There’s a fine art to upselling. Whether it’s suggesting the perfect red wine to accompany a juicy steak, an amazing appetizer to get a group’s appetite geared up for more or the ultimate dessert that will keep them raving for the rest of the week, upselling is a vital component of any profitable restaurant. Here are some suggestions to keep your upselling going strong throughout the coming year.
1. Don’t ask the obvious. “Never ask the guest if they want to see a menu,” says Corrine Burke, g.m. of Salvatore's in Boston. “Bring it over automatically and tell the guest the favorites.” Along those same lines, don’t ask simple questions such as ‘Would you like an appetizer?’ or ‘Can I put your drink order in?’ Servers should always have restaurant or personal recommendations and the reasons why.
2. Allow staff to try the specials. You can’t sell what you’ve never tasted. “Have the staff try all the specials during premeal so they can make suggestions to the guest tableside and genuinely give their opinion on their favorite items,” suggests Burke. Tammy Laney, district manager at Florida-based Bento Café: Asian Kitchen + Sushi agrees. “There can be a lack of education on the menu items. Being able to recommend an item not by saying ‘It's really good,’ but rather explaining why it's really good, is the quickest way to get someone to want to try it,” she says.
3. Offer dessert to go. Marketing and sales consultant Bert Martinez argues that the words “so you can” can sell anything. He uses it in the example of selling dessert to go. “Ask guests if they’re full, and if they say yes, ask them if they’re going home or to a show after dinner,” says Martinez. “Then suggest X dessert ‘so you can’ have it later and not be stuffed for the show.”
4. Offer wine samples. “We train the staff to be experts on best wine pairings so they can suggest them to the guest as the guest orders,” says Burke. “We also offer wine sampling.”
5. Get personal. Instead of repeating the same rehearsed line to every table, Jimmy Tung, owner of Florida-based Bento Café: Asian Kitchen + Sushi, says, “Don’t be a robot. Get personal and connect with your consumers; knowing if they’re in the mood for fish or steak before offering an item will allow you to make the right recommendations and the sale.”
6. Learn to read the guest. Getting a read on each guest will help you offer appropriate menu suggestions. “A couple on a date versus a mother with her young children are going to want different things,” says Laney. How different? “A bottle of wine for the couple and kid-friendly food for the mother,” she says.
7. Be sincere. Coming across in your upsell as “salesy” or pushy can be very impersonal and uncomfortable for the guest. When the server sincerely wants to improve the guest’s experience, upselling is perceived as helping. “I think when a server really believes that the wine/side dish/dessert is going to improve your meal and your dining experience, then the upsell comes across as a genuine piece of the service experience,” says Elizabeth Blau, founder and c.e.o. of Las Vegas-based Blau + Associates.
8. Create a sense of higher value. “Instead of the word ‘upsell,’ I prefer the idea of creating higher value that will create long-term value in the form of satisfied customers who will return and not feel they have been sold their experience,” says Phil Mott, assistant professor at Chicago’s Kendall College. “This comes through exposing the customer to the values of the different products you sell that will meet their needs and create the greatest sense of value.”
9. Praise and reward your team’s success. The more positive feedback your staff receives for selling, the more they will sell. “We make sure our team members are set up for success with preshift meetings that cover food specials, beverage training and steps of service opportunities,” says Rudy Aguas, g.m. of DW Bistro in Las Vegas. “We try to give positive feedback and praise to our team members who are selling well. We also run team member incentives to encourage them and make it a fun working environment.”
10. If all else fails, use a different power of suggestion. “When offering suggestions, always recommend the item you want to sell most last; they're more apt to choose it,” says Steven Grand Pré from the dining room culinary arts faculty at Kendall College in Chicago. “Also, when suggesting an item, if one slightly nods their head as they offer it, the guest will usually choose the item.”