5 Strategies to Transform Your Restaurant's Servers into Sellers


Among the most powerful metrics in our entire industry is check average. This simple number defines how much each guest spends while visiting your restaurant. Even small increases in it can have a substantial impact on your sales and profitability. Unfortunately, as easy to understand as check average is, few operators take substantive steps to improve it. While there are lots of little things you can do to drive it upward, there is only one way to truly impact that number -- suggestive selling.

There are few full-service restaurant operators that don’t at least pay lip service to the value of suggestive selling, but when you ask them the specific strategy they employ all you hear are crickets. Selling is an art and some folks have the skill naturally, but most need more training and support to actually succeed. It’s unnatural to approach a stranger and ask them to spend their money on what you think is valuable. Consequently, operators must ensure their staff are both comfortable doing it and give them the training that will facilitate their success.

There are no shortcuts to good selling tableside, but it’s also not too hard to accomplish… if you have a plan. We have defined five strategies you can employ to give your service team the tools they need to grow your business by selling.

Hire Those That Can Sell

Boost restaurant sales by hiring great sales people.

There so many factors you need to consider when choosing someone to join your team. That’s why testing a server, bartender or host candidate, to see if they have any pre-built sales skills is a really good idea. There are multiple ways to assess how prepared they are to sell while interviewing. Whether you ask a candidate to tell you a joke or sell you something during their interview, you can observe their mannerisms, comfort level, and determine if they have the basic skills to work with as pertains to selling.

This doesn’t mean that someone that struggles should be removed from consideration. It’s simply a way to see them in action. For example, if they lack experience in selling, they may still be articulate and smart enough that you can have confidence in their potential. You may also want to redirect someone that doesn’t pass muster on selling to a host position, where sales are less important. This way you can capture a great overall candidate and give them time to develop into a great server and sales person.

Bake Sales into Your Staff Training

Boost your restaurant's sales with sales-driven training techniques.

The most effective way to sustain a solid sales process with your service team is to build it into your training programs. Most training systems address tableside selling at a cursory level, but they don’t stress its importance or provide significant methods for developing sales skills. By building specific sales-related exercises into all service staff’s training plan, you articulate to your team the value you place on great selling.

Begin by defining how you want selling handled in your restaurant. This is extremely important because it’s your opportunity to structure the expectations of your staff surrounding sales. By not having a sales component included in training, you are conveying that you aren’t focused on it. There is more than one approach to selling and your training regimen is how you articulate and indoctrinate (yup, that’s exactly what good training is -- an indoctrination) your team to your specific vision.

Whether you want your sales efforts to be limited to the classic “get two nos” approach or you want to deliver a more nuanced version with organic suggestions, the key is to take control by specifically defining it and training against your vision.

Role Playing

Boost your restaurant's sales with some role playing.

While role play is a specific component of training, its value in sales preparation merits a separate discussion. While your basic training must include sales execution, you may also want to add a role play component to an all staff meeting. Ask your best performers to play the role of server and show how to adeptly offer suggestions to guests that will both increase sales, but also augment their dining experience.

Most people absolutely hate the idea of the role play in training. It’s awkward and puts trainees on the spot. However, there is simply no other way to practice selling unless you are doing actual sales. While an “on the job” approach has its own merits, it doesn’t deliver any practical basis for those selling, nor can you give feedback. As we explained above, it’s your vision of selling you want them to adopt. If you set them to sell and don’t give them a chance to practice your way, then you will have no control over how they execute their sales efforts.

Gamify the Sales Process with Sales Incentives

Gamify the sales process to boost your restaurant staff's sales totals.

With any behavior that you want to nurture, you need to have a method in place to reinforce good performance. Implementing a system for sales incentives is an easy way to reward good execution. The problem for most operators is that running contests, tracking results, and managing rewards is more work than they are willing to accept. That’s where new technology can help.

Take start up Springzy for example. This is a very simple to implement technology that allows an operator through POS integration to deploy a contest via Springzy’s mobile platform and instantly inform their staff. Then the software tracks their performance based on POS metrics, push results right to the phones and emails of your team. Servers and bartenders can check their results in real time. Springzy reports that locations that implement their system increase sales on average 4%. Let’s be honest, who among you wouldn’t take an immediate 4% sales increase?

Results & Your Response

The final step in setting up your restaurant for sales success is YOU!

It’s not enough that you have hired, trained, and incentivized your sales team. To truly cement a sales focus in your culture, you must reinforce the message through your response. Start by not keeping success a secret. For example, if you are using a system like Springzy, notify staff when a sales contest is completed. By sharing the results regularly, you solidify your team’s understanding that you value sales. Also, track their individual check average over time to demonstrate how your focus has increased their sales -- and by extension their gratuities.

As a manager, you just can’t hope things will go well; you have to make them better. By following these basic strategies, you can grow sales, improve what your staff earns (remember more sales = more tips), and turn your restaurant into a true sales organization. After all, that’s what we do right? Sell!