How Strategic Upselling Can Increase Your Bottom Line

How Strategic Upselling Can Increase Your Bottom Line

Upselling in restaurants can be a touchy topic, teasing operators with increased sales and profits, but presenting potential perils to the customer experience. No one likes to be given the hard-sell when they're just out to enjoy a good meal, and it won’t be effective if the service team doesn’t approach it correctly. When done correctly, upselling can be a welcome way for servers to engage with guests and meet their needs – while still increasing the bottom line.

Approach upselling with your guest's experience and ultimate satisfaction in mind first, and you'll use the technique successfully to further educate your guests on your restaurant, it’s menu, to take them on a tour of new and interesting items, and ultimately enhance their experience as your guest. If your mission is simply to squeeze as much money out of them as possible, your servers' attempts at upselling will most likely come across as insincere and pushy and you’ll end up wondering why it didn’t work.

Here’s what works: an educated, enthusiastic service team, a team that asks questions and listens to guests, and can then be ready to suggest something they will enjoy and maybe even be pleasantly surprised with. And here’s a secret: it’s ok not to suggest anything as well. If your mission is to provide the best experience for your guests, and they indicate to the server they do not want anything additional, forcing a suggestion will detract from the experience, and also at the critical end-of-visit time with you, possibly causing that to be among the bigger things they recall about their experience.

Here’s what doesn’t work: canned and tired phrases servers are forced to recite; quotas imposed upon servers; lack of committed training and education of servers; asking only if they “saved room for dessert”; insincerity, etc. Your service team should view themselves, and be empowered as, Experience Guides or Dining Consultants for your guests, genuinely interested in (and properly motivated to) assuring they thoroughly enjoy their experience with you.

Guide guests through the menu

One of the biggest mistakes a server can make is to play the role of order-taker rather than consultant or experience guide. A good server should be trained and able to ask and answer questions about each guests likes and desires, explain the menu, and then offer suggestions tailored to each guest's preferences. If a server answers "Oh, everything here is great!" when a guest asks for recommendations, they have not only lost a chance to make a sale – they have undermined the guest's trust in their knowledge of the menu. An alternative: when a guest asks “what would you recommend”, ask “what type of (items) do you usually like?”, then listen and make appropriate suggestions.

Implementing an upselling program

Once your staff is trained and thorough educated on the menu, how can you make sure they guide your guests appropriately to identify potential for upselling? Some use contests to reward the most successful (be careful how you define ‘success’ with such programs!). We counsel clients to consider it another process and a piece of the puzzle: the results should follow successful training, education, and then actions by servers.

But sales numbers only tell one side of the story, and there can sometimes be a disconnect between the expectations you set, and the actual experience of your guests. An upselling program should never put a sale above the guests’ needs – servers should be able to read their tables, and back off when it's clear the guest isn't interested in being sold to.

To gauge how the customer experiences your servers' attempts to upsell, mystery shopping services can be effectively utilized. The mystery shoppers will be educated on your specific program, what servers should and should not do, and then they will visit your restaurants, go through the experience, and report back, in high detail, about what was done and said. Hidden video can even be used, and then developed into a “best practices” program to help continuously educate your staff on maximizing opportunities while also enhancing the guest’s experience.

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