The art of the upsell in food service

The art of the upsell in food service Share this article

Upselling is a major part of any business where sales and service are important. Many people think of the term in relation to cars or business services, but upselling applies to bars and restaurants as well. If you own or run a restaurant or bar, upselling can be a smart way to raise profits that won't drive customers away if done correctly. Rather than raising prices, which can put some customers off, upselling focuses on offering more or better services for an additional price. For example, rather than paying more for an entree as people would if prices rose, customers may purchase an appetizer instead and enjoy their meal more while also spending more. 

But in order for upselling to be a successful process at your restaurant, servers, bartenders, hosts and other employees have to be on board with the program. Here are a few tips that can help your staff make the upsell without sacrificing quality or service. 

Know your audience
Whether it's a specific person or your average customer on a whole, if you don't know them well you'll never upsell anything. Experts agree that in order to suggest something that people will pay more for, you have to present them with advice they'll appreciate. While some of this comes down to knowledge of flavor pairings and other food-based decisions, there are some items you won't move if they don't fit your audience. Some customers may simply be more interested in a discount on appetizers, while others will prefer to know which wines pair best with their salad. 

Promote the right items 
As a leader in the restaurant, it's important to establish with your employees which dishes, drinks and meals you want to upsell. Whether it's a particular entree or a type of liquor, they need to know ahead of time so that they're ready to jump on the opportunity when it arises. Servers should know which menu items are the highest profit, so that when these come up as a viable option for diners they can advise toward these – satisfying both the customer and the business. 

Nightclub expert and owner Brian Speed wrote in Nightclub & Bar magazine that this rule applies even more with drinks than food. Bartenders and servers should have leading alcohol questions ready. 

"Train your staff to understand each product they will be upselling," Speed recommended. "In the beginning keep it simple. Use no more than 10 products. Say a customer asks for a 'vodka red bull' the first thing your bartender should say is, 'with Gray Goose?' Plain and simple that is an upsell. Train your staff on products such as vodka, rum, tequila, gin, red wine, white wine, and beer. You could create a special that you know will increase your profit margin."

Recommend takeout 
Many people who go out to eat take their leftovers home with them. This is a nice service that customers like, but it doesn't improve profit at all. Restaurant supplier and advice website Food Service Warehouse suggested that restaurants refocus their takeout strategy to promote bringing extra food home. The website pointed to an example where a restaurant promoted its pie heavily to the point where even when diners didn't stay for dessert they'd buy a piece of pie to bring home. This may require some initial investments in good-looking to-go packaging, but the long-term profitability could be significant. 

Push extras 
Upselling isn't all about pushing customers toward more expensive items or take-home desserts. As the Houston Chronicle explained, it's about people adding on to what they had planned on buying. 

"Many restaurants rely on a simple strategy to sell more: offering extra items," the news source explained. "A fast food restaurant might ask customers if they'd like a super-sized option or if they would like fries with their meal. A restaurant server will ask a diner if they'd like to start with an appetizer or try a special entree. In some restaurants, the extras are prescribed by management: the chef's special or a new item they want to push, for example."

Talk to your servers about the numbers 
Upselling has a lot to do with enthusiasm and how servers and bartenders interact with a customer. They need to phrase questions and suggestions in a way that leads customers to purchase more. If servers don't understand the endgame of this process, they may be less likely to play along.

Restaurant Business, a commercial restaurant media group, advised managers to break down how much an upsell can net a server in tips over time. For example, if servers upsell a table from $60 to $66 with dessert, they've increased their tips to about $9. Over the course of a night, at 10 tables, that's $90. Restaurant Business tested these numbers with 18 and 15 percent tips and found that upselling at the small percent can bring in more than $6,000 extra for servers in tips each year. Once servers hear that, they'll have no problem being on board. 

When done correctly, upselling can benefit everyone involved. Servers, bartenders and the business should make more money, while the customer should get a better or more luxurious experience for the premium price. 


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