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a blog by Chris Barrow

The waving waiters – and what they teach us about competition

During our recent sailing holiday in Croatia, we developed a late afternoon routine of arriving at our intended destination, which would most likely be a small village nestled in a natural harbour on one of the many beautiful islands.

This would afford shelter from the open seas and the prevailing wind – a place to moor for the night and sleep in peace and comfort after a good evening’s entertainment.

Typically, there would be anything from two to a half-dozen restaurants that allowed free mooring overnight with power and water, provided the guests were happy to eat in the premises – literally step away from the back of the boat.

Therefore, our afternoon ritual included cruising slowly into harbour at 5 knots and looking around for a suitable place for the evening ahead.

As soon as we arrived, each restaurant would send a waiter to stand on the quayside, holding a “lazy line”(a fixed rope to steady the boat at the mooring) in one hand and waving slowly with the other. Always the same laconic wave in silence.

The choice of which offer to take up might be as a result of a previous visit, a recommend from a friend/online or simply the look and feel of the place.

What struck me about this daily process was that the restaurants seemed to follow an unspoken policy of mutual respect – even when a line of 6 locations were side by side on shore, the waiters would simply stand next to each other, each performing the same routine of “lazy line” and wave.

I was reminded of the difference between abundance and scarcity mentality.

Abundance – it’s going to be a long season, there will be many boats, as long as I do my job properly, some of those boats will visit me, it’s OK if the place next door has 4 boats and I have none – that will just be today and tomorrow could be very different – so I’ll just keep waving.

Scarcity – I need boats at my mooring – I want all the boats at my mooring, I’m going to wave faster, I’m going to shout at the tourists to come over to me, I’m going to diss the competition, I’m going to claim that my food and drink are better than the next place. I have to win.

Clearly, this part of Croatia thrives on flotillas and independent sailors and, even though we were there in low season there were plenty of boats around and crew who needed feeding. I am told that during high season, the challenge is to find a place to moor, as they are frequently all taken up.

At the end of the season, everyone who works hard, serves good food and drink and offers a positive customer service experience will succeed. Those who fail on any of these measures? Well – word will get around, because now it can, and no matter how long you stand there waving, the boats will just pass you by.

On abundance – I was recently contacted by a marketing manager who asked for my thoughts on his setting up in business as a marketing coach for dental practices. I gladly offered some free time and insights on how to get started. He asked me whether it was cheeky to request my help to develop a business that could compete with mine. I responded, as always, with “competition stimulates demand”.

If a new dental practice opens in your location (or an existing practice is taken over by a new owner on a mission) then that’s just fine. The end result will be more people going to the dentist.

Provided we all do a good job for those we serve, there will be an abundance of business.


We have to keep waving.

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