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January 7, 2008

Fat Guy at the Buffet: Just Like the Retainer-Abusing Client


I am a fair-minded, modern type of guy. I cook and do the dishes. I tried going to the Ladiesí Literary Society once, but it was dumb.


So I donít think Iím the type of guy who would normally defend discrimination. But some types of discrimination are justified. In fact, basic principles of business demand it.


I keep seeing headlines about massive eaters being banned from buffet restaurants. Each such headline implies the shocking injustice of it all. Itís weightism! Or perhaps appetitism! Who are these backwards, closed-minded bigots who would tell face-stuffing, portly-Americans that they canít indulge themselves to their heartís content?


After all, lesser consumers of edible goods are not treated in the same way.


But thatís because they donít eat in the same way.


To make sense of this, I ask that you consider the nature of the business retainer. Anyone with experience in business will understand the retainer concept. You have an agreement with a client to provide services, and the client pays a set fee Ė usually on a monthly basis Ė for that service.


The most common retainer my company has had with clients is $2,000 a month. Why $2,000? I have no idea. Maybe itís just an easy amount to negotiate. But I tend to be able to get clients to sign on for $2,000-a-month retainers, so Iíve always had quite a few of them.


The amount of time I spend providing the agreed-to service has to somewhat reflect what Iím getting back from the retainer. If I have to spend the majority of my time providing the service, then $2,000 a month isnít nearly enough. So before I suggest a retainer amount, I need to have reasonable assurance that the clientís expectation wonít require me to provide more service than the retainer will justify.


This can cut both ways. Sometimes a client will agree to a retainer amount and youíll find it difficult to deliver enough value to justify the retainer, in which case youíre in danger of losing the account unless you can somehow provide more value, or unless you are willing to negotiate a lower retainer amount.


Iíve had situations in which the retainer was set, and the clientís demand for services ended up being far in excess of what the retainer justified. If the client continues to demand the high level of service, but wonít increase the retainer, you might have to consider dumping the client.


With all that in mind, consider an all-you-can-eat restaurant to be nothing more than a big, delicious-smelling collection of $7.95 retainers. Everyone who comes in pays the set amount, and in return they get all they want.


Where the restaurant makes money is in the proposition that most peopleís eyes are bigger than their stomachs Ė not to mention the fact that you donít need as much wait staff. Obviously there will be some customers who eat more food than the $7.95 would buy them in a conventional restaurant, but thatís part of the overall picture. As long as the average eater doesnít chew up and spit out your profits, youíre good to go.


But what about the giant, vacuum-cleaner, gorge eater? You know the kind of person Iím talking about. He buys his clothes from Metro Tent & Awning. His pants all have elastic waistbands. Heís ready to eat and he ainít petite. And when he shows up, youíd better keep the fresh supplies of steak, chicken, pizza, potatoes and pie at the ready, because heís coming back for more. And more. And more . . .


This is your retainer-abusing client. If your deal with him was a $2,000-a-month flat service fee, this is the guy whoíd be calling you at three in the morning four times a week asking for help with stuff. Heíd ask for three and four re-dos on everything, just because he could. Youíd be losing money on the deal, and youíd know it, and youíd strongly consider resigning from the account.


When the buffet restaurant bans the gorging fat guy, thatís all it is doing. Itís resigning from the account. Itís a rational business decision based on the numbers Ė whether the numbers measure dollars, chicken wings or trips to the line for slices of cake.


I realize this is arguably illegal. If you put a sign in your window that says ďAll You Can EatĒ with no caveats, it probably is discrimination to pick out certain people and say it doesnít apply to them.


So I suggest a caveat. At D.F.ís Buffet, the sign will read: ďAll You Can Eat Provided You Donít Wolf Food Like Itís Going Out of Style. Then We Reserve the Right to Ban You. Come to Think of It, Even Elastic Waistbands Will Make Us Keep a Close Eye on You. So Watch It. But Enjoy the Buffet. Just Not Too Much. Welcome!Ē


Hmm. Too long?


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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