Selling, Upselling, and Integrity

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I sat down today to write about rule five.  As I did so I realized that a preface was in order.  This morning I sat on my patio drinking coffee and reviewing the outline that I have scribbled on a legal pad. I began thinking about why this post was even necessary.  It should be common sense not to try to rip off your guests.  “Always recommend what is in the guest’s best interest, not yours” should go without saying.  Unfortunately, it directly contradicts what many servers are being encouraged to do.  So much so that even the guests know it.

I experienced this yesterday.  Waiting on a large group of teachers at lunch, I offered recommendations off the menu.  I suggested the sockeye salmon the chef was offering as his daily special.  I mentioned the flavor difference of wild caught salmon.  I discussed the life cycle, diet, and high levels of omega 3.  When I took the order, most of them chose my recommendation.  The last one looked up at me and said, “you are a great salesman, so I will have the salmon too.”  I was taken aback by this statement.  My description was more reminiscent of a teacher or a food critic than a salesman.  I did not use a “close” or try to appeal to their emotions.  I tried to sell them the best item by educating them and allowing them to make an informed decision.  My response to her was, “The difference is I will be here for the entire time you have the plate in front of you.  That is a guarantee no salesperson can make.”

Of course I was trying to sell the sockeye.  I wanted every guest who sat in my section to eat it.  It wasn’t the most expensive item on the menu, but in my opinion it was the best tasting.  I know what market prices are and it was a tremendous value.  It was what I had for lunch for the second time this week.  All of my expertise and knowledge was viewed with hostility, as the guests feared being sold something.  My integrity was being questioned by someone who had never met me, in spite of the presentation of considerable knowledge, simply because I was a server.

I have spent a great deal of time trying to determine where this hostility began.  The most logical culprit is server greed.  The flaw in this logic is that servers, and humans in general, have always been greedy. Yet for most of the history of serving waiters and waitresses still looked out for their guests’ best interests.  Instead, I think that the problem is rooted in two much more recent concepts.  Both of these ideas are commonplace in nearly every restaurant company and found in nearly every training manual.

The first wrong turn the restaurant companies took was in instituting the idea of their service staff being their sales force.  The idea of selling as a server is not new.  Great servers have always done it.  The rebranding of servers as salespeople completely shifts to primary focus of the job.  Servers should sell to help guide guests to the best possible meal and reassure them of that decision.  When the emphasis is placed on selling for the sake of increasing sales, the guest is left out of the equation.  Selling items that are not in your guest’s best interest to increase your guest check by ten percent is counter productive if they do not return to the restaurant.

The second mistake is a word that I truly despise: upsell.”  The concept of upselling is so common that guests will often point it out as it occurs.  The perception that servers are offering items just to make the check larger is well merited.  Restaurant companies encourage servers to try to get all of the extras added to a plate to increase their sales.  Guests in turn fight their servers by refusing these added items for fear of the upsell.  This is so common even drive thru windows try it with every order.  Guests are so used to it that they cringe at even the slightest hint of an upsell.

The result of these changes is guests resisting the expert advice of servers for fear of falling prey to an upsell.  Years ago some company instituted both of these ideas and the industry followed them.  In turn the integrity of a profession was traded for a temporarily higher per person average.  The perception of servers changed from helpful experts who had tasted every item on the menu to shady and unscrupulous salespeople.  The industry not only let it happen, but also openly encouraged it.

The point of this post is not simply to criticize the chain restaurants that encouraged their servers to sell out their guests to improve the bottom line.  The underlying point is to recognize why the guests do not trust us.  Understanding the reason behind this mistrust is the first step in repairing the relationship between server and guest.  In doing so we must accept responsibility for our role in creating the hostility and determine how we can change ourselves.  It is only by accepting that too often we do not look out for our guest’s best interests that we can move on to rebuilding the relationship.

With that in mind, tomorrow we can address rule five.

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12 Responses to Selling, Upselling, and Integrity

  1. SkippyMom July 15, 2010 at 6:43 pm #

    If any waiter I had lectured me on the health benefits of salmon I am sorry, but I would roll my eyes and order something else even if I was considering the salmon. You said this was a group of teachers – I am pretty sure they know, as would I that salmon is good for you. It is darn near patronizing imo. You weren’t selling that salmon based on it’s health benefits you were upselling based on the price. Just because it happens to be a healthy alternative doesn’t shine through on your post. Sorry.

    I am not a fan of upselling or being upsold. Yes I like to hear the specials – but a litany of the benefits of eating something isn’t why I dine out – and I certainly don’t need, nor want to be told about Omega 3s. And life cycle and diet? Puhleese. I am not surprised you received hostility. They didn’t come there to be taught – they came to eat.

    Get over yourself.

    • tipsfortips July 15, 2010 at 7:03 pm #

      I think you have adequately proven the point of the post. Let’s remove from the equation that as the daily special at lunch the sockeye was the least expensive seafood option on the menu. The health benefits and flavor differences of wild caught salmon versus farm raised are also addressed thoroughly in three separate posts on this blog. There is a very significant flavor difference. This is why I had it for lunch after this shift as mentioned in this post and after my last shift as mentioned in the previous post. I sell what I am going to eat for lunch.

      What really boggles my mind is in a post where I specifically express my disdain for upselling, you fire off an angry comment about how you hate upselling. We are on the same team. The reason I have to provide a clear set of reasons why a particular dish is better is because guests assume regardless of price that I am trying to upsell them. Even when in this case I technically would be “downselling” them. I am not doubting that you have more than sufficient cause to be skeptical of a waiter who tries to recommend an item. I use this post to document clearly why this is the case. Your comment furthers my case. I am trying to change this. We both want the same thing. You want to be able to trust that the server is looking out for your best interests and I want them to do so.

  2. SkippyMom July 15, 2010 at 6:43 pm #

    If any waiter I had lectured me on the health benefits of salmon I am sorry, but I would roll my eyes and order something else even if I was considering the salmon. You said this was a group of teachers – I am pretty sure they know, as would I that salmon is good for you. It is darn near patronizing imo. You weren’t selling that salmon based on it’s health benefits you were upselling based on the price. Just because it happens to be a healthy alternative doesn’t shine through on your post. Sorry.

    I am not a fan of upselling or being upsold. Yes I like to hear the specials – but a litany of the benefits of eating something isn’t why I dine out – and I certainly don’t need, nor want to be told about Omega 3s. And life cycle and diet? Puhleese. I am not surprised you received hostility. They didn’t come there to be taught – they came to eat.

    Get over yourself.

    • tipsfortips July 15, 2010 at 7:03 pm #

      I think you have adequately proven the point of the post. Let’s remove from the equation that as the daily special at lunch the sockeye was the least expensive seafood option on the menu. The health benefits and flavor differences of wild caught salmon versus farm raised are also addressed thoroughly in three separate posts on this blog. There is a very significant flavor difference. This is why I had it for lunch after this shift as mentioned in this post and after my last shift as mentioned in the previous post. I sell what I am going to eat for lunch.

      What really boggles my mind is in a post where I specifically express my disdain for upselling, you fire off an angry comment about how you hate upselling. We are on the same team. The reason I have to provide a clear set of reasons why a particular dish is better is because guests assume regardless of price that I am trying to upsell them. Even when in this case I technically would be “downselling” them. I am not doubting that you have more than sufficient cause to be skeptical of a waiter who tries to recommend an item. I use this post to document clearly why this is the case. Your comment furthers my case. I am trying to change this. We both want the same thing. You want to be able to trust that the server is looking out for your best interests and I want them to do so.

  3. Becky July 16, 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    When I go to a restaurant, I’m looking for the expertise of my server. If it’s something I’ve never tasted I’d like his or her learned opinion on it – and I want the truth – not a line about how everything on the menu is delicious.

    At dinner, I do want to know what the specials of the evening are when the server arrives. Price is fairly irrelevant to me (and I know that may be rare) – what I want is what is going to make me oo and aah when I put it in my mouth. I am grateful for a server who will give me the benefit of experience with a fresh fish, in-season veggie or some other dish. To find out that he or she recommends it, not because of its price, but because of its freshness, flavor and limited availability, will make me want it and appreciate that server all the more.

    Conversely, I’ve had the experience (at a local high-end venue that will remain nameless) where the server recommended and raved about a glass of very expensive wine and when I finally ordered it, tasted it, and didn’t care for it at all, he did nothing but make a frowny face. For that and other reasons (not the least of which was the quality of the food), I’ll never go back to that restaurant, and I’ll never get back that two hours or the 12 I spent terribly ill afterwards (mussels).

    I understand people must upsell in some situations. I am required to do it at my job as well. But I find I’ll tip better based on the ability of the server to enhance my dining experience, not only on how much the bill comes to.

  4. Becky July 16, 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    When I go to a restaurant, I’m looking for the expertise of my server. If it’s something I’ve never tasted I’d like his or her learned opinion on it – and I want the truth – not a line about how everything on the menu is delicious.

    At dinner, I do want to know what the specials of the evening are when the server arrives. Price is fairly irrelevant to me (and I know that may be rare) – what I want is what is going to make me oo and aah when I put it in my mouth. I am grateful for a server who will give me the benefit of experience with a fresh fish, in-season veggie or some other dish. To find out that he or she recommends it, not because of its price, but because of its freshness, flavor and limited availability, will make me want it and appreciate that server all the more.

    Conversely, I’ve had the experience (at a local high-end venue that will remain nameless) where the server recommended and raved about a glass of very expensive wine and when I finally ordered it, tasted it, and didn’t care for it at all, he did nothing but make a frowny face. For that and other reasons (not the least of which was the quality of the food), I’ll never go back to that restaurant, and I’ll never get back that two hours or the 12 I spent terribly ill afterwards (mussels).

    I understand people must upsell in some situations. I am required to do it at my job as well. But I find I’ll tip better based on the ability of the server to enhance my dining experience, not only on how much the bill comes to.

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