A Waitress, a Bowl of Oatmeal, and An Advertising Lesson

An Iowa waitress taught me the value of frequency.

Advertising lesson from a waitress

Photo by Sergey Nivens. Adobe Stock

It was a Monday morning in a Cedar Rapids hotel. I was in town to work with a group of TV station salespeople.

I went down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. I don’t always eat properly on the road, but I can usually get in a healthy breakfast before my self-discipline breaks down.

Glancing at the menu, I decided to order oatmeal.

When the oatmeal arrived, it was anything but healthy. The top layer had some sortof custard; the rest of it was loaded with sugar and other stuff. It was delicious, but it did not mean good things for my cholesterol-control efforts.

I asked the waitress whether the restaurant offered just plain oatmeal. She told me that this was the way the restaurant always served it. Then she paused, and asked me how long I was staying at the hotel.

I told her I would be there all week.

“My name’s Jackie,” she said. “When you come down tomorrow, ask for me. I’ll have the chef make you a bowl of regular oatmeal.”

Tuesday morning I came down to the restaurant and asked for Jackie. “Yesterday you mentioned you might be able to get me some regular oatmeal,” I said. “Let me see what I can do,” she replied. 10 minutes later she delivered a bowl of plain oatmeal to my table.

Wednesday morning, I waved to her as I sat down. “Oatmeal, and a to-go cup of coffee with the check?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied. She had remembered my standard morning coffee request.

Thursday and Friday, we didn’t even have to discuss it. As soon as I arrived, she put the order in with the kitchen. And when she brought the check, the to-go cup of coffee was right there with it.

Three weeks later, I was back in Cedar Rapids at the same hotel. Monday morning, when Jackie saw me she said, “Welcome back, Mr. Bernstein! Plain oatmeal, right?”

That first day, I had to remind her about the coffee-to-go; the rest of the week it all went like clockwork.

Why did I get recognition and special treatment? Because I stayed in the same place for an extended period of time.

I ate at the same restaurant every morning. Seeing the same faces every day, I got to know them and they got to know me. Over time, one of the waitresses learned exactly what I wanted, and I didn’t have to start over each morning.

While I was at the hotel, I met another business traveler who was in Cedar Rapids for a couple of days.

From Cedar Rapids, he was going to Des Moines for two days, and then to St. Louis. He was also having his breakfasts in a hotel restaurant – but every couple of days it would be a different restaurant.

He had to take whatever was on the menu.


Here’s the advertising lesson


With limited resources, you have a choice when you decide to advertise:

You can spread your budget out, and try to reach as many people as possible by doing a little bit of a lot of things. You will be advertising frequently. Lots of people will see you, but they won’t remember you.

Or you can focus your limited resources into a small number of places. You will be advertising with frequency. You’ll reach fewer people — but the people you reach will respond.

The other business traveler — with a couple of days in Cedar Rapids, a couple of days in Des Moines, and a brief stop in St. Louis — had the equivalent of a “media mix.” A little TV, a little radio, a couple of billboards.

He was seen by more people than I was, but he didn’t get to know them and they didn’t get to know him. When he sat down for breakfast, he got what everyone else got.

I had the same resources — five days — but I spent them all in one place. The same people saw me again and again, and by the end of those five days the wait staff knew me.

The other guy ate out frequently; I was eating out with frequency.

Which one of us did better?


Sign up for my blog updates and never miss a post. I'll send you the first two chapters of my new book, Breakthrough Prospecting, as a thank-you.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Your Chance to Be Heard -- Comment Here!