incentives work? There are three reasons.


They overcome the fear – of being sold something the prospect doesn’t need or can’t afford.


They overcome laziness.


They give an excuse for trying you.


For all these reasons they should be prominent.


Always describe your incentive, and say what it’s worth. If it costs nothing, it’s worth nothing. The more desirable it sounds, the more replies you’ll get. The more it’s worth, the more people want it.


If it’s a book (paper is so cheap!) on fitness, maybe – give it a title, say how many pages it has. If possible, sell it – thus setting a price.


Try more than one incentive. You can have one for replying, one for replying within 14 days, one for buying two or buying the luxury version, trying another product or service, or recommending a friend.


Try a few things people might lose – a threat if you like. It may work even better. In fact, studies suggest it does.

  • They have to buy by a certain date, or on a certain day.
  • There are only so many left.
  • It’s a limited edition.
  • It’s restricted to certain privileged customers.

People are cynical. They think the cost comes out of the product. Always say why you’re being so nice.

  • As a reward for doing something.
  • To encourage them to try.
  • Because “we find it’s the cheapest way to get new customers”.
  • Because it’s our centenary.

What makes a good incentive?

  • The Golden Rule: add value, rather than cheapening the brand.
  • A free Financial Planning booklet adds value; repeated discounts cheapen your brand.
  • Discounts are better for acquiring customers or rewarding them.
  • Use them sparingly.

I hope you found this interesting and helpful. Let me know anything that interests you – or that you disagree with.






PS Course I’m biased, but if this has struck a chord with you, I suspect you’ll find more than helpful.

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About Me

Eric Valdivieso has over 25 years of sales and showmanship experience, including 5 years of film and theatre training and 9 years of table service, in high-paced and competitive environments. 

He helps restaurant and hotel owners and managers cultivate experiences that people talk about, and seek out. 

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Jonathan Tisch

CEO Loews Hotels & Co-Owner of the New York Giants

“Over the last few years, my family and I have had the pleasure to watch and enjoy, as Eric Valdivieso, nightly deliver a dining experience that is truly enjoyable. From the moment that we are welcomed by Eric at the door, to sitting at the bar and enjoying the suggestions and company to an amazing dinner, it is always one of our favorite nights. And Eric graciously and seamlessly choreographs this entire experience, without breaking a sweat. Eric truly understands hospitality, and what makes a great restaurant so great.”