November 3, 2021

Server Tips: 3 Best Practices for Upselling in Food and Beverage

In this article, we look at the 3 best practices to remember when upselling to guests in the food and beverage or restaurant industry.

  1. Listen to your guests.
  2. Be more than an order taker.
  3. Relax and let the experience flow!


If you’re working in the food and beverage industry - specifically as a server or bartender - upselling is a great way to boost guest check averages, leaving you with more cash at the end of the night.


I’ve learned to think about upselling as a fine art. If you are simply an order taker, your guests won’t get excited about their experience with you, and you probably won’t make the extra money. However if you take it too far and use the wrong approach, your guests will feel pressure to buy extra stuff they don’t need, and will most likely become quite annoyed through the process.


Let’s take a deep dive into upselling, and 3 best practices I find helpful to remember.

What is upselling?

‘Upselling’ in the restaurant industry refers to a server or bartender (or any member of the staff, really) suggesting to a guest that they add an extra item to their experience. 


This can be adding a premium topping to a dish, such as sautéed mushrooms on a skirt steak, suggesting a wine pairing for the table, or selling a specialty dessert that’s baked to order.


When thinking about upselling, always keep in mind that the goal is to elevate your guests' experience, not just to sell them the most expensive items. You want to be sure you are listening to your guests, and giving them what they want.


#1. Listen to your guests

Believe it or not, people can tell if you’re listening to them when they speak to you. Think about a time when you were out to eat and the server was busy and distracted. How did that affect your experience? You probably didn’t ask for extra items, and you probably got a little nervous wondering if they even understood your order. Listening to what your guests really want and remembering it throughout their time with you allows you to impress, reassure, and upsell.


Start making it a habit to really listen to your guests. Even when you’re busy, you'll be able to pick up on details that can tell you how to best serve a table and upsell them appropriately. 


Have a family trying to make it to a show and want everything on the table as it's ready? Great, suggest that they pre-order the apple cobbler that takes 30 minutes to bake. 

Have a couple on their first date and notice one of them nervously eyeing the extensive wine list? Suggest your favorite bottles of red and white (1 of each, don’t overwhelm them!) and give them a few minutes to think about it.


Making the dining experience unique for each of your tables is important. Remember that not everyone will want that $120 Tomahawk special, no matter how badly you want to sell three of them in a shift. Be able to seamlessly shift gears and upsell the cocktails they’re drinking by suggesting they use a premium liquor. You’re more than an order taker, you’re guiding guests through an experience.


#2. You’re more than an order taker

The second best practice to remember when upselling is that you’re more than just an order taker. You are leading your guests through their experience, and they should be able to trust that you will meet their expectations. The more they trust you, the easier upselling becomes.


An ‘order taker’ would simply write down the items that each guest orders, without suggesting anything to the table. Here are two examples of how you can lead your guest in a better direction when they’re ordering:

  • A guest orders the grilled salmon that is served a la carte, without ordering anything else. You suggest that they pair it with the grilled asparagus or roasted potatoes.
  • A table of four is ordering drinks. Three of them order a glass of Pinot Noir. You suggest that they order a bottle to share, especially if they think they may have more than one glass. 


I guess I should probably write an entire article about establishing rapport with guests, because that’s really what this boils down to. If I am your server, and we have a good rapport with each other, you are more likely to say yes to something I recommend, right? Even though this article is about upselling, sometimes it pays to suggest an option that will make more sense for the table and save them money (selling a bottle of wine may be less expensive than 6 glasses) but their trust in you will grow.


Be more than an order taker, be a human. Be honest and clear when explaining things, and keep a cool demeanor to match what you want your guests to feel! Relax and let the experience flow.

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#3. Relax and let the experience flow

This brings us to my final tip to remember when upselling, and that is to RELAX! Don’t get too worked up or flustered if a guest doesn’t love your suggestion, or says no to something. Listen to what they’re saying, and try your best to deliver what they are asking. Remember you will never be able to please everyone!


Never be pushy about a sale. Yes, you are a sales-person, but no one should be able to notice that. Upselling should come from a conversation, not from a pitch. If you’re explaining a special or a luxury item, of course you want to describe it in a way that is appealing and enticing, but don’t take it too far. No one will believe what you say unless you believe it yourself, so pushing a pricey item just to push it will be crystal clear to your guests.


Have fun! Enjoy your time with your tables, spark up some casual conversation where it fits, or play around with different approaches to fit the energy of your guests. At the end of the day we are all humans enjoying good food, what could be better than that?


Conclusion

Upselling as a server or bartender is a great way to boost check averages, build rapport with guests, and grow within your restaurant. Managers love to see who can sell the most! Remember these three best practices when upselling:

  1. Listen to your guests.
  2. Be more than an order taker.
  3. Relax and let the experience flow!


You’ll be a pro in no time! Thanks for checking out this article, see you on the floor!


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