Hugging your customer

Cuegrass Festival outside The Pit BBQ in Raleigh, NC via Flying Rooster on Flickr

I’ve written about my love affair with The Pit BBQ in downtown Raleigh before. They won me over the very first time I visited in 2008 because of their good food and even better attention to detail.

The Pit is not some high-priced fancy restaurant that only the beautiful people can get in to. You can get in and out for lunch in under 30 minutes for about $12.

They have a secret sauce that I haven’t run across in any other restaurant in the area, and it’s the same one that your grandmother added to all her recipes.


I don’t eat at The Pit as often as I would like, but every single time I do, someone there comes over and says hello to me. For a year or two it was usually one of the waitresses (who has now become a manager) who would see me from her section across the restaurant and come over to hug me and talk to me for a few minutes. That type of greeting is not in any handbook, I can assure you.

There has been a dozen occasions where desert will appear, with the waiter explaining that they’re happy to see me and my group back at The Pit.

That treatment is great for me, and I’ll admit I’ve become spoiled by it, but what about everyone else?

I have no doubt there have been people through there that have experienced less than awesome service, but everything is set up to limit that. The management team at The Pit has figured out what I consider a perfect way to serve customers, make sure the wait staff makes good money and maximize profits all while delighting their customers.

Every table has 3 people looking after it. That doesn’t mean there are three times the staff, they just tag team their section. What that allows for is time to connect with each table without stressing out that some other table is waiting.

BBQ plate at The Pit

BBQ plate at The Pit

No matter how long I chat up someone there, they are always attentive and patient. If that is in a handbook someplace, it is, it’s brilliant, I think it has more likely just become the culture there. Everyone likes to feel valued, even if all you’re doing is eating some barbecue and sweet potato fries.

The servers then police themselves. They only want other servers who will love their customers as much as they do, so people who don’t fit the mold don’t stay around very long. They get with the program or find someplace less awesome to work.


The culture of The Pit is am amalgamation of smart people doing their artistry for a group of followers that understand and value the performance. I am lucky enough to count Eric Harris as a friend. Eric was one of the managers at The Pit back when I first found it. Eric later explained to me that it wasn’t an accident that I fell in love, he had planned every step. He explained how they kept tabs on their social media evangelists. How he eventually had a few of our Twitter profile pictures taped behind the hostess station so that they could let him know if any of us came in. Eric took his opportunity to delight his best customers. There is no way that dedication to excellence went unnoticed by the other employees. It raises every other employees game to a new level.

You can not delight and amaze everyone. What you can do is build a tribe that understands what you’re trying to accomplish and lead that tribe, love that tribe and trust that tribe. Don’t worry about the people outside the tribe who don’t understand. The effort it will take to half-convince them is better spent taking care of your tribe.

When people talk to me about my love of The Pit, I always end up explaining that the food, while delicious, is secondary to the feeling you get when you walk in the door, sit down and a smiling face greats you to explain the difference between Eastern and Western BBQ sauce.

Leave a Reply