Why All Free Samples Should be Served With a Metal Spoon

By Jonathan Goodman | Follow Him on Twitter

The smartest men, women, and companies design ways to accomplish tasks that are too big to consider or to time-consuming to make financial viable.

My girlfriend and I had just finished a workout. She trained hard and in between trying to catch glances of her in the mirror, I probably pressed some stuff up and down a couple times.

We were famished and decided to get some food.

In front of a green sign there stood two girls, somewhere around 20 years old, dressed in black slacks and a white button up shirt with a tray. On the tray was a collection of tiny paper cups, the kind they use to offer free samples of food. As we approached, one girl said “tiramisu”. Even though she could have easily said “eat my shoe?” and I still would have tried some I was so hungry.

We both grabbed a paper cup and looked at the dessert, it wasn’t finger food and needed a utensil.

“Want a spoon?”

the girl said. I picked up a metal spoon and started to walk away but immediately stopped myself. They got me. I was trapped.

The goal of giving away a free sample is to let a passerby try your food and ideally give yourself an opportunity to speak with them. If she gave me a plastic spoon I would have walked away without even getting the name of the restaurant.

But because the spoon was metal, I was forced to stay so that I could return the metal spoon to the girl upon finishing. The polite thing when somebody gives you a free treat is to ask them about it. Unconsciously I acquiesced, “so what’s this place about?” I asked. She told me that it was a vegan, gluten free, Italian restaurant that just opened.

Vegan, gluten-free food is NOT a thing. Gnocci doesn’t mean lentils wrapped in lettuce. Sorry.

But we were already committed and hungry, my girlfriend and I walked in and had lunch. $34 later, we waved to the girls outside goodbye. Well played blouses, well played.

I used to interview a lot of personal trainers for a high end personal training studio in Toronto. The questions were mostly standard.

But inserted in the middle of the interview questionnaire was a curve ball: If you were an animal, what animal would you be and why?

When I asked the owner about the question, he told me that it had nothing to do with personality but everything to do with how people react to being made uncomfortable. That question quickly became the most important question of the interview that I asked.

The majority of the clientele at that facility were not high end athletes. They were regular affluent people who wanted to have more energy, maybe lose some weight, and looked at the workout as a form of a stress relief.

The difference between the best fitness program in the World and one that is just OK for 98% of exercises is nominal. What matters is whether the exerciser will do it, and this is largely dependent on self-efficacy (the belief that one can achieve). When it comes to personal training, self-efficacy on the clients part comes largely from the perception that a program is right for them and this is communicated unconsciously through the confidence of the personal trainer.

Unfortunately the fitness industry is rife with lies, dishonesty, and emotion based selling. Correlation rarely reflects causation and sensationalistic claims in the mass media are the norm. As a result, clients come in with all types of questions. I decided that the most important quality a trainer could have to ensure that his or her clients got great results, was the ability to confidently react when thrown a curve ball with a question.

Usually these questions had to do with the newest magic pill that was being promoted. Think raspberry ketones, green coffee, muscle confusion or a host of other stuff that might work but should definitely not the be the focus of an exercise program. The ability of a trainer to instill confidence in his or her client by answering a question calmly with an answer or by saying, “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out for you,” was the most important quality that we were looking for in new hires.

If a trainer got flustered by my question about what animal they wanted to be, they weren’t hired. If they smiled, took a second to compose themselves, and gave me an answer, they were probably in. We could teach them everything they needed to know about exercise. But the intangible quality of reacting properly after being thrown a curve ball was our non-negotiable.

Perhaps the most famous example of design thinking is from legendary rock and roll band Van Halen. At a time when most contract riders (an additional document to the contract which may contain additional terms, specifications, and provisions) were a page or two long, Van Halen’s was, in David Lee Roth’s words, “the size of a Chinese phone book”. The band played a technically advanced show with specific requirements for weight bearing structures and electrical capabilities.

If the concert promoter didn’t read the entire rider, the results were potentially life-threatening for the band. The seemingly outlandish demand for no brown M&M’s on page 40 of the rider was to ensure that every line was checked. If brown M&M’s were present, the band was known to trash dressing rooms for effect so that it didn’t happen again.

Here’s David Lee Roth talking about the infamous brown M&M’s:

Identify the Non-Negotatiable

In order to design a system that works for you like the above examples, you must first identify your non-negotiable.

In the above 3 examples, the non-negotiables were:

  • Having an opportunity to talk about the positive attributes of the restaurant in exchange for a free sample.
  • Figuring out how an applicant does when he or she is made uncomfortable.
  • Making sure that the promoter has read the entire contract.

After you figure out what the one non-negotiable is with whatever you’re trying to accomplish, design a check to accomplish it.



  1. Mario Moreno says:

    Great read! I work as a personal trainer, and not a day goes by that a client asks a question I can’t answer. I always head home that evening and search for an answer to that question, either by browsing through health/fitness manuals or a legit source on the web. It may take up much more time out of my day to do so, but it’s much better than coming up with a bullshit response that will inevitably come back to haunt you in some way.

    Just one more thing, and I feel comfortable mentioning this only because the content of the article relates to an attention to detail: The person speaking in the video is David Lee Roth, not Eddie Van Halen.

  2. Correct me anytime Mario. I’ve made the change. Thanks bro.

  3. Vegan food, Van Halen, and Personal Training interviewees, all in the same article. I think I’m in love. In a totally platonic way, of course.

  4. :)