Something from the Bar?

Something from the bar?

This has to be the lamest question ever uttered, and it’s uttered a million times a day in restaurants all over the world.

It might elicit an actual drink order from a customer who always wants the same refreshment before dinner, but for everyone else it causes hesitation, confusion, reluctance, panic.

We don’t know what you have, how it’s priced, whether your bartender is frugal or licentious, which of the countless ways you might want to take advantage of us is in play . . . .

In other words, it creates an environment precisely the opposite of what the server intended, which was to make the customer comfortable, appreciated, and catered to (in a word, spendy).

Get it? 🙂

Here’s what your customer at Table 13 visualizes when you attack her with your demand that she order a drink:


It’s no wonder that, when you make her select from this ridiculous array of alternatives—on a strict social deadline!—she panics in the moment and says the only safe thing: “I’ll stick with water.”

And you wonder why you don’t get bigger tips!

Hint to the metaphor: Readers do the same thing. Faced with too much new data or too many choices—in absence of clear guidance—they retreat to their bunkers where you can’t begin to persuade them.

How to Serve

You don’t understand your job, which is to serve, and by serving to guide, and by guiding to sell, and by selling to improve your employer’s bottom line, and—by helping out absolutely everybody—to take home bigger tips from happier customers whose enjoyment has been lubricated by expensive cocktails.

The best servers use their power to their advantage.

And when I say “servers” I mean “writers.” You understand this is an extended metaphor, right?

  1. They are the subject matter experts
  2. They have already examined the pertinent evidence
  3. They have come to the right conclusions
  4. If they establish your trust, they can guide you to the right conclusions
  5. Everybody is happy when you come to the right conclusions

How to Write

How to serve; how to write; they come down to the same set of rules. Stay in charge of the subject matter; approach it like the expert you are; guide your reader (diner) to the right conclusion.

One of the images below demonstrates the right way to offer up appetizers. The other is the way we write too often without even knowing we’re doing it.

Specific Appetizers

Get it? 🙂

NOTHING is accomplished if I tell you “We have a wonderful assortment of delicious appetizers; what do you want?”

But if I extend to you a limited sampling of carefully selected delicacies (by which I mean data and evidence because we’re still talking about writing, remember?) and stand there smiling, offering by my benevolent presence to guide you through the options with pleasant but persistent patience, then we pretty much both understand you’re going to order one of these little beauties . . . probably the one on which the house earns the biggest markup.

Get it now? 🙂

Lessons from the Server


  1. Don’t ask open-ended questions.
  2. Don’t promise that you’ll have important information to share . . . later.
  3. Don’t blame the kitchen.
  4. Don’t apologize for what you don’t have.
  5. Never contradict your customer’s preferences.


  1. Instead of open questions: We have spectacular cocktails from our certified mixologist (I know. I didn’t know there was such a thing either, but she has the certificate to prove it! 🙂 ) But if you’re not drinking, I have flavored teas, a full line of soft drinks, fresh coffees and teas. I’ll even put a big bottle of sparkling water in a bucket of ice. (But I won’t let you think that “sticking with tap water” is an alternative.)
  2. Instead of saying there are countless options: For big appetites I have a 22-ounce porterhouse; South Jersey magazine raves about our chicken Parmesan; but the best bargain on the menu is the brick oven pizza: 15 bucks and you’ll take half of it home.
  3. Instead of blaming the kitchen: We’re not used to being so crowded on a Thursday, but the review that came out in the local paper has us really hopping.
  4. Instead of saying the owner forgot to order seafood: There are no good mussels in the market this week after that storm in the Gulf; fortunately, the Maine lobster was unaffected and the 2-pounder is on special.
  5. Instead of arguing about your customer’s favorite cut: A lot of people say that, and I agree, so this is hard for me to say, but the filet mignon actually has less flavor than the rib-eye which benefits from all the marbling. Our chef handles both cuts really well. Want to try something new?

Metaphorical Payoff

Do I really have to do this, or do you get it?

  • THE KITCHEN is NOT the entire world of knowledge. It’s whatever you’ve been able to gather from your research. You’ve had just a few weeks, for crying out loud. It’s everything you could afford, and everything you could keep from spoiling in your limited refrigerator space (your White Paper; your Brain).
  • THE CHEF is you back there working with dull knives and too little butter on the one working burner that isn’t devoted to all your other classes—the ones that really matter to your major! 🙂
  • THE SERVER is also you. Once you graduate, you can hire someone to do the serving for you, but for now, you have to cook and deliver everything to the table.
  • THE CUSTOMER is your reader. He’s an arrogant blowhard, full of opinions about what’s good and what’s bad about food. You have to figure out what he thinks he knows, charm him into questioning where he got that misinformation, and sell him that the Tortellini-Tre-P that he always thought was cruel to animals happens to be an ecological blessing in exactly three ways, which you delineate for him with pleasant and persistent patience.

Waiter Receives Tip

Everybody wins.

You collect the big tip for introducing him to guilt-free sausage. He goes home with his utterly infatuated date who has no idea what she’s in for, and you—with your obvious command of the data—attract the attention of the stunning brunette with the dangling earrings and those magnificent teeth.

For sticklers keeping score: Yes. You win twice. But it cost you a semester and he only had to pay the check. Fair’s fair.

Feedback, please

If this is exactly like the advice you’ve received in every other writing class you’ve taken, I’d love to hear about your earlier experiences.

If, on the other hand, it’s a fresh way to consider the task of crafting an academic essay, well, I’d love to hear that too.

24 Responses to Something from the Bar?

  1. runnerd4 says:

    This gives me a whole new perspective. I definitely need to pay close attention to this for my rewrite.

  2. rowanstudent24 says:

    This is a different way seeing writing for me. I never thought of approaching writing like you’re a waiter guiding your customer to a conclusion.

  3. bigblue821 says:

    I have never heard of this way of thinking about a piece of writing, but i love it. It makes sense to me that you need to cater your piece to your audience and make sure that they come up with the conclusions that you had come up with.

  4. oaktree1234 says:

    I’ve heard similar advice but not quite this exact method of writing an argument. Overall, it’s a pretty new concept to me

  5. cardinal7218 says:

    This metaphor makes a lot of sense and it’s a unique way to teach writing. It’s a smart way to show the most effective way to persuade, which is making the reader feel like they’ve chosen your thesis after you lead them toward choosing it.

  6. thecommoncase says:

    I don’t think I have seen advice like this in any other writing classes, I thought it was helpful. I enjoy looking at writing from weird angles.

  7. clementine102 says:

    This is a new method I learned from you to make the reader be more comfortable and understanding in the position of the writer on a certain topic.

  8. jeffbezos123 says:

    A teacher has never compared writing to a bar before. It helps me understand what to do and not do when trying to make an argument. I think that this will really help!

  9. shadowswife says:

    I was never told or given any advice on how to write aside from being told to “just write.” I never really saw it to be this way and it’s good to at least have a different perspective on writing that could make it easier.

  10. SmilingDogTheProfWants says:

    I don’t believe I’ve ever had this type of advice on how to write a paper, at least not in terms of a metaphor as usually, that’s what we learn to write not learn how to write it. I feel that this method is very caring to the reader and I feel I can implement this information better on a smaller paper that focuses on a small audience.

  11. dayzur says:

    I enjoy this way of thinking about it. It is fresh and new and makes me think about what I have written so far and what I can go back to change in the future. A good demonstration all in all this truly gives me a better sense on the writing.

  12. pardonmyfrench13 says:

    I never had any class compare writing and essay to that of working as a server. I do like this metaphor though and will carry it with me as a tool from now on when writing.

  13. BabyGoat says:

    I have never been taught this way of thinking and writing. I think breaking it down like this will help make the writing easier and better.

  14. 612119d says:

    This help me by breaking down the papper in small parts and if all the small parts work together your paper will come out nice.

  15. mhmokaysure says:

    I’ve never heard of this explanation in forming a strong argument and guiding a reader, which I found very helpful. I think this better explained how to properly guide a reader towards your argument which will be very helpful in the future.

  16. comicdub says:

    I’ve never seen this comparison to this type of writing before, but it seems like it will be very helpful for my rewrites and my writing moving forward.

  17. gooferious says:

    This method of writing is new to me, I remember briefly being told to think outside the box. This method definitely helped me look at my writing in a different perspective. I will try to only persuade my reader to believe what I have to say and not what I don’t know or don’t have enough information about.

  18. sonnypetro29 says:

    I have not received advice like this from any other writing class I have taken. It is very interesting and gives me a new perspective on how I should be writing and how the reader should be reading.

  19. gabythefujoshi18 says:

    I have heard of writing analogies before, but I never heard writing being compared to serving someone at a restaurant. I find this method and way of looking at writing much effective. From this lecture, I understand now that writing is like serving the reader something, persuading them to try something new, and making sure it has value to it.

  20. corinnebuck1219 says:

    I have never heard such a metaphor in any other class before. It visually breaks down our role as the writer and that we are responsible for everything, while the customer is our reader, who may have bias and formed an opinion prior to even reading. Its our job to make them reconsider and happy with their new choice.

  21. tcarter101 says:

    I believe similar to how you saying to how you would have to satisfy a customer at a bar you would have to do the same for your reader and give them the best possible option to make sure that they leave happy

  22. sunshine2818 says:

    This is a knew analogy for me to guide the reader into agreeing with my argument. I never really looked at the readers as a customer. In fact I never really thought of the readers perspective or their possible biasses they had coming into reading my work.

  23. wafflesrgud22 says:

    I have never hear of this approach for my writing, but I do think it does help explain how we are supposed to guide our readers through our essay to the conclusion like a waiter.

  24. aquarela says:

    I thought that the main purpose of a hypothesis would be contradicting readers, because we are defending an opinion and trying to prove that. So the fifth lesson was a new point of view to me, and it makes sense because you want to convince them, not to force them. I like it, it has changed the way I approach my hypothesis.

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