4 Ways to Increase Restaurant Profits Without Upselling

By Donald Burns, Foodable Contributor

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The upsell. How many restaurants have you been to where the server comes over and automatically starts into the canned sales script they are told to recite with the energy of a sloth? Enough already. Upselling is dead. That's right, today's customer is far too overstimulated with about a 1,000 other sales pitches every day from their mobile phones, email, Facebook, Twitter, Google+… they are everywhere!

So, how does a restaurant increase sales if upselling is a dead end? Simple. We need to change our mindset and focus to build better rapport. Here are 4 ways to get you down a better path to profits.

4 Alternative Ways to Increase Profits

1. Be Guest-Centric

Very few things are as frustrating as someone trying to get you to buy something you have no interest in. The canned “welcome” scripts at most restaurants are truly stale and delivered in a way that would not inspire most customers to buy the item being pitched. The reason they have lost their effectiveness is this: they are pitched without a focus on the guest’s needs, just what the restaurant is trying to sell. 

In order to be effective in increasing sales, you first need to be focused totally on the guest and the guest experience. Walking up and going through a prepared sales script asking me if I “want to start my meal off with a fried onion blossom” just demonstrates to the guest that you just want to jack up the check. Faux Pas.

Customers today demand service that is focused on their needs and their wants. That is why the fast-casual segment has exploded! They allow the customer to say exactly what they want on their pizza, bowl, burrito, burger or salad. Customization is the new black.

Independent restaurants need a change in mindset to being able to customize their brand experience to fit what the customer is looking for. How do you do that? Learn to build better rapport with your guests.

2. Build Rapport

Human beings are, at a primal level, social creatures. We gather in communities and groups to share experiences. Which is more exciting: watching the Super Bowl at home with one friend or being at the stadium surrounded by 50,000 screaming fans?

There are 4 Golden Rules of Hospitality that truly help build rapport with guests:

  • Look at me
  • Smile at me
  • Talk to me
  • Thank me

The first two are so important and yet it is sad to say, are often overlooked in the fast-paced food business. Servers run from table to table trying to get orders and get them to the kitchen to prepare. You need to slow down. Not taking the time to build real rapport with the guests is hurting your business.

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul and it might very well be true. There are very few things as effective as eye contact. If you really want to take your eye contact rapport building skills to a new level, try this: focus on their left eye.

Not to get too scientific, but we know the brain is divided into two hemispheres. Our right and left hemispheres are controlled by opposite sides of our body. So, the right hemisphere controls the left side and processes what we see in our left eye, while the left eye has control over the right side and processes what we see through our right eye.

Psychologists in the field of social interaction have basically concluded that the right eye is our social self and the left eye is our true self. We naturally tend to focus on the right eye when talking to someone. Conduct your own social experiment and for the next week when you’re talking to someone, make a conscious effort to focus in on the left eye. You might just find the results very rewarding.

And don’t forget to smile! When we see someone smile it automatically fires off neurons that are wired to the oldest part of our brain. Smiling stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms in the same way that chocolate does… without the calories, of course.

A smile is one of the most basic, biological uniform expressions of all humans. A smile transcends race, religion and language. Your smile should be part of your uniform whenever you are talking to the customer, business associate or your team.

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3. Watch Your Body Language

It’s a fascinating fact that the majority of how we communicate is through nonverbal or body language. Researchers tend to believe that number is around 55 percent (there are other reports that actually have that number up around 70 percent). It’s pretty crazy to think that over half of our communication is purely nonverbal.

You need to be aware of the nonverbal effects your body language is having on the guest and how it subconsciously shapes their dining experience. Walking up to the table disheveled, frantically searching for a pen, or heavily sighing can often result in looking up to see a guest with a look of shock upon their face. This is the start of a bad guest experience — and the food has not even arrived yet.

Professionals are always aware of their body language and the messages they are sending to others. What does your body language say? Does it say you’re confident, and enthusiastic, or just opposite?

SOLER is an easy acronym for the service team to remember when approaching a table:

S – smile (it’s a universal sign of a friend)
O – openness (don’t be stiff)
L - lean forward (it shows you’re engaged)
E - eye contact (remember to look at the left eye)
R – relax (your energy level will transfer to the guest)

Being aware of your body language is step number one. The hard part is trying to control it. That takes practice, outside input and willpower.

4. Make Sincere Recommendations  

Let’s put all the elements together. Your mindset is focused on the guest. You approach the table with confident body language, eye contact, smile, and welcome the guest. Here is where you get to be a consultant and guide them through the menu by making sincere recommendations. It must be emphasized that when you’re making menu recommendations, they must be sincere or it’ll come off as just another cheesy sales pitch.

This is where owners and chefs have to ensure that the service team actually has tasted the food. What good is a sincere recommendation if the team member has never tried it? Not very effective.

I like to use a little technique called the rule of two. The service team is trained to make two recommendations. The first one is a personal recommendation, it’s something they truly feel is fantastic. The second one reinforces a psychological phenomenon called social proof. Here’s an example:

Server: “Let me point out a few things on the menu.”

First recommendation – “The crab cakes with the shrimp remoulade are my absolute favorite.”

Second recommendation – “The fried pork belly cubes with cardamom powdered sugar is our number one appetizer.”

Now look through your menu and find your two recommendations for every category. 

When you have taken the time to build rapport with the guest, you create trust. When you create trust, the guest is very receptive to your recommendations. When you make recommendations that enhance their dining experience, they are grateful. Grateful guests tend to tip better and come back more often. Those are all things you do want in your restaurant!