The Garbage Burger: A True Tale About Service, Selling and Repeat Business

February 17, 2015 | 8976 Views

The Garbage Burger: A True Tale About Service, Selling and Repeat Business

Jim Sullivan


By Jim Sullivan, CEO

I recently had lunch with a friend and co-worker at a popular Denver-area sports bar. I remember the occasion well because that’s the day I had a “Garbage Burger” for the very first time. The experience forever changed the way I think about the connection between service, selling and repeat business.

George asked if I wanted to check out the aforementioned restaurant--known for their burgers and beer--for lunch. I met him there athalf past noon. After being seated, an enthusiastic server named Annie greeted us with a smile, two big ice-waters, and a quick once-over. “First time here, guys?” Yep, I said. “You like burgers?” she asked. We nodded.

“Good,” she said, “Cuz even if you didn’t, you’ll love ours. They’re a third-pound of 100% ground chuck and they’re fresh, not frozen, ever.”

She paused.

“Close your menus,” she sweetly suggested. “Let me make this easy on you.”

Intrigued, we complied. “I want to make this the best lunch ever…Here’s what I’m thinking…” She paused again to insure she had our attention. She did.

“Do you like mushrooms and onions? Yes? Good. Because our mushrooms are jet fresh from Pennsylvania, and we saute them in red wine and beef bullion.  We use fresh Vidalia onions, straight from Georgia, the sweetest and best there are. Sound good?” We both nodded, our mouths beginning to water. “Here’s the plan,” she continued. “We char-grill two ground chuck burgers, cover them with the sautéed mushrooms and Vidalia onions, and top them off with a slice of Wisconsin cheddar cheese. We’ll put it in the broiler until that cheese gets bubbly and melts all over the burgers, mushrooms and onions. We put them on a butter-grilled-toasted sourdough bun with lettuce, tomato, and dill pickle, and fill up the plate with our fresh-cut homemade skin-on chips, and then…”

“We’ll take em,” said George, cutting her off. “Yes,” I agreed, “we’ll have the burgers!” We were both salivating. She smiled sweetly. “Just one more thing I’d suggest: two cups of our homemade green chili on the side. You can dip each bite of the burger in the chili and you won’t believe how good it tastes. It’s not on the menu, but we call it a ‘Garbage Burger.’ It is the best sandwich you’ll ever have. Sound good?” Good?! We could have ordered and eaten her description.

That Garbage Burger was the messiest, drippiest, juiciest, gooiest, sloppiest and cheese-dripping-est best lunch I’ve ever had, hands down. We devoured every morsel of this truly interactive and delicious meal, and went through about four napkins each. A regular burger and fries at this restaurant listed at $7.95. The loaded Garbage Burger cost us each $3.55 more, but we didn’t mind, not when you’re in the hands of a great server who knows how to connect with her guests and make a memory. We groaned at her pumpkin bread cheesecake dessert suggestion, but leapt at the recommendation that we each take one home to share with our wives after dinner that night. “Tasty, and thoughtful,” she advised. We agreed and each got one to go. Our tab came to $33 and we left Annie a $20 tip. The experience was worth every penny. We talked about it all the way home, told our wives, friends, neighbors, and even enthusiastically shared the experience with several colleagues at our next weekly staff meeting.

Two of those folks were so inspired, they decided to go to the restaurant after the meeting to get their own Garbage Burger. They had high expectations, but unfortunately, Annie was not working that day, and disappointingly, the experience was not the same. When they requested the Garbage Burger, their server stared blankly back at them. “Never heard of it,” she said. That’s OK, our colleagues explained, it’s got mushrooms, cheese, and sautéed onions on it, and—but the server hastily interrupted. “Those are all extra,” she snapped. No problem they explained, they had the money and still wanted them on the burger, and they’d also like a side of the homemade green chili to dip the burger into. “Gross!” the server replied. “Seriously? You wanna dip it in spicy green chili?” They replied in the affirmative, she shrugged and wrote it down. Before she left the table she warned, “I’ll add this all up first and let you know how much these are going to cost before I turn it in to the kitchen.” Ouch. Not surprisingly, her mood affected the food and the meal was as disappointing as the service. One of our friends later called me at work and asked: “What in the world did you guys see in that place? Our waitress acted like we were interrupting her job rather than being the reason for it.”

True story, every bit of it, and there are three lessons to be learned from it, even if you do not operate full-service sit-down restaurants:

  1. in the hands of a great crew person—or delivery driver--who connects with them, customers will happily spend more money at your restuarant,
  2. a great team member experience means that current customers will enthusiastically recruit additional customers for you, and
  3. if your unit managers only hire or develop SOME team members or only train some of their crew to suggestively sell, then only some customers are likely to have a habitually consistent experience. Since consistency is the foundation of trust and trust is the foundation of sales and repeat business, can you see what happens when  one customer-facing team member is trained well and the others are not? 

Customers want us to respect three things in exchange for their business: their time, their trust and their money. Smart operators earn that respect by hiring smart, providing value in every interaction, and habitually consistent daily development and training.

And you can take this to the bank: CHART members provide this crucial resource and value every day. Yeah, it's been said amillion times before, but repetition is the Mother of Learning: No Train, No Gain.

Jim Sullivan contributes to Fast Company, Inc, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Nation's Restaurant News. He has been a CHART member for over 20 years. You can check out his training catalog at and follow him on Twitter @Sullivision.

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Comments (3)

  1. Marian Cooper:
    Nov 13, 2021 at 05:15 PM

    I really love the impact of experiencing a genuine situation that motivates and excites the heart with spirit! That is what your story about Annie did for me. Enjoying truly a pleasure to be with and sharing the enthusiasm with everyone.

  2. Dan Jones:
    Dec 17, 2021 at 10:02 AM

    Great lesson to learn to sell the benefits of your product. what you will be getting if you buy this plan. If the customer feels there is a value add to their purchase, typically price is not even an issue.

  3. Dan Jones:
    Dec 17, 2021 at 10:02 AM

    Great lesson to learn to sell the benefits of your product. what you will be getting if you buy this plan. If the customer feels there is a value add to their purchase, typically price is not even an issue.