Selling Away and Selling Up

Great restaurants are often built around one or two signature entrees.  These meals get people talking to their friends and coming back again the next week.  Every menu has a few dishes that stand out from the rest.  Conversely, every menu has items that are not as well received.  Knowing how to steer your guests away from meals that will disappoint them and towards your best offering will lead to happier guests, larger checks, and more money in your pocket.

This blog will deal heavily with how to sell those signature items.  This post is about your backup strategy.  You should be recommending to tables the items that will make them most happy.  If they fail to take your advice and order something that you feel certain they will not like, it is you obligation to provide a word of caution.  How you do this is incredibly important.  Most servers will just take the order to avoid offending the guest.  Approached properly you can help guests avoid ordering mistakes while improving their perception of you.

Here are the steps to carefully move guests from sub par dishes to your specialties:

Choose Carefully: Your reason for dissuading a guest must be based in their best interest and not yours.  Trying to turn a guest away from an entrée simply based on price is very likely to ruin your tip.  Only use these steps for dishes that a majority of your guests have been dissatisfied with.  Have specific reasons why other guests have not liked it that you can explain to your guests.  Ideally there should only be a couple items you use this approach with.

Confirm Familiarity: This step is the key to avoiding trying to talk a guest out of their favorite meal.  It also provides you the subtle opening to talk them out of it.  Begin by asking the guest, “are you familiar with that dish?”  If they had any hesitation about it when they decided on the entree, you will now have their full attention.   Describe the dish in a way that covers what most people dislike about it, in the most pleasant way possible.  For example:  “I don’t think the description conveys that the sauce from that dish is very rich and thick.”  Never tell them not to order it, but rather provide them additional information.  No one wants to admit they are wrong, but they will make a new decision based on new information.

Sell Up: Even servers who successfully execute the first two steps, drop the ball when it gets to this stage.  The guest has done their job and decided on one thing from all the options on the menu.  Do not make their dining experience more difficult by making them go back to square one.  Your credibility should be very strong after helping them avoid the item they ordered originally.  This is the time to capitalize.  For every item you decide to sell away from, you need to be prepared to offer a similar replacement.  Doing this will get the guest back on track to a great dining experience, keep your tables turning, and not create additional work for the guest.

Take Credit: Once the entrees have been delivered, return to confirm that they taste great.  The guests who took your recommendations should always be the focus, but this is particularly true when you use this strategy.  Confirm that they like it by saying, “How is the pasta I recommended?”  This strengthens the bond in their mind between the great plate of food in front of them and the professional server who suggested it.  Take it one step further with these guests by using a line like “I am really glad you liked it because I was really on the hook for that recommendation.  I was worried you wouldn’t like the other dish and am really glad you like this one.”  Solidifying your impression as a professional responsible for their great meal will pay off when they sign the check.

In an ideal world, this would never be necessary.  Guests would take your recommendations and lower quality dishes would disappear from menus.  In the real world, this is a skill that will create happier guests and better tips.  If executed effectively, you will look like a professional who is truly concerned with their guests’ dining experience.  Creating this perception will build repeat guests and a healthy bank account.

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