Sponsored by Whirley-DrinkWorks!
Ideally, the server connects with their customers and suggests beverages which will add to their enjoyment. As a result, guests will step up to premium beverage choices. They will have a new and exciting experience. They will have fun and look forward to returning.
But if the server rushes the order or sells too hard, the outcome may be quite different. The customers may default to generic beverages that are less enjoyable and less profitable for the house.
Those were some of the key takeaways from the third annual beverage marketing roundtable of foodservice executives held during the 2017 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. The panelists also shared insights about making effective sales suggestions and helping servers feel comfortable interacting with guests. The session was sponsored by Whirley-DrinkWorks!, a designer and manufacturer of custom and collectible drinkware for the foodservice industry.
One roundtable member questioned whether restaurants give customers sufficient time to peruse the menu prior to taking the beverage order. He wondered whether patrons would be more receptive to feature items and sales suggestions if the pace were slower and more time was taken to explain the offerings.
“At many places, you barely sit down and the server is asking you: ‘What beverage would you like to have?’” says Neil Culbertson, founder of Growth Partners, a restaurant marketing consulting firm in Greenwood Village, Colorado. “Would we rush someone to order their meal that quickly?”
Participants agreed that sales suggestions — made in a non-pushy manner — showcase beverages that are points of pride for the brand. “I always love it when a server says, ‘Can I get you started with one of our house-made margaritas or a green tea?’” says Culbertson.
It pays for an operator to suggest core menu items along with beverages, says Nate Grover, director of beverages for Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar, part of Glendale, California-based DineEquity, Inc. For example, some Applebee’s franchisees offer free chips and salsa with Applebee’s premium Perfect Margarita. “Already you have a high dollar ring on a more expensive drink,” Grover says.
A sales opportunity like that may result from engaging with guests and determining the type of experience they are seeking. “You might ask an exploratory question like: ‘Why are you in today?’” says Grover.
Roundtable members also discussed ways to make servers more comfortable with upselling — suggesting premium beverage products which add to customer enjoyment and build the check. The consensus was that interacting in an easygoing and informed manner is key.
The term “upserve” is preferred to “upsell” at McAlister’s Deli, a fast-casual sandwich chain based in Atlanta. “It is a lot more on-brand for us,” says Jessica Osborne, director of brand marketing. “It makes servers feel better about having that conversation.”
At Buffalo Wild Wings, a Minneapolis-based casual-dining chain, the terminology is “genuine suggestion” rather than “suggestive selling,” says Andrea Benzschawel, director of beverage. “The server is making that genuine connection with the guest and inviting them to purchase something that is meaningful.”
Adds Benzschawel, “The goal is to read the guests, understand why they are in your restaurant and genuinely suggest something that is going to enhance their experience.”
At Applebee’s, giving servers menu inserts with beverage and food pairings — such as a Mexican beer or a margarita with a Mexican entree — boosts their knowledge and comfort level. “You have to give your team members education so that they have the confidence to go to the table and ask those questions and take the guest through a beverage journey,” says Grover.
Servers at Mellow Mushroom, an Atlanta-based casual pizza chain, are encouraged to engage guests in a dialogue about feature beverages and to provide sufficient time for them to make decisions. “If the menu is just set down at the table, it will get pushed to the side,” says Eric Brown, director of beverage innovation and operations. “You have to engage a little bit more than that to really get the maximum buy-in.”
“Some of the more successful table discussions start off with: ‘Have you been to Mellow before?’ or, ‘We just tapped the local Yazoo Summer Ale; it's awesome and we also make the best margarita in town. Here’s the beverage menu. I'll give you guys a couple of minutes,’” says Brown.
“Probably the worst question we can ask guests is: ‘What can I get you to drink?’ because they are going to either choose water or their go-to beverage — vodka tonic, rum and coke, iced tea,” says Brown.