hello there,” I say to a colleague I’ve never met before,
taking care to tilt my head back whilst looking down my nose at
the same time, meanwhile trying to fix her with my eyes. “I
see you’re reading the company newsletter.” She looks
away. No surprises there. Research published earlier this week in
the scientific journal Evolutionary Psychology may have found
that we make ourselves more attractive to the opposite sex if we
tilt our head (back, if you’re a man, forwards if you’re
a woman), but I can’t see how anyone could fail to be alarmed
by a complete stranger flirting with them, whether it’s in
the office, a restaurant or even a party.
know better. Or the restaurant chain Pizza Express certainly does,
having recently hired a communications expert to train its staff
in the art of subtle flirtation and “unique conversation techniques”
in order to boost takings. I went along to a session at their new
restaurant in Richmond, south-west London, to see if I could deliver
a killer head tilt and mean mozzarella and tomato salad with the
best of them.
I met my new
colleagues – a small, friendly group of mainly teenage and
twenty-something waiters and waitresses – at 9am. It’s too
early for polysyllabic conversation, let alone a wink, a nod and
a how’s-your-father. Fortunately, Karl James, our trainer,
eases us in gently, with an interesting discussion about what makes
for good conversation, the key relationships in a restaurant and
how to improve dialogue among them.
James, 46 and
understatedly charming, is a former actor and director who now runs
the Dialogue Project, a company that helps foster better communication.
But what might otherwise have been just another standard training
session heats up when we get on to the topic of flirting –
defined by James as a “way of engaging with people that you
wouldn’t do normally.”
describes how she might help an indecisive customer to choose the
right pizza: “I’d say, ‘Are you a cheese person?
Or maybe you’re in more of a meaty mood’.”
says James. “Very playful.”
of “playfulness” might include asking someone what their
day had been like out of 10, or inquiring why they always chose
the same pizza. Open-ended questions that keep the conversation
going are key. One waiter, described by James as “camp as Christmas,”
is mentioned for the “delicious” way in which he recently
chatted to a large group of girls about their holidays.
to people is the most seductive thing you can do,” says James.
“They’ll fall in love with you. And besides, they’ll
give you huge tips.”