Maximizing Revenue Through Suggestive Selling

Suggestive selling for servers and bartendersMIGHT I SUGGEST…?

The path to success for any food and beverage operation is really quite simple – drive customers through the door and get them to spend as much as possible once they’re in.  Some would argue that a focus on tight operational controls is really the key to success in our industry.  I am a firm believer that you can’t cut your way to success.  If that old adage is true, then a majority of your efforts should be focused on maximizing revenue.

The most effective and efficient way to achieve this goal is by using suggestive selling.  Suggestive selling is a sales technique used by employees that encourages guests to include purchases that are in addition to the purchase involved in their original transaction.  In most cases the additional purchase is of less value than the original transaction and in all cases, if suggestive selling is applied correctly, an item that compliments the original item or items purchased.   And it works. 


Please Leave Me Alone!!!

For many of us the term suggestive selling (or even worse upselling) is fraught with negative connotations and images of annoying salespeople following us around trying to sell us things we don’t want.  Many of your bar and service staff have been in this position and cringe at the prospect of having to play the role of salesperson in this uncomfortable scenario.

The fact is that most of the bad experiences we have had as customers involve salespeople employing the hard sell, or at the very least badly applying suggestive selling.  Your staff may be anxious because they don’t know what it is or how it’s done.  Getting your staff to apply suggestive selling techniques is very much about convincing them that they are good for everyone and then showing them how.


A Win/Win/Win

Suggestive selling is good for the owner.  This is the easiest scenario to understand and benefit to identify.  A higher check average results in higher revenue.  But the benefits are not limited to increased short term sales.  Getting customers into your bar is expensive; getting them to spend more once they do results in a higher return on those spent dollars.  Lastly, suggestive selling can lead to higher customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and future repeat business. 

Suggestive selling is good for the server.  The benefit to the employee is also pretty easy to understand and identify.  When the average guest check goes up, tips go up.  The magnitude of this increase may not be so apparent.  A simple example can help illustrate it.  Two steaks at $35.00 each result in a tip of about $14.00.  Two craft draughts, two premium wines by the glass, a dessert to share and two cappuccinos increase the total check by about $50.00. That increases the tip by $10.00 or about 40%.  Increase your annual tips by 40%...that’s the benefit of suggestive selling and the magnitude of the increase!

Suggestive selling is good for the guest.  This is the one that seems counter intuitive, especially if you assume that all guests are annoyed by all efforts at suggestive selling.  However, research indicates that the great majority of guests appreciate the efforts of a server engaged in effective suggestive selling.  When done right, when focused on the needs of the guest, suggestive selling is perceived by the guest as a premium, highly personalized level of service.  When a server’s recommendation proves to be an enhancement to a guest’s experience, trust grows between the guest and the server.  Guest satisfaction increases and loyalty grows, increasing the prospects for many more visits in the future.


Making it Happen

Here are some of the basic steps you can take to employ an effective suggestive selling program in your operation.

1.        Get your employees to buy in.  Convince them that everyone involved benefits from practicing good suggestive selling

2.       Educate your employees.  Ensure that they are experts on all of the food and beverage you offer.  Their suggestions will be taken seriously and ultimately be successful if they know what they are talking about.

3.       Train your employees.  Provide them with some information and strategies.

·         Focus on the guest
·         Educate and inform
·         Be a seller, not just an order taker
·         Use the descriptive technique.  “We have a great wine by the glass that pairs perfectly with that dish.”
·         Avoid yes/no questions.  “Would you like a glass of wine?”
·         Suggest sharing
·         Suggest the larger size
·         Sell your favorites
·         Don’t suggestive sell to children…their parents will hate you for it
·         Be careful not to oversell

4.       Establish incentive programs.  Make sure those incentive programs reward behaviors you want to encourage.  Incentive programs that focus on one product can be counterproductive, potentially causing the server to lose focus on the needs of the guest.  Incentive programs that focus on average guest check amounts can be highly effective and avoid this circumstance.

5.       While your servers are critical, they are not your only option for suggestive selling.  Signage, table tents and your menu provide a great opportunity to reach the guest who simply does not respond to suggestive selling.  They can also serve as an excellent way to reinforce the message being delivered by your staff.  

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