Is upselling a struggle or are we simply scared to sell?

It feels far too often that we’re all just being terribly British about the whole thing. No one wants to feel pushy or feel pushed but without being given options or recommendations we’re providing an experience that is average over exceptional.

Time and time again of late, I have been astounded when visiting bars, restaurants and pubs whose staff just don’t make an effort to sell. It seems like a phenomenon that has captured far too many well established and respectable venues. Just yesterday as I was out dining in the City centre with friends, time and time again we were approached and served with the bare minimum of upsell. As the meal continued we sat there, on a hot summers day with throats parched with a table full of empty glasses. There we were desperately trying to catch someone’s eye and it seemed so ridiculous. The staff to their credit were busy bottling up and polishing counters and had beaming innocent smiles whenever dealing with anyone. It seems they just had no inclination to sell or upsell to anyone, least of all to my table who never need much arm twisting when it comes to turning a get together into a full-on celebration. A couple of weeks ago a friend and I headed out for afternoon tea in our local town. The afternoon tea was delivered with smiles and warm wishes and then, yet again we were left alone for an eternity. No offer of more drinks, no option for anything else to try, no last-minute upsell of tea to champagne. Eventually, as we sat there ageing and beginning to feel hungry once more, it was time for us to ask for the bill and leave. It’s as if they had made up their minds that were all we could or would order and that was that.

The truth is, as customers when we head into an eatery or drinking den, we’re certainly not there to browse. We are the generation of celebration, at every opportunity. When we cross the threshold into the establishment it is fair to say we have come to enjoy the very best of what the business has to offer. Now I’m no squanderer when it comes to dining out but I do enjoy the finer things when offered and available. But it feels, far too often that we’re all just being terribly British about the whole thing. No one wants to feel pushy or feel pushed but without being given options or recommendations we’re providing an experience that is average over exceptional. But when rates and rent, wages and costs have never been higher, can we really afford to stand by being polite and not selling to our guests and promoting our more premium options?

The answer I imagine for most is no, so how can we arm our team members to go from waiting staff to becoming selling and upselling servers?

To sell is to serve

From the top down we all need to be on board with what we are selling, and more importantly how we are going to sell it. We need to believe that to sell is to serve. We’re not trying to trick anyone into buying something they don’t want, but rather recommend our guests something that they will love and that will transform their experience, from ordinary to extraordinary. Learn the language of selling at the table, and you’ll never look back.

Know your onions

Be sure that your team know your menus and products inside out. From specials to accompaniments be sure everyone knows the difference between your wines, your premium spirits or why a particular cut of steak costs the extra few pounds. Knowledge is power when it comes to selling through service and your front of house staff are the sales team your business needs to succeed. If they are intimidated or unsure about menu items they’ll only sell them by accident rather than design.

Create moments of engagement

It’s always good to remind your team that a customer wouldn’t be in the business if they didn’t want or need anything. Our job is to fulfil that need and provide products that will please and exceed their expectations, rather than any pushy sales tricks. We want to spark conversation, enquire over opinions and over great suggestions to enhance the overall experience. Asking simple questions such as “Are you out celebrating tonight?” or “Have you visited us before?” not only shows a level of interest in the guest (we all want to to talk about ourselves to strangers, sad but true) it also gives the perfect opportunity to say “Well I have to recommend our XYZ”. Trigger opportunities for interaction, ask for their feedback, and if required offer something else.

Practice, practice, practice

It’s not enough to train your team once and hope they remember great products to recommend and great upsells to suggest. Training and development need to be every day, even if only for a few minutes at the beginning of every shift. Share wins with each other, encourage everyone with a team target if everyone can get the average spend up by 10%. Build confidence in your team to sell and

Everyone’s a winner baby

When your team are effective at selling, everyone wins. The business of course profits more if the bartender is pouring an £8 G&T over the standard £5 G&T. The server has provided a better service and a better tip or service charge is heading their way. For the guest, of course, you’re providing a more cared about the experience. The guest was offered a variety of options, asked what they preferred, and the whole experience is enhanced. Exceptional service and attention have hopefully created a loyal guest for your business, who will return many times over and tell the world to too.

Service should always come hand in hand with sales, and we should never sell without wanting to provide a better service. We need to stop thinking like we’re tricking someone and feel more like we’re doing a better job of looking after our guests. Our teams need to feel empowered to sell and ensure there are no parched throats, empty glasses or frantic waves at your tables anytime soon.



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Joy Zarine - Marketing & Media