Think Like the Chef, Not the Waiter

Are you the chef or the waiter? This is a question and a game we play at Crobar with new Account Executives. A very annoying game according to them. But, it is an extremely valuable training technique nonetheless. Being an Account Executive that acts like a waiter is just an order taker. And that’s dangerous. Dangerous for the employee if they are wanting to keep their job. Dangerous for the advertising agency looking to keep clients happy. Clients have one goal in business: to make money. They hire ad agencies and marketing firms to facilitate the “making money” part. So, just taking orders will never cut it. You have to put yourself in their shoes and figure out what they need and what will make their jobs easier.

Don’t get me wrong, you still have to be the best waiter the client has ever seen, too. You can take orders, write up creative briefs, job starts, estimates… on and on. And do it with a “more coffee, ma’am?” attitude — sincere, happy, and let’s throw grateful in there too. But to take it to the next level, you have to think like a chef, not a waiter. That means knowing the mindset and struggles of who you serve. For us, it means thinking like our clients and our client’s customers.

One of my first jobs in high school was the shift-leader at a Wendy’s restaurant. The manager would tell stories about meeting Dave Thomas. Ya know, the sweet grandfather image that we saw on TV commercials before his death. Well, the man was different than the image, for sure. My manager would say that Dave would roll into a restaurant, as he often did on his road trips, and before he would even say hello he would ask, “what are you doing for sales?” My manager’s point of this story was to suggest if you are just doing a basic job (like being just a waiter) then you are missing the bigger picture. Everyone that wants to advance their careers should heed this lesson. Especially at an advertising agency.

And, as I have mentioned before in a separate blog, from this you will have ample reasons to list all of the things you need to accomplish for your clients.

Below is a running list of thoughts we try to encompass every day. In no way is this a complete list, nor do I think there is ever an end.



  1. What can you do to sell more products?
  2. What do they need now?
  3. What would they appreciate the agency doing?
  4. What are their fears? Strengths? Weaknesses? (Think SWOT analysis here, both marketing and personal.)
  5. What could you do to make their job easier?
  6. What would make them shine to their superiors?


Todd Kinley

J. Todd Kinley

Founder | Executive Creative Director: Crobar Creative Leverage. Husband, Father, and Moose owner. Lover of art, photography, golf, and strategy. Follow me: