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How to Train Restaurant Staff to Upsell


Kendal AustinAuthor

“Do you want fries with that?”

It’s the most cliché phrase in the business, but there’s power in that simple question.

Restaurant upselling is the process of persuading or influencing a guest’s purchase by enticing them with more expensive or higher margin items and add-ons. With a little effort and strategizing from your front-of-house staff, it’s an easy way to increase average check size and get more out of your menu.

Here are a few ways to train your staff to upsell in your restaurant.

Teach Your Team to Sell

Your employees are the greatest asset for upselling, and they should be constantly aware of their ability to do that. Almost every interaction they have with a customer is an opportunity to influence their purchase. Whether they’re serving guests at a counter or at the table, nothing beats the power of suggestion.

Eleanor Frisch of Foodservice Warehouse says, “Upselling should seem like good service rather than a sales pitch.” 

Upselling should seem like good service rather than a sales pitch.

Eleanor Frisch
Foodservice Warehouse

Make sure your servers are enlightening your guests rather than harassing them. Talk to your staff about why upselling is important and coach them on how to do it gracefully. By taking a consultative approach, like, “That particular cut of steak goes really nicely with the blue cheese crumble,” or simply, “Would you like some fresh-cut fries with your sandwich?” your staff is forming a relationship with the customer and doing good for the business financially.

Ongoing training, especially when new menu items emerge, is a great way to guarantee your waitstaff is comfortable upselling. Have your kitchen prepare the latest and greatest from your menu for your next pre-shift. Give each employee the chance to try the new item, making sure they’re aware of the ingredients and cooking techniques used to create the dish. Encourage them to pick a favorite item from your menu that they can describe elaborately to your guests, along with sides and drinks that pair nicely with the meal.

Motivate Your Staff to Sell

For front-of-house staff, there’s a clear benefit in upselling: it increases the size of their tip. But there are other ways to motivate your team to land bigger checks. Run a competition to see who can sell the most Sunday specials, or keep a leaderboard for the server who sells the most add-ons. The rewards you offer in return can vary from a cash bonus to favorite shift preferences.

Build Upselling Into Your Tech

Restaurant technology can help you upsell. Your restaurant POS system can complement thorough staff training by reminding employees to ask guests those crucial upselling questions.

When a customer orders an entree, your POS system can prompt your employee to ask follow up questions by suggesting on screen to add drinks or sides. This gives your employees some support, especially when they’re newer to the team.


Training Manual Template

Use this restaurant training manual template, a customizable Word Doc, to provide your staff with the rules, guidelines, and clarity they need to do their jobs efficiently.


Offer Gift Cards and Promotions to Guests

Your customers want to know their business is important to you. But are your servers simply expected to write “Thank you!” at the bottom of a receipt and be done with it? Of course not. Here are some ways you can tell your customers, “We love you” that actually make them feel appreciated.

Gift Cards

If you’re not offering gift cards at your restaurant, you’re missing out on a revenue channel and an opportunity to make more money with every guest. In addition to encouraging repeat business, collecting money upfront, and being relatively inexpensive to offer, gift cards are a great way to encourage guests to buy more.

According to FirstData’s 2018 Prepaid Consumer Insights Study, consumers average $59 of additional spend over the value of the gift card they received, and over 80% of consumers with a fine dining, fast casual restaurant or drug store gift card spend more than the value of the card. Gift cards are more likely to be used on “high ticket” items since they’re essentially “free money” for the holder, so there’s a good chance they’re even more open to upsell efforts than the average guest.

Gift cards are easier to offer than ever with digital or e-gift card options. Operations director of Ethan Stowell Restaurants, Michael Pagana, recounted the drastic change that e-gift cards had on his business when he first began offering virtual gift cards. “I got a call that our gift card sales were down. That’s because they were looking at only physical gift card sales,” said Pagana. “We had actually sold more in online gift cards than we had all gift cards in the entirety of last year.”

Additionally, many restaurants combine gift card purchases with promotional deals, offering things like a bonus $20 gift card for every $100 gift card purchase. This kill-two-birds-with-one-stone methodology rewards your customers while also encouraging them to spend more.

Holiday Promotions

Holidays are an easy time to upsell your restaurant’s gift cards, but there are also other ways to promote your restaurant around the holidays. Offering seasonal or holiday-specific items, hosting halloween costume contests, or giving out free entrees for moms on Mother’s Day are all great ways to get more guests in the door.

Build Loyalty With Your Regulars

Proving that you appreciate customer loyalty is beneficial to both your restaurant and your client base. Give your frequent patrons incentive to keep coming back by offering a loyalty program based on your menu offerings. You even can use your point of sale system to track customer loyalty and allow your guests to see their progress online. This rids you of the cost of purchasing punch cards and relieves your customers of the hassle of trying to keep track of those pesky things.

Logan Hostettler, general manager at The 1894 Lodge, spoke about his experience with offering customer loyalty incentives through Toast. “Customers were so crazy to earn points that they were buying the entire bar a round so they can redeem the rewards. They love how the loyalty program offers a gamified restaurant experience,” said Hostettler. By displaying your appreciation for your repeat customers, you’re simultaneously driving up your bottom line.

Customers were so crazy to earn points that they were buying the entire bar a round so they can redeem the rewards. They love how the loyalty program offers a gamified restaurant experience.

Logan Hostettler
Logan Hostettler
Owner, 1894 Lodge

Strategize Your Menu

While it helps to have tact when upselling to guests in person, there’s no reason to make your menu options subtle. Make guests aware of all the upsell options available by writing it directly on the menu, and train your staff to call these out in conversation.

If it’s possible to add bacon to a burger, include “Bacon $2” under the burger menu item. If your guests want to add chilli to their nachos, put it right there on the menu, and you’ll get them thinking about how delicious that appetizer would be with a little something extra.

This also allows you to get more creative with your menu without feeling like you have to offer expensive items for every dish you send out. To automatically include bacon, a fried egg, and fresh jalapeno slices on a burger would cause that item to be pretty pricey, but giving your customers the ability to mix and match ingredients to create their meal gives them a sense of ownership and saves you from the common complaint of high prices.

Most customers aren’t aware of how tight restaurant margins are or how important every additional sale is — no matter how seemingly small. By making sure your staff is well-equipped to work upsells into the conversation, to be polite not pushy when upselling to guests, you’ll provide an experience that will keep your customers coming back for more.

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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.

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