Upselling is an elemental part of good service and it benefits everyone: your guests will get better quality food and drink, you’ll get a higher tip average, and your restaurant will do better in sales! With this said, upselling is absolutely an art form. It’s a skill that requires practice, knowledge and a keen ability to read your guests. Needless to say, perfecting this will do wonders for you as a server! So, part three of our serving hacks series is all about mastering the art of upselling.

Know your menu

In order to successfully upsell menu items, you have to know them inside and out, and know a clever, enticing way of describing them. The basic idea here is to recite qualities and characteristics of a cheaper dish and compare them to a more expensive item with richer, more eloquent descriptions.

Do not necessarily assign value-judgement in your description. Simply use brighter, more sophisticated language to highlight and accentuate that the more-expensive dish is clearly better.

Simply use brighter, more sophisticated language to highlight and accentuate that the more-expensive dish is clearly better.

The more exacting you are in your description, the more likely the guest is to trust your knowledge. This takes some practice because if you fumble around and seem unsure of what you’re saying, your attempt at upselling could backfire. You absolutely do not want your guests to know your trying to get them to spend more, even if it is for a better quality product.

Pro-tip: A good trick is to be passionate and animated in your description. Your enthusiasm will be contagious and will bring your guests’ excitement to a whole new level.

Practice the pitch

A successful server not only knows their menu but knows what they want to sell to their tables. Personally, I like to sell the same things to each of my tables. The reasons for this are:

  1. I know for a fact that I can describe their characteristics, taste profiles, components, and wine/drink pairings.
  2. This form of repetition and practice creates consistency and comfort, which makes me look like the master of the menu.
  3. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I feel that if a product is consistent and well-liked, there is no reason to move out of my comfort zone and sell items I’m not as well-versed in.

Practicing what you’re talking about makes you not only feel more confident, but also makes you look more competent, and this is a must when you’re upselling.

Read your guests

No two tables are alike. As much as you think the dapper couple at your table is able to spend money or the teenagers at the other table will be cheap, you never really know. So, while I like to upsell the same menu items, my MO varies depending on the guests.

Initially, it’s best to approach all tables the same way; composed, professional, and unassuming. Once you engage with the table, you can then determine how to proceed throughout the rest of the meal.

While I like to upsell the same menu items, my MO varies depending on the guests.

If you get the sense that the table is playful, then make some jokes when talking up your suggestions. On the other hand, if you’re getting a more formal vibe, go with a fancier explanation.

It can be hard to get a good feel for your customers, so always err on the side of caution as to avoid mistakes. However, if you accurately read your guests and determine the sales method they’ll respond to best, you’ll undoubtedly reap the rewards.

Tricks of the Trade

  • When running over a menu, I like to start off by talking up a cheap menu item followed by more expensive ones. Doing this proves that you’re not just trying to sell them the most expensive picks (even though you really are).
  • Similarly, I like to detail the items that I’m not so fond of, including one expensive item. Again, trust is the goal here. Tables appreciate honesty and will respond well to your candor.
  • Always go in with the assumption that everything is great when asking a table about their food or drinks. Instead of asking, “How is it,” go with, “Is there anything else I can get for you?” By asking if everything is ok, you’re begging a negative response or critique.
  • A couple more buzzwords and lines I use are, “Honestly, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.” If you can be convincing here, it’ll pique their interest. Another convincing, and hilarious, line:

“If I was on death row, and my momma wasn’t there to cook for me, this is what I’d eat.”

  • Sometimes a casual, “This item is ridiculous,” gets their attention because it’s distinctness makes the line sound genuine, which hopefully it is!
  • When trying to sell dessert, you want to guide tables toward indulgence. When offering the dessert menu, if the table bites, I respond, “it’s a slippery slope, you know,” which typically elicits a good laugh.

Upselling is the mark of a comfortable, successful server. Being subtle but determined in your approach is key. Make sure you know your menu well enough to upsell and that you are able to correct mistakes and save yourself if you misstep. Matching your personality to your upselling tactic is the goal. If you can accomplish this, you can do amazing things for your guests, your restaurant and yourself. Hope this helps!

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