Read D.F.'s bio and previous columns
January 7, 2008
Fat Guy at the Buffet:
Just Like the Retainer-Abusing Client
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.
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.
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
But thatís because they donít eat in the same way.
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
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.
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
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?
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