Persuasion psychology at GBK

January 24th, 2012

GBK waiting staff have a problem. Not an attitude problem, far from it, no, a problem altogether closer to their hearts. A money problem…

The restaurant is genius. They’ve packaged-up a fast-food burger joint in organic, interior-designed ribbons and created a Macdonalds that it’s okay to eat at if you’re middle class. It would be interesting to compare the calorie count or the fat content of a Big Mac to that of the bacon cheeseburger I ate this afternoon. This thought occurs to me as I dislocate my jaw like a python in an effort to take my first bite, and a stream of meat juice and hot fat trickles over my fingers and onto my plate. There can be no healthy high ground to claim here.

Like McD’s you pay at the counter, up-front before your meal. This is brilliant business: fewer staff and no tables needlessly filled whilst occupants wait for their bill. This also means, crucially, that you can leave without interacting with anyone. As soon as you’re done, you’re gone. There’s no chance for the waiters to remind you that they exist, and therefore you feel little obligation to tip. And because of the set-up you don’t have to look too far for justification. After all, you ordered at the counter, right? And you helped yourself to water, so what did they actually do?

It’s clear that someone responsible regards this as a problem. Perhaps the churn rate was too high, or maybe the quality of applicants fell once word got out. Either way, clear measures are now in place to leverage one of the fundamental human traits and fix the problem. Reciprocity.

As I pay, the casier hands me two glasses: “Help yourself to monkey nuts by the door”. Hmmm. Monkey nuts. That’s strange, they don’t have anything to do with burgers. Later, the chips arrive and the waitor asks me if I’d like mayo (yes please), and he returns with a pot so delicious it makes me question the identity of the low fat gloop in my own fridge. Twice I’m asked if I want something for free, and twice I am explicitly given something. I’m sensitive to these kinds of tactics after reading in Yes! about the tricks waiters use to increase tips. And these small incidents are both clearly attempts to leverage my innate sense of reciprocity and obligate me to tip.

Reciprocity is a deeply ingrained human trait. Return the favour. One good turn. Do unto others. So deeply ingrained that most of the time we’re not really aware of it when it motivates our behaviour. Psychologists know this and canny restauranteurs know this too. But I suspect that when we know it’s happening; when we sense a deliberate attempt to manipulate, we’ll be even less likely to tip. I wonder what effect these efforts have had.

I walk out, smugly drafting this post and jangling the pound coins still in my pocket, too clever to be caught out by these manifestly obvious tactics. But then, with a start, I realise I’ve been had after all. The reason we chose GBK was the two burgers for £10 in Jan offer. Two for £10 in Jan. Jan.

The offer was running out. Scarcity.

According to the science of persuasion scarcity, along with reciprocity, is one of the six cardinal motivators. Zing! I got got! So it’s hats off to GBK after all, as if a delicious burger wasn’t enough to make  me warm inside.

And if you’re interested in the other four motivators, comment on this post within the next three days and I’ll give you them all for free!

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