Skip navigation
Insist that your servers and managers use more than ‘suggestive selling’ to build sales and profits

Insist that your servers and managers use more than ‘suggestive selling’ to build sales and profits

There’s much more to building sales than merely training servers to “suggestively sell.”

Spotless operations and great service are but two examples that come to mind. Yet many operators overlook both the obvious and hidden daily opportunities they have to build their top and bottom lines. This month let’s consider a dozen ways to generate more revenue that don’t involve upselling the customer.

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 salespeople. Give those who are not salespeople jobs at the competition. Hire smart and you sell more.

Have 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 put in 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 cost them time and build anxiety. Hurry is the mother of mistake. Many servers minimize this problem by taking orders instead of making sales at their tables, so they have fewer items to enter. Test your servers on their POS prowess and make sure managers are readily available during busy shifts to cheerfully correct input orders. You may find your sales jump as a result. By the way, this same phenomenon occurs with cashiers and drive-thru crews at quick-service operations.

Turn tables more often and more efficiently. The more revenue you 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 by turning the tables three times on busy nights instead of two. This may be a simple as training servers and bussers not to automatically pour a fifth refill of iced teas or coffees for the four-top that paid a half-hour ago and have been ready to leave for 25 minutes.

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 concern kitchen issues, lack of inventory, low supplies, cook or bartender attitudes, roll-ups, they are too busy, there’s not enough staff, overlooked prep work, throughput bottlenecks, etc. Now address and resolve each of those issues. Blast these barriers monthly, because for every obstacle you remove, team members will likely find a new one to replace it.

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.

Educate the team on the real cost of mistaken orders. Server and kitchen crew members 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.

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 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.

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 understaffing, 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 experience.

Focus on the right outcome. The ultimate goal of 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?

Reduce employee turnover. 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. First, a seasoned, well-trained service staff usually creates a more consistent positive experience for your customers, which makes them want to return. Second, customers like to see the same faces in your operations. Third, same-store sales rise because well-trained, tenured servers reflexively know how to suggestively sell.

When a good server leaves you, you suffer the loss of not only a high performer, but of time and resource allocation as well. When good servers leave, all of your training goes with them.

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 busyness affect your business if forgetful or dishonest crew members overlook ringing up transactions. Trust your servers and cashiers, but occasionally audit their transactions and banks to discourage improper behavior.

Keep your restaurant clean. Keep the tabletops bused throughout a guest’s dining experience. Research shows that you can sell more to a clean table. In quick-service 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 the dandy dozen steps above. By doing so you’ll create a canvas on which your entire team can better serve and better sell.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.