A long time ago- lifetimes ago, it seems- I learned maybe the most valuable lesson I have ever learned in the club business. Scratch that. Maybe the most valuable lesson I ever learned in business.
I was running a club called Mississippi Nights at the time. We had a sold out concert featuring the one and only Emmylou Harris. (What an unbelievable talent, be the way). At any rate, we have a sold out, seated concert. The crowd seems happy and they are drinking like fish, so I am happy. Rich Frame, the owner of the club, is at the show with his wife Mary.
Emmylou takes the stage and the crowd gets dead silent, hanging on every word she sings. It’s beautiful- all you hear is this amazing songbird and the occassional ‘ch-ching’ of the cash register. Music to my ears.
About three songs in to the set, Frame walks up to me and simply says- No more ringing drinks, it’s ruining the show.
Now here is the dark little secret of the nightclub business, friends. We’re not in the ticket selling business. It’s great to sell tickets, important even, but we are in the drink selling business. That’s where the money is. And the guy who got all the money at that time just told me to quit selling drinks. Hmmm…
Of course, those that are smarter than me will notice very quickly that he didn’t say not to sell drinks, just not to ring them. So we quickly devised a little checklist, left the cash register drawers open, and silently sold drinks the rest of the night while keeping a running tally of what we sold.
Only people in the industry will understand how remarkable that is. We lost all of our carefully formulated controls at that point. We had six bartenders and four waitresses who we now had to trust completely to be honest about what we were selling and how much money they were taking. It was a massive gamble.
But the gamble was based on this- had we kept ringing drinks and interrupting the occasional song, most people would have not noticed a bit- they would have still really enjoyed the show. Instead, a little buzz went through the crowd as everybody who bought a drink noticed what we were doing and figured out why we were doing it.
Emmylou was amazing that night. Top ten concerts I have ever seen. But that gamble stole the show. Every fan that night ended up telling their friends “yeah, and the show was so quiet, the music was so beautiful, they couldn’t even ring their cash registers.”
What’s the lesson? There is a tiny little sliver of difference between good and extraordinary- and it is always a gamble to go for the latter.
What is the tiny difference that will make us extraordinary?