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About Sake Jan Velthuis
Alumnus Sake Jan Velthuis (cohort 1999) is a former bartender. Currently, he is a teacher in Neuromarketing for the Commercial Economics course at NHL Stenden. He is doing PhD research on commercial friendship at the University of Tilburg at the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, where he is connected to the research group of Cognitive Neuropsychology. He works with the Experience Lab of Breda University and he is a researcher at the research group Hospitality Studies of the Hotel Management School in Leeuwarden.

Service with a friend
The hospitality industry is very competitive. Many suppliers offer comparable products with their services. Guests can easily switch from one company to another because these places are all in the same city center. Your competitor can buy and sell any special brew you have and hire any band or artist that performed on your podium last weekend. Any attempt to be unique is copied easily.
Next, guests have become more experienced and demand a high level of service. They have seen it all in many different cities. Every new thing you create becomes old after your guests have seen it just a few times. They need novelty to keep them coming back, and so you, as a hospitality professional, are left innovating and improving without knowing if the investment will pay off in the end.

There is a solution to this problem, and it is called “commercial friendship.” This concept can be described as a bond between a host and a guest, which is similar to normal friendship, but it was formed in a commercial setting. It is common in Dutch cafés, where people sit at the bar and have long and intimate talks with the bartender. At these moments, a relationship is formed. This sometimes ends up in friendlike relations that could even extend outside the servicescape and into private lives. In contrast with the decline in value after reusing a service, friendships gain in value after multiple pleasurable encounters. To be profitable, you must invest in commercial friendships with your guests.
We know from regular friendships that people become friends when they have multiple pleasurable interactions with each other. To build a relationship, a person should listen, encourage, and reassure when conversing with someone. During these conversations, people build trust and liking. They’ll start sharing more intimate details about themselves. The result is that people experience companionship, feel good about themselves, and generally feel happier.

We don’t know if the principles that work in regular friendships also work in commercial friendships. The first and foremost difference is that a friendship is consensual in normal situations. Both people have a social need to invest in a relationship. In a commercial friendship, there is an ulterior motive, namely, revenue. This means commercial friendships always start transactional.

The problem with building friendships is that it can backfire. A bartender that behaves like a normal friend, can evoke true feelings of friendship in the guest. When it is all pretending, and the guest finds out, this is seen as a betrayal. The bartender turns out to be a fake friend. This leads to negative feelings towards the bartender and the place he is working.

There is a lot more we don’t know yet. Do guests believe it to be a real friendship? Do friendships in commercial settings evolve in a similar way as normal friendships would? Are there different types of relationships? How do bartenders feel about having relationships with the people they serve? So many questions come together: What is the secret of the bartenders that have built many positive relationships with customers that become regular and loyal guests?

To answer this question, the research group Hospitality Studies of the Hotel Management School in Leeuwarden has started a research project on this topic. Sake Jan Velthuis will dedicate his entire PhD-research to developing commercial friendships in Dutch cafés. In several studies combining different research methods, he will unveil how relations can be built that benefit all parties involved.

Looking for respondents!
If you are interested, you can help with this research. We are currently looking for people who have (had) a personal bond with a guest or bartender in a Dutch café. If you are willing to be interviewed, please let us know by emailing If you want to be apprised of further developments, you can send an email to the same address.

A research proposal on this topic was published as a scientific article (DOI:10.1080/22243534.2022.2080936), which can be found here.