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Best servers know how to 'assume the sale'

Selling is not a bad word, but many restaurateurs don’t train their staff to sell. Is it because they think that selling is pushy or the guest might be turned off? Maybe they’re just too busy with all the other details of running a restaurant to even think about it. This is a limiting mindset preventing those restaurants from realizing their true potential and success. More importantly, effective selling is really about enhancing the guest experience and there is no time better spent.

So how do you sell and serve?

Think of it this way: Day after day in restaurants across the country, new customers are constantly coming through the door. Maybe they saw an ad, maybe someone referred them or maybe they just liked the look of your place as they drove by. Point is, these customers know nothing about your food, your concept or what makes your restaurant special to regulars.

If you give them a menu and simply take the order, you’re losing an opportunity and the guest has an ordinary experience. Any restaurant can do that, but here’s where the selling and the competitive advantage come in: Your restaurant is a desirable destination full of opportunities—all the products you sell that guests would enjoy, if they knew about them. It’s also the opportunity for the guest to return again soon after they have had an enjoyable experience in your restaurant. Too many guests leave your restaurant without getting the full experience. Have you thought about what you want every guest experience to be? Product knowledge is power and when your staff are trained to suggest opportunities that enhance the experience, sales will naturally follow. So why not assume the sale? Doing so will enhance your service.

A server's job is not easy, but it's the easiest sales job I know. Why?

Unlike selling a product door to door or over the phone where there’s resistance to the approach, in a restaurant you don’t have prospects, you have customers. It’s a captive audience and the guests in your restaurant are ready, willing and able to buy. On top of that, they really want to know what you’re selling. So tell them. Suggest, give choices, bring them to life and make the sale.

Case in point: My wife and I went out to brunch for Mother’s Day here in Sun Valley. It was a beautiful spring morning and we were seated outside amidst lots of other moms celebrating with their families. Our server immediately suggested that either a mimosa or Bloody Mary would be a festive way to kick off my wife’s special day. “Which sounds good to you?” she asked—an effective example of assuming the sale. It’s easy to say yes when a server appealingly describes something and you can visualize it and imagine how it will add to your experience. My wife ordered and certainly enjoyed her Bloody Mary, thanks to our server.

Last week, we went out to try a new family-casual burger place that opened in town. I’m always impressed with restaurants that just seem to get “consistent” service. Here the entire team were heard suggesting the “hand cut” house special fries or sweet potato fries, which were served ala carte. Their presentation was so compelling that we and all the parties around us had to order some fries to see what all the buzz was about. The fries were very tasty and we were glad we took our server’s suggestion.

Training servers to assume the sale by suggesting and giving choices at every table, every time will increase your sales of these items, your profits and, most importantly, your guest’s experience. 

To assume the sale, your service team must be comfortable with their product knowledge and confident making suggestions and entertaining their customers with this knowledge. As a service team, develop the sales and service approach that works best for your restaurant. Then dazzle your guest and watch the cash register ring.

Have a challenging question? Bring it on. I’ll gladly answer reader questions through this space, liking us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram (#ASKRESTAURANTROCKSTARS) or via email.

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