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Stop, look, listen – then show ’em the magic

Have you seen the Will Smith movie Hitch?

I saw it last week, loved it. It’s showing its age now (14 years) but in a good way, set in a time when cycle couriers wandered into corporate offices and people swapped numbers by actually writing them down on paper with actual pens.

‘Hitch’ is Alex Hitchens (Smith) who helps clients snag their dream dates. But the date doctor extraordinaire falls for workaholic newspaper columnist Sara Melas (Eva Mendes). The problem? She’s wayyyy too busy for dating – not even interested. Yet despite her reluctance and plot-line coincidences as far-fetched as playing frisbee with a pizza and a fox (hey, it’s a rom-com), he wins her over.

Best scene? In the bar, a quarter of the way in, when Hitch first meets his prospect, Melas. She’s being hit on by a guy called Chip who’s battering her with clichés and presumptions.

It’s painful.

Enter Hitch. He swoops in, gets her attention, listens, responds, then leaves her wanting more.

How does he do it?

First, let’s look why Chip fails miserably.

He’s a walking cheesemeister (“I couldn’t help notice you look a lot like my next girlfriend…”) with his own agenda. He doesn’t know how to deviate from his script and he’s not interested in hearing hers. “Try to listen…” she suggests, when he cuts over her with his you-have-fantastic-eyes patter, plugging away with the same tired lines. Then realising he’s heading for the night bus to nowhere, he suddenly makes it her problem. “Are you always so shut-down and afraid?” (No, Chip, you’re doing it all wrong. She’s just not diggin’ you.)


Hitch, however, nails it. In barely two sips of a Grey Goose martini, he piques her interest and leaves her wanting more. “Pleasure to have met you, Sarah Melas,” he chimes, as he floats away before she can catch him.

What’s his magic formula?

  1. He’s one step ahead. He’s been eavesdropping on her conversation with Chip and knows when to swoop in. He knows his competition and where they’re going wrong.
  2. He’s done his research. He’s already gleaned some intel on her from the barman. The martini Chip dumped on her table is wrong, so he has it whisked away. So far, so smooth…
  3. He identifies with her fears and the same old problems that bug her by spinning a mock-fictitious story about the horrors of men chatting up women in bars. By now she’s nodding slowly, intrigued, reassured, starting to trust him.
  4. He leaves her wanting more. He takes off as a fresh martini is delivered to her, “from the gentleman who just left”. She’s out of her seat, considering calling him back, but he’s vanished. They haven’t even written their phone numbers down.

But guess what?

He follows up the next day.

He has a dorky cycle courier deliver her a walkie-talkie to her at her desk and arranges a date with her. He makes her an offer she can’t refuse and hears the magic YES. Bingo.

But why am I telling you this? This isn’t a dating site. This is about the hospitality industry – the business of tea, coffee, food and lots more besides.

Well, because among the farcical dancing, kissing and how-to-talk-on-the-phone lessons with Hitch’s clients, there are lessons that can be applied to business.

What can we learn from Hitch’s approach? Plenty.

#1 Research your prospects. It’s impressive and it pays off. Being one step ahead can be the difference between a shrug and a sale. 

#2 Know what your competitors are up to. Then consider copying some of their tricks – but do it better.

#3 The same script doesn’t work with everyone. Tailor yours accordingly.

#4 Listen and empathise. Then listen some more. Then respond TO WHAT YOU HEARD. Make your offer solve the problem that you just heard about.

#5 Make it easy for people to say YES and make it easy for them to get started straight away.

#6 And if you can pull all that off… Be creative and be fun so they remember you. Think walkie-talkie. Now take 4 minutes out with a coffee and enjoy the bar scene below…