William Liao

July 26, 2021

Anticipate requirements

After graduating high school, I took a gap year and waited tables at a Chinese restaurant called Chow Bar.

During lunch time Monday through Friday, without fail, every single one of the 64 seats in the restaurants would be filled with patrons — many of which were students and instructors from the law school across the street.

Most days it was just me and one other employee who would work the cash register, take orders, clean up tables, and make bubble teas. Once in a blue moon we would have a 3rd waiter working with us — oh how I reveled in the occasional opportunity to sit down that this afforded me.

After about a week into waiting tables, 4 things became crystal clear: 

  1. Responding to customers’ needs* quickly = tip.
  2. Fulfilling customers’ needs before they ask = substantially more tip. 
  3. Failure to do #1 or #2 = no tip.
  4. 99% of your customers will not care how busy you are. 

*e.g. water refills, delivering the check, modifying orders.

Despite having worked in vastly different jobs outside the service industry, I find that these observations still apply pretty much wherever you ago — albeit in slightly different forms. 

Regardless of whether you’re B2B, B2C, making software, or selling kitchen appliances, the bare minimum to survive long term is an ability to respond to your customers’ needs. The best companies of course go a step further by anticipating needs and meeting them before a customer even has to ask. 

One of my colleagues synthesized this principal well: “Anticipate requirements — that’s how you get to great. If you wait for someone to ask, it’s too late.” 

My tips for the first few weeks were abysmal — I’d yet to master the craft of anticipating the needs of my patrons. 

After a few months though, through a combination of better systems and the development of rapport with my frequent patrons, my ability to anticipate my customers’ needs improved. Ensuring that no table had an empty glass of water was something I prided myself in. 

And yes, I made substantially more tips as a result. 

Bottom line: 

The more empathy you have, the better you can anticipate your customers’ requirements. 

The better you can anticipate your customers’ requirements, the better the service you’ll be able to provide them. 

The better service you’re able to provide your customers, the better the outcomes are across the board: more business, more opportunity, your happy, your customers are happy. 

It’s a positive sum game.