Don’t Replace a Carrot with a Stick

Brent Peterson —  February 12, 2013 — 4 Comments

In Richmond, I frequently walk past the downtown street food carts in search of fresh air and lunch.

The vendor that I always pass first on my walking route is the Indian cuisine guy.

For the record, I’m a big fan of authentic Indian food.

I love the variety of spices and vegetarian options.

But there are less expensive options around the block so I often keep walking.


As I approached the food carts, I discovered I had $5 in my wallet which I figured wasn’t enough for the Indian cart.

But he stopped me in my path so I mentioned I only had $5.

Fortunately, one of the items on the menu fit my budget:

Gobi Masala which is cauliflower with potatoes in ginger, garlic and spices.


VendorCartHe collected my $5 and handed me my lunch.

As I prepared to leave, he stopped me again.

He asked, “Would you like bread with that?”

I replied back quickly, “Absolutely!”

He then handed me a set of carefully wrapped pieces of warm naan bread.

But he didn’t let go.


“$1 please,” he demanded.

“You’re kidding, right?” I asked.

“$1 please.”

“But you already knew I only had $5,” I replied.

“$1 for bread.”


I let go of the bread and walked away.

I haven’t returned since.


Has this type of experience ever happened to you?

It probably and sadly has.


The clear moral of this story is this:

Don’t Replace a Carrot with a Stick.

It’s a good habit to exceed someone’s expectations with something extra (the carrot), but don’t replace it with strings attached.

The carrot then becomes a stick that strikes the other person.

And that one extra offering that was lost impacts something worth a lot more:

The relationship with the person.


The irony in my lunch experience is that the $5 in food I paid for was delicious.

If the vendor had offered me the bread for free this one time (which I assumed he was going to do given his understanding of my funds), I would have happily saved up an extra dollar for my next visit.

(I’m sure it’s not lost on any of us that the individual bread portion probably cost the vendor less than 25 cents to prepare.)

But I am thankful for an experience and lesson that I felt was worth sharing.

(Featured image by Alan via Compfight)


I know I have made this type of communication mistake at home, in the community, or workplace.

We think we know what’s best by “up-selling” our service to others.

Instead think of the relationship first, and choose to not replace the carrot with the stick so quickly.


What are your thoughts or similar experience?


Brent Peterson

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Brent is the author of the Stand & Inspire blog. Stay connected with Brent via free email subscription to Stand & Inspire blog posts. Brent is also the creator of Interview Angel, a popular career toolkit for job seekers to use in interviews. Brent loves to clean the kitchen, play softball, cheer for the Baltimore Orioles, and go cycling on country roads (but not necessarily in that order). He loves public speaking but is afraid of eggs. You can connect with Brent on LinkedIn and Google+ as well.

4 responses to Don’t Replace a Carrot with a Stick

  1. Sadly, he lost you as a return customer. I remember as a teenager going for a haircut during the winter. When the lady was done cutting my hair it was still a little damp. She said, “It’s so cold out, would you like me to give it a quick blow dry?” I thought she was being nice and said yes. When I went to pay, she charged me for it. She never indicated to me that I would have to pay for 2 minutes of blow drying. Too naive back then… but I never went back there.

    • Thanks Yolanda for sharing your story. Wow! It indeed happens to us all. Truthfully, our first nature is to do (what we think) is in our own best interests. So nominal short term decisions become long term mistakes.

  2. Great application, Brent. I recently had a similar experience in a retail store–way too many strings attached to their “birthday gift” of a $10 coupon. I left with nothing (when I would have spent an additional $25-35) and will think hard and long before going back … if I ever do.

    Building relationships is the best customer service.

What are your thoughts?