There are two reasons for every restaurant server to be well trained in upselling. First, it increases sales on your tickets, which is beneficial for your restaurant’s bottom line overall and good for your server’s tip at the end of service.
Second, upselling correctly can actually be a benefit to the customer, offering them a more personal dining experience. If your server is able to recommend an item that ends up being the most delicious thing they eat during the whole meal, that kind of service makes a difference to that customer’s experience.
When this works, everyone should feel like they’ve won.
1. Recognizing non-verbal cues
A big part of generating successful upsells over the course of a shift is recognizing non-verbal cues. When starting service for a table, the server should begin by assessing each customer at the table. Do they look like they’re in a big hurry? Are they still and avoiding eye contact? Are they barely looking through the menu as you start them off on drinks?
These could be signs that they’ll see persistent suggestions as intrusive. While your server can still attempt an upsell with these customers, they should be prepared to go lighter and back off if the guest really seems set on what they want to order.
On the other hand, there are plenty of non-verbal cue that signal upselling could be welcome by the guest. Are they searching through the menu and looking indecisive? The guest could very well be looking for guidance on what to get. It could actually be a relief for that kind of guest to have the server make suggestions for them.
Another sign of a good opportunity is the laid back, conversational guest who might be more open to their server’s opinion.
2. Appealing to the guests’ appetites
The biggest part of the upsell is selling — sell them on the choice. Make the dish in question sound really appealing by using enticing (but still accurate) descriptors. When making suggestions, use “if/or” phrasing. “If you like fish, our delicious salmon is paired with roasted root vegetables and a dill sauce.” You’re planting the idea into their heads that if they like the first thing, then this dish is a perfect choice. And yet the “if” allows it to still be a gentle sell rather than an aggressive one.
3. Recognizing when guests want to be sold … or don’t
One of the tricks to upselling is recognizing the golden opportunities. Nothing should excite your server more than hearing the open-ended “What would you recommend?” When that opportunity comes, your servers should lean into assertiveness. This is where they can really drive home the star dishes that make you the most money.
At the same time, pushing the upsell when the customer is clearly not interested isn’t a good idea. Not only will it be unsuccessful in adding more to the ticket, but being too aggressive when the customer doesn’t want to be pitched could lead to an unhappy customer experience overall.
Have your servers try sticking to yes or no questions when attempting to upsell. If the table is only answering with “no thanks,” then they’ll know to ease off for these guests. Yes or no questions offer your server an easy way out if the suggestions just aren’t working for this particular table.
4. Upselling add-ons and customization
Once the guest has ordered an item, your servers should know how to pull from the add-ons already on your menu. “Would you like that with chicken?” should be a natural response to a guest ordering your Caesar salad. If your entrees offer the option to swap out sides for a slight upcharge, then “Did you want to try our creamed spinach with that?” could remind them that the swap-out option is there. Add-ons are helpful for the smooth upsell because the add-ons already have a place within your menu. To your customers, they feel less like an upsell and more like a confirmation of what the table wants to order.
5. Brainstorming amongst your staff
Make upselling tactics a regular part of your staff meetings. Brainstorm with your servers about what works for them so their co-workers can pick up ideas for themselves. As a nice bonus, this also lets your servers brag about their personal successes in a casual setting.
Along with brainstorming, staff meetings give you the opportunity to really stress what items you want them to upsell — it should be a big money maker and also a genuinely popular item, one that your servers can earnestly recommend to their guests.
6. Encouraging healthy competition
Try having a contest among your front-of-house staff to upsell a specific item and provide pairings for the upsell. Make sure that it’s one of your star dishes, that your servers are knowledgable about the item upfront, and that you can easily track the sales through your POS system. Also, make sure your kitchen is prepared to accommodate your servers if and when they boost the orders for this dish.
7. Above all, focusing on the experience
So much of success here is about offering the table what they want… whether they realize it when they first sit down for the meal or not. Christopher Stark, fine dining establishment server at California Grill in Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, spoke to Rewards Network about how upselling can be a natural part of providing a great dining experience:
Personally, I find that upselling is something I do almost automatically. […] For example, when a guest asks for a rum and coke, I will ask if they want Bacardi or Captain Morgan. Or when a couple is each getting a glass of the same wine, asking if they plan on having more of the same and offering them the bottle.
Encourage your servers to view upselling as an enhancement to the dining experience, not simply a sales pitch. Not only will you be making your guests happier, but it might just make it easier for your servers to be enthusiastic about it.
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