How to Lose a Client in 10 Sentences or Less

The Players in the Room:

Steve – Big shot attorney who is also an investor in a couple of restaurants, the man who writes the big checks to make things happen, insisted on my participation in the deal as a consultant before he wrote one of those really big checks, doesn’t mind people who lose money doing the right things, but detests wasting it.

Damian – professional dilettante turned interior design consultant, happens to be the nephew of Steve’s wife, and has been largely tasked with identifying the space, thinks that he is capable of doing my job, and is technically my client too.

Chef – the relatively young, relatively bright culinary mind who knows enough to know that he is ready for his own place, but also knows enough to listen to people who know more than he in their areas of expertise.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Restaurant Refugee – professional restaurant consultant who’s spent more time in Chicago than DC the past several weeks, is also getting a little impatient with the process at the moment.

Angela – Commercial Real Estate Agent with a permanently painted smile, a mix of “I-want-this-deal” happiness and some flinty Chicago toughness which is betraying a bit of that happiness with the frustration of showing so many places to the same client group.

The Room: yet another empty commercial space that doesn’t really work as a restaurant for reasons that people who know the restaurant business from the inside can understand.

This is our third building of the day.  I didn’t quite judge it from the cover, but as we approached I was silently hoping that this wasn’t it.  After 30 dusty seconds inside, Damian exclaimed “I love the lines in this place; Refugee, doesn’t it have great bones?”

It was a deep-breath-before-responding moment and I took one.  “It does have lovely lines,” I began; “for a ground floor condo space or high-end retail shop, but pros can tell you that there are unmanageable choke-points there, there, there, and there.”  I knew that my tone was about half a degree sharper than I consciously intended – can’t speak for my subconscious.

Damian turned his attention from the windows to me and asked “are you inferring that I’m somehow not a professional?”

I wasn’t sure if this was a line in the sand moment, but I thought it best that we have the conversation internally.  “Angela, would you mind giving us the room so we can walk around and talk about it freely,” I mostly declared.  She and I have had a few off-line conversations about this so she knew the situation.

“Damian, I am just suggesting that there are problems with the space that people who’ve spent a lot of time in restaurants can see but you might be missing.”

“You know, Refugee, I think that’s the second time you inferred that I don’t know what I am doing… and I’m a little tired of you being so fucking smug, you do know that you work for me right?!?!”

Steve may have wanted to enter this fray to mediate, but I had reached my limit and spoke a little too quickly.  The look on Chef’s face indicated that he wanted no part of this.

“Damian, I am not inferring, I am implying; and since it seems that the implication is too opaque, let me be fully clear – your suggestions and ideas indicate that you are thoroughly, completely, and unquestionably out of your depth.  You look at this room and see all of these lovely angles and attractive lines.  I look at it and see all of these load bearing columns which mean that you couldn’t possibly construct a kitchen large enough to accommodate a dining room of this size.  I see impossible corners and walls that can’t be moved.  Damian, you’re tired of me being smug, huh? I find that pretty damn laughable because for the last few weeks, I’ve been going out of my way to include you in conversations, to twist my mind into pretzel-like contortions to find something, anything, nice to say about your ideas and opinions.  All of that was made even more difficult because I generally think your contributions have been about as valuable as a warm bucket of spit.”

There was a stunned silence in the room as I took a breath and… well, I guess I reloaded.

“Other than some sort of random genetic good fortune, I have no idea why you’re here, because you looked at this room and thought it could be a restaurant.  I looked at this room, just like any pro would look at this room, and thought it a waste of time… and I look at you and see a feckless automatron who’s wasted enough of my time and other people’s money.”

More stunned silence, but this was a moment when reloading would have been cruel, so I just left.  Half a block away, I lit a cigar for the calming effect.  That and I was pretty sure that unleashing a verbal barrage on my largest client’s nephew qualifies as a “smoke a cigar moment.”  I walked around the city for a bit, finishing my cigar, contemplating the shithole I had just dug, wondering if I wanted a rope.

When I got back to my hotel room (one more cigar, and a couple of cocktails later) there was a bucket of champagne on the credenza.  The note read:

Refugee, if you could say all of that to a client, I suppose I can have a difficult conversation with my wife.  That was a lot of fun to watch.  See ya next week.

-Steve

p.s. the feckless automatron won’t be joining us.

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10 Responses to How to Lose a Client in 10 Sentences or Less

  1. Foggy Dew says:

    Speaking truth to power, especially the imagined kind, is one of the toughest things to do. But you do it so well and so entertainingly. I hope he hurt his jaw when it hit the ground.

    At least you didn’t lose the client with the checkbook. Cheers.

    As I was walking around the city, I was calculating my final bill and thinking about how much I should discount it to ensure that I still got paid. In other words, I was certain that they were both gone. I got lucky this time. I am not advising using the word “feckless” in describing a client as a solid career move… but damn it felt good.

  2. magnolia2010 says:

    well done. there’s nothing more obnoxious than people who ask for your opinion, then abuse you for giving it. i have to imagine that you gave every service professional’s dream speech to a difficult client right there. lord knows it’s mine…

    On some level, people who are paying for advice are more entitled to ignore it, but they’re never entitled to be tooltastic in the process.

  3. Jean says:

    “You know you work for me right?” Ugh, how arrogant. Maybe he’s down a peg, though, knowing the type, I doubt it. Cheers on not working for him any more.

    Honestly… and this thought just came to me, I did my primary client a disservice but not having some version of this conversation before. How much cash and time did I let him waste and not letting my client waste money is a big part of my job.

  4. That was full of win. Glad it worked out for the best!

    I got lucky… but yeah, full of win. Thanks.

  5. kitty says:

    and the crowd. goes. wild! well done, sir.

    Thank you, thank you, be here all week… literally actually. I miss DC.

  6. citygirlblogs says:

    Refugee: 1
    Automatron: 0

    Kudos to you! I’m virtually toasting you until I can do so next in person. xoxo

    Thank you, but I must emphasize once again that I do not advocate this as a career strategy, I got lucky.

  7. Christina says:

    Bravo, you said it. You stated your case and proved why you are on the job. Enjoy the rest of the time here in Chi town.

    Having a grand time thus far, thanks.

  8. brad says:

    At some point, the only thing you can do with an idiot is point at it loudly.

    I don’t think that truer words have ever been written.

  9. […] “I’ve got a lot of work to finish in reviewing this business plan” I said while patting the stack of papers to my left.  “So that should take me through most of the day tomorrow.  I was thinking about finding a place to Step tomorrow night, but a) most people go to the Step joints with a partner, and b) I might not be finished with my report by then so it might be a moot point anyway.” […]

  10. dorothy says:

    The minute he said infer instead of imply I knew there would be trouble. That drives me nuts.

    Usually I just let that go, but he was kinda pissing me off.

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