I love a damned good plate of spaghetti marinara. In fact I’ll drive half- way across town to get a good one. Fresh seafood, garlic, a splash of wine and chilli served with al dente pasta really hits the spot for me.

Two weeks ago I had one of the best ever in one of Melbourne’s oldest and most famous Italian restaurants. The presentation was mind-blowing. It came served in parchment paper that was expertly cut away at the table by the brilliant waiter to reveal a pasta dish that looked and smelled incredible. It tasted even better. Eight of the twelve people on my table chose it and all agreed with my verdict. On top of that the restaurant’s ambience, wine list and exceptional service were first rate. It was a night to remember.

Then disaster struck. The bill arrived for the not unsubstantial sum of $1,200, or $100 each. $400 cash was produced and four credit cards to cover the balance. These were handed to the waiter who politely replied – “we don’t split bills.” We all looked at each other slightly bemused. We explained the circumstances to him but he just repeated the restaurant’s policy. We asked to see the manager. Same thing happened – “we don’t split bills.” Left to ponder our predicament we each decided to pay with cash. This involved four of us making a trip to the nearest ATM (150 metres away), withdrawing the required cash and then returning to the restaurant. It took 15 minutes. Needless to say none of us were impressed and we didn’t leave a tip. We all pledged not to return.

The problem was that the restaurant made the ‘we don’t split bills’ rule in a vacuum, without considering the impact on their customers. It’s a dumb rule. They’d understand this if they put themselves in their customers’ shoes. So what if you have to do a few extra credit card transactions? Big deal. Would you rather have your customers raving about what a great night they had and telling all their friends or recounting the story of the trudge to the ATM?

Many businesses put impediments in front of their customers making it more difficult than it needs to be to do business with them. Most of the time they don’t even realise they are doing it. A company that I was working with sells an affordable, on-line solution that solves a real market problem. They should be a lot more successful than they are. There is nothing wrong with the internals of the business. Their problem is how they face out to the market. The company’s internal dialogue, website and marketing collateral were so complex and long-winded that the core proposition – i.e. “we’ll save you tons of money” – was not clear. Their sales pipeline was light as a result. It didn’t need to be and it was a relatively simple impediment to fix.

In my experience very few companies spend serious time discovering the impediments that stop potential customers doing business with them (or existing customers doing more business with them). They prefer to discuss new growth initiatives and talk about the big picture – they do this because it’s more fun than drilling down on the tough issues like truly understanding why you’re not selling enough and what’s stopping customers buying from you. It may not be sexy but it’s the core of any business.

Get cracking on removing any obvious impediments and then keep digging until your customers start raving about how great it is to do business with you. And finally, if you’re in the restaurant game – put up a sign that says “Of course, we split bills…” Your long term survival may depend on it.

* Here are some cool restaurants for you to ponder.