How To Sell The “Add On”

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add on

"Would a lobster tail make that burger more enjoyable?"

This is a topic that I have been debating writing about the “add on”  for a long time.  It is an incredibly important topic that can improve both the satisfaction of your guests and increase your income.  It is also one of the least popular topics amongst servers.  Managers often preach the benefits of selling the add on to increase the guest’s bill.  Servers who attempt to push these add on items are often met with rolling eyes from their guests.  This leads to servers often feeling like they are being told to do something that will only annoy their guests.  The result is servers not attempting to sell these items.

The reason for the problem is the approach that most servers take to selling these items.  Most restaurants recommend to their servers that they sell these items without giving them any training on how to do so.  As a result, most servers sell these items in a manner similar to what they have heard at drive thru windows.  The problem with this method is that guests have heard this same verbiage thousands of times.  “Would you like to add two apple pies for a dollar?” is the type of offer that guests have become accustomed to rejecting.  The negative reaction is based in a belief that the offer is made as a sales pitch.  This is too often an accurate assumption.

In order to sell the additional items, you must understand the logic by which they appeal to guests.  The guest is not interested in buying more, increasing the size of their bill, over eating, or increasing your tip.  Guests have grown completely accustomed to portion sizes being far greater than their appetite at most restaurants.  Trying to add more food to their meal makes them feel gluttonous and wasteful.  Asking them to “add” more to their meal is generally a wasted effort.

While guests do not want to increase the size of their meal, they do want to improve the quality of it.  This is your opportunity to add items to their meal.  Guests who are eating a burger on their lunch break are going to be more receptive to adding bacon to their burger than an entire bowl of soup as an extra course.  Offering additional toppings on a baked potato is more effective than trying to sell an appetizer.  The reason why is simple: it makes the meal they ordered better, instead of simply bigger.

Even when you offer the correct item, you still face a barrier from your guests.  Guests are faced with these offers so often that they often reject them without consideration.  To overcome this instinctive rejection, you must phrase the question differently.  The most important word to avoid is “add.”  When you ask the guest to “add” to a meal, they perceive you are asking them to make it bigger.  Instead, you must ask in a way that makes them feel you are offering to improve the quality of their meal.

The best phrase I have found to avoid triggering the automatic rejection and properly frame the offer is:

“Would _______ make your ________ more enjoyable?”

Using this phrase makes a very specific offer and avoids the generic feel of a question.  When you ask this question during the order taking process, you make it more a part of ordering than an additional sales attempt.  This also makes the guest stop and consider an answer to the question.  If you are offering the proper items, this will significantly increase the frequency with which your offer is accepted.

No one enjoys rejection.  Servers will often fail to offer items that would improve a guest’s meal out of fear of rejection.  When a guest rejects these “add ons” it is not a rejection of the server or the item, but rather a reaction to the overwhelming number of offers they receive.  When the server phrases the offer differently, they will find that they are received differently.  This does not mean the offer will never be rejected.  It does greatly increase the likelihood that it will be accepted and that the guest will appreciate the offer.

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