One restaurant server recently made the difference between a good evening and a memorable one for me and my wife. The difference may seem slight, but that’s the kind of service that can make a business owner rich.

Last week, my wife and I joined another couple in driving about 45 minutes away to see one of our favorite 80s cover bands. The restaurant/bar sits atop a cliff overlooking a lake, which is nice, and the food is medium, which is probably to be expected. But when the young server arrived, she immediately made us feel that we were the only people in the place that mattered – even though she was waiting on several other tables. She got to know who we are and where we are from. She shared her own history and aspirations. She helped us to find the best deals on the menu. She took our photo with the sunset in the background. But what really put her over the top was when she pulled my wife and her friend from their seats to go dance. I was amazed that she was empowered by her manager to have that kind of personal interaction with customers – and she was obviously a great hire. She also found my friend and I when we moved to the other side of the crowded bar for a while. And, when busboys cleared our table prematurely, she brought free replacement drinks. By the time we left, we felt we had made a friend.

Not only will service like that earn a fantastic tip (or, for a jewelry salesperson, larger and more frequent commissions), but it makes it a lot more likely that the customer will return. For that kind of service, a 45-minute drive doesn’t seem that far after all.

On the other hand, bad service can kill you no matter how beautiful your store or where you’re located. Bob Phibbs, “The Retail Doctor,” shared this story in his newsletter (you can subscribe at www.retaildoc.com):

There’s a new restaurant across the river from me called Fish and Game. A buddy of mine ordered a tequila shot the other night at the bar. The bartender rattled off about a dozen types of tequila, smokey, fruity, etc. "That’s too many choices," he said to her. "How about a mezcal?"

The bartender abruptly challenged, "Mezcal is not tequila, I wouldn’t have named all of those tequilas if you wanted mezcal."

My buddy felt stupid and shamed but continued in a good-natured way, "OK, well how about the mezcal with the worm?"

"They haven’t done that for years!" she chided.

Have you ever run into an employee who made you feel stupid or small? Whose way to feel good about themselves was by correcting you, the customer? 

If enough customers endure those types of encounters, you’re sunk.

Bob had a great point, and it’s what reminded me of our polar opposite experience with the extraordinary server at the lakeside restaurant.

Bob’s story was part of a larger blog post on “10 Common Mistakes That Can Doom Your Business.” To read the rest of it, visit retaildoc.com.