You Better Know Your Peas and Pasta (And Other Tales About Knowledge)

Beets-236x300 This isn’t about peas and pasta. It’s about beet greens.

For the past two days I have been in St. Charles, IL with an upscale flooring retailer, and a product knowledge question comes up. “How much product knowledge do I need,” asks a new salesperson? My usual response is “Whatever the customer needs to make a good decision.” Then comes the awful look on his face, which says, how will I know how much that is?
The answer: they’re all different. Maybe to be on the safe side you had better know it all.
Which leads me to the real story about product knowledge. I spent many summers with my aunts and uncles, all of whom either owned restaurants or prided themselves on knowing their P’s and Q’s about pasta and sauce. Sauce starts with the best tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes grown in the Agro Nocerino-Sarnese area of Italy are considered to be the finest tomatoes in the world — and with a price tag to go with them.  As a kid you had to know your pastas from A to V — anelli to vermicelli.
So I am in St. Charles, IL and looking for an Italian restaurant; a salad, eggplant and some pasta. One place I come across looks Italian, has an Italian name and the interior smells like garlic. A great start. The menu looks good and how bad can the tomato sauce be? Normally I don’t take any chances, what kind of an Italian would I be if I took the menu at face value? I ask the server would it be okay if I tasted the marinara sauce before I place my order? The reply is a hesitant yes and now I feel like I’m heading down the wrong road. Around the corner comes a formidable-looking Italian male, obviously the owner. He didn’t stop and talk, he obviously was just getting a look at the one who “dares question our marinara sauce.” It reminded me of the movie “The Big Night.” The movie is about two brothers from Italy who come to the US to open a restaurant. They are always angry with the customers because of their lack of respect for spaghetti!
Ok so the sauce is fair and I decided to order it with the chicken and ask that they spice it up!
The salad is served; everything bright green and red like it should be and then I notice a strange green leaf with a red vein down the middle. Hmn, it doesn’t look the Romaine lettuce, it looks like a beet green. I know what they are but I have never eaten them raw. So I ask the server, do you know what kind of leaf this is and she says she doesn’t know but will get the owner. Oh dear, before I could say “don’t” that same man was standing in front of me with that look on his face.  I explain my curiosity about the color of the lettuce and he replies, it’s Romaine.
Well, I should have let it pass but I didn’t. I said, I don’t think so. I knew it wasn’t Romaine. He then says, yes it is and what does it matter?  Well it matters to me, the salad maven. He then adds, “lettuce is lettuce.” Maybe so but this isn’t lettuce.  So it’s at this point that I taste the leaf and realize it is a beet green. I explain my discovery and he shrugs his shoulders and walks away. It looks like a scene from “The Big Night.” The two Italian brothers simply cannot hide their annoyance with the American customers.
But let’s put this in perspective. If you’re a business owner:

  • Listen to the customer, period. Maybe they know something you don’t.
  • Don’t make up answers. The customer might catch you.  Hey, maybe if you listen you will learn something.
  • Learn all you can about your products; you never know what will come up.
  • Give your customers as many ways as possible to try your products. Taste it, smell it, walk on it. This helps customer make good decisions.
  • Take your customer seriously. If you don’t get the question ask the customer why it’s important to them.

Isn’t a smart customer a better customer?

It’s a good thing we didn’t talk tomatoes.


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5 thoughts on “You Better Know Your Peas and Pasta (And Other Tales About Knowledge)”

  1. “Take your customer seriously. If you don’t get the question ask the customer why it’s important to them.” This is a very good point. When we get the answer to such a question, we more fully understand the customer’s concern or need and we can more fully meet that expectation.

  2. Oh my gosh, now I’m hungry for pasta!!! And I learned something about lettuce…or, rather, non-lettuce. Beet green? That’s a new one for me. Thanks for the cooking lesson in addition to the customer service lesson!

  3. Hi Jeff, thank you for taking the time and your important comments. As salespeople we don’t always take the customer seriously or ask them to explain their answer. it’s probably a good thing I didn’t ask for coffee although I don’t know that much about it..Lisbeth

  4. Dear Ms McCabe, as I recall you took me to one of the best Italian restaurants in your area. I can still remember the garlic smell and my favorite linguini and clam sauce! We must do it again. Beet greens are tasty and pretty! Thanks again for your commetn. Lisbeth

  5. Beet Greens – My favorite are from Bulls Blood. Nothing beats (beets) crouching in the warm soil, bare knees scratched with sand, scooting along, and thinning beets. Cast the thinned plants aside? Oh my God, NO! Fresh, young beet greens are the best! I bunch them up (baby beet roots and all), and serve them up to my customers. The first time I did this, the startled customer wanted to know why I was killing a perfectly good looking beet plant. I stifled my laughter, put on my best ‘I’m here to save you from eternal damnation’ farmer face, and proceeded to give my beloved customer an education. The following week, they returned for their fresh veggies, and begged me for more of those succulent beet greens….
    Your Humble Farmer

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