The Basics of Upselling Menu Items

The Basics of Upselling Menu Items

To maximize your profit margin, you need to upsell key menu items. A well-trained server can make that happen with regularity throughout his or her work shift.

Upselling is simply getting a customer to spend more than he or she was originally intending. For example:

Customer: “I’ll have a martini, straight up.”
Server: “Do you have a preference on the gin? We carry Bombay and Beefeaters.”
Customer: “Bombay, please.”

The server did not take the drink order and walk away. Instead, by offering a more expensive liquor, the server enticed the customer into turning a "well" drink into a more expensive "call" drink by selecting a specific type of gin. This is the same premise at play in a fast-food restaurant when the customer orders a  hamburger and the server responds, "Would you like fries with that?"

Without the suggestive nudge, the order of fries might not have been sold. Over the course of a day, let alone a week, month or year, suggestive sales can earn a restaurant thousands of extra dollars through the upselling process.

That is why the best servers always try to offer something a little nicer and a little bit more expensive. A restaurant may be classified as a food and beverage operation, but that doesn’t mean its employees shouldn’t employ salesperson strategies.

Upselling Basics

In a restaurant, upselling must be done with more finesse than in other sales situations. The key to upselling is to do it in a way that the customer doesn’t know he or she is being sold something. For example:

Server: “Would you care to start with an appetizer tonight? Our chef is running our house favorite, a baked lobster dip with crostini.”
Customer: “That sounds good. What else is in it?”
Server: “It has a creamy alfredo sauce with roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts and fresh lobster. I always have one whenever I come in for dinner.”
Customer: “That sounds great! We’ll have one!”

The server didn’t wait to hear if the customer wanted an appetizer. Instead, the server volunteered the information to pique interest. If the customer did not like lobster, the server could have shifted the focus to another appetizer instead. For example:

Customer: “No thanks. I’m allergic to seafood.”
Server: “The kitchen is also running a delicious tomato-basil bruschetta served with seasoned olive oil and crusty French bread.”
Customer: “Hmmm, that sounds good. I’ll take one.”

Not every conversation goes that smoothly, but the point is clear. A server is trained to automatically offer an appetizer to start the meal. However, that server knows better than to badger the customer if the customer is not interested in an appetizer. At that point, it is time to try and upsell the entrée.

Upselling the Entrée

Even if a customer is not interested in an appetizer or a drink special, that doesn’t mean our server can’t still employ a few more upselling techniques. For example:

Customer: “I’ll have the Chicken Marsala.”
Server: “Would you like to add a soup or a salad to your entrée? Today’s soup is cream of wild mushroom.”
Customer: “Hmmm, that sounds good. I‘ll take a cup.”

There is another handful of dollars added to the bill and the server’s tip.

Upselling Dessert

Finally, the ultimate upsell -- dessert. The best way to upsell desserts is to give a mouthwatering description.

Good Example: “Would you care for a slice of our homemade chocolate layer cake? It is layered with a rich dark chocolate ganache and raspberry filling and served with our signature chocolate velvet sauce.”
Bad Example: “Do you want some dessert?”

Offer dessert before the customer has a chance to think about it. Describe it, make the customer want it. Make it tempting. Suggest a table split one or two desserts, rather than trying to sell a separate dessert to each guest.

Also be sure to suggest that dessert should be followed with a hot cup of coffee, perhaps a specialty coffee such as cappuccino or espresso. Or maybe a nice after dinner drink, like port or cordial. A good server can tack on extra $10 dollars or more per person to the bill just by upselling dessert and drinks. This not only increases the restaurant’s profits, but it boosts the server's tip as well.​

The Final Word on Upselling

Upselling should be part of your employee training. All servers should know the basics of upselling, from offering top-shelf liquor to knowing how to give a mouthwatering description of menu items. Upselling creates a win-win situation for everyone at the restaurant. It increases sales for the restaurant, creates a larger tip for the server, and shows customers that your staff is knowledgeable as well as friendly. That will make them more likely to be repeat customers.