The Limoncello Lesson


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Legend has it, that in the 80’s, Aberdeen Steakhouse put onion rings on their menu and encouraged their waiting staff to upsell it. Overnight, so the story goes, they increased their profits by a phenomenal percentage.

Whether apocryphal or not we believed it and we sought this nirvana. I worked in the pub business in the 90s and every business was looking for it’s onion ring game changer. The place that we never looked was customer service.

Yet the signs were there, even then.

An personal experience recently brought this to mind. I was in an Italian chain restaurant and I was offered an after dinner drink. I asked for a limoncello. For the uninitiated (and I do recommend you try it) Limoncello is a lemon liquor from the south of Italy served ice cold, normally after dinner.

As we settled the bill I noticed that the limoncello was right there on the bill. And it was eye-wateringly expensive. That chain had found it’s onion rings.

But here’s the thing, and it’s a big thing. In Italian restaurants limoncello is often given free at the end of the meal as a thank you for your business. It brought to mind a favourite old Italian restaurant of mine that used to give all customers a shot of Amaretto as they presented the bill. On the house, with gratitude.


As a result, the experience in the chain restaurant jarred with me. The restaurant offered me a drink that is often complimentary and over-charged for it. Sure, they made some extra margin from me in that single transaction but I won’t order an after-dinner limoncello again. I’m not even sure I would go back again as, although the food was good, I was left feeling they didn’t value my business.

Companies often get very confused by The Limoncello Lesson. Customers certainly don’t expect to be continually given stuff for free. But what they do expect is to feel that the companies that they choose to spend their money with respect them and are fair to them.

Why do expensive hotels charge for wifi when budget chains don’t? Customers notice this. Why do companies quibble with customers when they have let them down? Customers notice this.

Customers notice everything that companies do. Sometimes consciously, sometimes sub consciously but what they notice has an impact on how the customer will choose to spend their money in the future.

Companies too often are driven by budgets and policies and short-term thinking. And as a consequence they make decisions that hit the till today with little regard to what will happen in the future. Customers play along until they have a choice and, eventually, there is always a choice. When acquiring a customer costs at least five times more than retaining an existing one, that short-term decision is an expensive one.

Profiting from an improved customer experience requires a brave leader. But it isn’t really that brave a choice – it just makes some leaders uncomfortable. It doesn’t require bravery to tell a customer you value their business. It doesn’t require bravery to be fair, and even generous, when you let a customer down. It doesn’t require bravery to, just occasionally, show a customer just how grateful you are that they choose to spend their money with you.

Perhaps if you gave them a limoncello they would demand your onion rings!

Read more customer experience transformation articles at the addzest blog.

Image by momo

Dougie Cameron
Having worked in major blue chip organisations in both senior finance and customer service roles Dougie is described as a strategist, planner and implementer. In his own words he describes himself as "a reformed financier on the road to enlightenment". But most of all he is just plain frustrated by poor leadership and bad customer experiences. Dougie founded addzest consulting to help companies find their way to engage their teams to give customers better.


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