After-Dinner Mints

My favorite Seattle restaurant scores high on three dimensions: friendly staff, reasonable prices, and tasty food. Aptly called Amazing Thai, the small joint is pick-up, call-in only. When you meet the smiling owner to pay, he watches you leave a tip. If you do, he smiles a little wider and hands you an Andes mint.

To mint or not to mint

This extra gesture is a memorable part of Amazing Thai. Beyond the funny interaction of inspecting the tip, the mints shape my memory of the restaurant. I’m not a food-oriented person, so I tend to forget the names of places I’ve dined, but I rarely forget the ones that give a complementary sweet thing. Taste of India (on the same street, funnily enough) has a generous bowl of candy by the door. Quaker Steak & Lube in Greenville, SC gives Twizzlers with the check. Every Olive Garden experience ends with an Andes mint melting in your mouth.

Something about this extra gesture is magical.

Showing Up

You’ve probably seen a cringey LinkedIn post called “10 things that require zero talent” that lists things like being on time, having a work ethic, being coachable, and doing extra. Some may say this list portrays a puritanical hangover reinforcing the base of late-stage capitalism, while others may eye-roll at its kitschiness. But one over-arching theme is transcendently valuable: showing up.

Showing up on time demonstrates respect for the people we meet, showing up prepared removes uncertainty for ourselves and others, and showing up with extra (time, energy, and resources) shows we care. While these things don’t require talent, showing up is not always easy, and we often feel too stressed to do the bare minimum, let alone extra.

I think that’s because we view “extra” as something big—an extra hour of work, taking on an extracurricular activity, or being extra-thoughtful or thorough. But “extra” doesn’t need to be large to make an impact. Saying please and thank you, sending a meeting agenda, remembering a birthday, or spending an extra minute to align the boxes on a slide are all seen as “extra” because many people don’t do them.

A small, extra gesture is magical.

The Tail-End

The serial positioning effect describes our tendency to remember the beginning and end of an experience.

Backpacking is a quintessential example. We start with clean gear and dry boots on a sunny day. Along the way, we trip over roots, scrape our knees, get drenched from rain, endure the reek of sweaty socks, and arise with stiff backs after sleeping on rocks. Yet, when we return to the trailhead a few days later, we’re elated about the beautiful landscape, and the endorphins of expended effort boost our mood.

The serial positioning effect on a backpacking trip

Primacy bias spurs us to care about first impressions, and recency bias steers us to index on the tail-end. So, in the context of a dining experience, our memories gravitate toward the after-dinner mints.

A small, extra gesture at the right time is magical.

From Good to Memorable

Although mints became a post-dining staple for their help with digestion, mints aren’t a cure-all. An excellent final impression won’t make up for an otherwise terrible experience. But that little something extra can turn an already good experience into a memorable one.

We need not be restauranters to use after-dinner mints. We can generalize this concept to something more practical: Go 1% over expectations when ending an experience.

  • After visiting a friend, text them to say you enjoyed seeing them.
  • After an interview, reach out to thank the interviewers.
  • When departing a get-together, leave the unopened wine bottle for the host.
  • When resigning from a job, send a thoughtful farewell email.

These small gestures stand out because most people forget to do them. Showing up, doing a little extra, and leaving on a high note will make you memorable.

Be generous with after-dinner mints.