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12 ways to build sales without "suggestive selling"

There’s much more to sales-building than merely training servers to “suggestively sell.” For instance, spotlessly-clean facilities and great service are but two examples that come to mind, because that makes more diners come back, which builds your check averages better than menu merchandising will. Yet many operators overlook both the obvious and hidden daily opportunities they have to build their top and bottom lines. Let’s consider a dozen alternative ways to generate more revenue that don’t involve a crew member upselling the customer.

1. Don’t pay people who make your job harder. Seek out, select, hire and retain servers, cashiers, greeters and bartenders who are naturally outgoing and comfortable as sales people. Give those who are not salespeople a job at the competition. Hire smart and you sell more.

2. Better POS training. One reason that waitstaff in full-service restaurants don’t sell more—often overlooked by owners, managers and operators—is because they are not totally comfortable with the point-of-sale hardware or software they use to input the orders. This uneasiness may not be problematic when it’s slow, but when it’s busy, servers can get flustered, and this means they may make mistakes during order entry that costs them time and builds anxiety. (Hurry is the mother of mistake.) Many servers will minimize this potential problem by taking orders instead of making sales at their tables, therefore having fewer items to enter. Test your servers periodically on their POS prowess, make sure managers are readily available during busy shifts to cheerfully correct input orders, and you may find your sales jump as a result. By the way, this same phenomenon occurs with cashiers and drive-through crew in QSR operations.

3. Turn tables more often and more efficiently. The more revenue you can generate per table the more likely you are to build profitability. One smart way to build sales is to minimize wait lists at peak times, turning the tables three times on busy nights instead of two. It may be a simple as training servers and busers not to automatically pour a 5th refill of iced teas or coffees for the four-top who paid a half-hour ago and have been ready to leave for 25 minutes.

4. Remove internal obstacles to selling. What do your team members cite as reasons (whether real or perceived) that they don’t sell more? Common complaints we hear are: kitchen issues, no inventory, low supplies, cook or bartender attitudes, roll-ups, too busy, not enough staff, overlooked prepwork, throughput bottlenecks, etc. Now address and resolve each of those system issues. Blast these barriers monthly and stay vigilant for every obstacle you remove they’ll find a new one to replace it.

5. Double check all orders before sending. Once again, your POS system is the critical linchpin between order-taking, sales-building, and mistake making. Harried and hurried servers must be taught to take a second to quickly, carefully, and correctly review each order at the POS terminal before they send it off to the kitchen or bar. Write it, read it, review it, then send it.

6. Educate the team on the real cost of mistaken orders. Server and kitchen crew routinely believe that the price of an incorrect order is merely the wholesale cost of the product (“Yes, I accidentally fired a chicken breast instead of a burger, but what does that chicken cost us, a buck?”). No, it cost us the $7.95 menu price that we didn’t get.

7. Connect to the community, crew and customers. Connecting with both internal and external customers is a prerequisite for building more traffic and sales. Customers don’t come out to your restaurant just to get something to eat or drink. They could do that at home. Creating an emotional connection between your operation and the community, and teaching your servers to individually connect with each guest, is the key to building both short-term and long-term relationships. The food your restaurant serves, its location and/or advertising or coupons may get customers to visit you once. But the way the customer connects—or fails to connect—with the service staff and the brand determines how often our customers come back. Service is our invisible product.

8. Staff appropriately for volume.
Proper staffing of your customer-facing crew is critical to generate more revenue. If you try to save labor dollars by under-staffing, your servers will be running around trying to stay ahead of the pace instead of having time to connect with customers and merchandise the menu. Besides, when managers are short-staffed, they will likely be waiting tables themselves instead of coaching crew and enhancing the customer’s experience.

9. Focus on the right outcome. The ultimate goal for profitable operators is to get customers to come back more often, not to get them to spend as much as possible during the visit. Having a family come back twice a month versus once a month doubles your sales, too, doesn’t it? Sell, don’t oversell. If you only had one hen, would it be smarter to get an egg a day every day, or have one hearty meal of chicken and dumplings?

10. Reduce employee turnover. Employee retention (of the right employees) is often overlooked as a key factor in profitably-run foodservice operations. Retaining great team members benefits you three ways: 1) a seasoned, well-trained service staff usually creates a more consistent positive experience for your customers, which makes them want to return, 2) customers like to see the same faces in your operations, and 3) same store sales rise because well-trained tenured servers reflexively know how to suggestively sell. When good servers leave you, you suffer the loss of not only a high-performer, but of time and resource allocation as well. When a good server leaves all of your training goes with them.

11. Remember to charge for everything you sell. You can’t take it to the bank if it’s not first in the till. Don’t let “busy-ness” affect your business if forgetful (or dishonest) crews overlook ringing up transactions. Trust your servers and cashiers, but occasionally audit their transactions and banks to discourage improper behavior.

12. You sell more in a clean restaurant. Keep the tabletops bused throughout a guest’s dining experience. Research shows that you can sell more to a clean table. In QSR operations, customers at the counter say that the cleanliness of the kitchen floor affects how much they spend.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think that training servers and cashiers to suggest their best is a smart strategy for building sales. But your first objective is to make certain you’re executing these dandy dozen steps above. By doing so you’ll create a canvass on which your entire team can better serve and better sell.

Jim Sullivan is CEO of, and is a popular speaker at foodservice conferences worldwide. Learn more tips on managing employees by visiting Sullivision on NRN.

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