The Guide to Suggestive Selling For Restaurant Owners and Employees

The Guide to Suggestive Selling For Restaurant Owners and Employees
D. J. Costantino

By D. J. Costantino

In the restaurant industry, every bit counts. It may seem small to go for a few dollar increases on a check, but as your check average grows, as do your profits.

There is a way, to both grow profits and upgrade your customer experience at the same time: suggestive selling.

In this blog post, we will discuss suggestive selling and how it can improve your restaurant's bottom line.

What is suggestive selling?

Suggestive selling is a sales tactic that encourages guests to order something that is different from what they had planned to order or usually order in an effort to increase the check size and make their experience better.

Suggestive selling is an important skill and practice for restaurant workers. It's a fine line between putting pressure on guests to order something more expensive, and making perceptive and intelligent suggestions based on what they've already ordered or shown interest in.

It's a tactic that can also take multiple forms, such as suggesting a limited special burger to someone who orders the usual signature every time. Likewise, it could be a suggestion to try the grilled steak with their salad rather than their usual grilled chicken. Or it could be a bottle of wine that you know a guest will enjoy based on past purchases.

Suggestive Selling vs. Upselling vs. Cross-selling

Suggestive selling and up-selling are similar tactics, and can be used interchangeably. Where they differ is that upselling is used to suggest an add-on to an existing item. The most common use of this is to make a meal into a combo by adding fries and a drink, or adding something like grilled chicken or a fried egg to a salad or rice bowl.

Cross-selling shares DNA with both suggestive selling, and is used to suggest an item that is complementary to what the guest has ordered. Think, a glass of Chianti with their spaghetti or a croissant with their cappuccino.

Not only do these tactics increase check average, they also make the guests' experience feel more tailored to what they like. Compared to going through the specials to every guest or blasting all online orders with an offer, these personalized approaches are favorable.

Benefits of suggestive selling

Suggestive selling benefits everyone involved. Your guests have a personalized and better experience. Your servers' tips get increased from a higher check average. And restaurateurs get great customer reviews and a higher check average. If you don't already have a suggestive selling strategy, we highly recommend putting one into place in your business. If you still need some convincing, here are some more of the key benefits of effective suggestive selling.

Better guest experience

In hospitality, the goal should always be to “wow” the guest. Suggestive selling is just one way to make their experience more personal and special. It also goes a long way in crystallizing your restaurant's reputation for great customer service and experiences.

Higher tips and checks

When guests order items that are priced slightly higher, check sizes go up, and tips in turn with them. Guests will also walk away from the table having had a much better experience, which leads to higher tips overall. And higher tips mean a happier, more motivated staff—one that sticks around.

Increased profits and five-star reviews

A great guest experience and higher check averages are a self-fulfilling machine that lead to higher profits for restaurant owners, and a better reputation amongst diners. It costs a lot more to acquire new customer than to retain an existing one, and suggestive sales techniques can help you do so.

Here are a few techniques that you can use today to start making your guests happier and check averages higher.

Suggestive selling techniques for restaurants

Know the Menu, Back to Front

To make effective and personal suggestions, your team has to know their stuff. Use pre-shift staff meetings and staff meals to educate your team on the menus, and give them the opportunity to taste everything. Have your chef go into detail about how ingredients are sourced and dishes are prepared, so your team can ace any questions that guests may have. Have bartenders or beverage directors go through pairings for dishes—and give servers notes on how to speak about them. An informed team is your best bet for success in suggestive selling.

A great way to communicate menu notes to your team is by using tools like 7shifts chat and announcements. Have a new special with an awesome pairing? Send a blast to the whole serving staff, so they are up-to-date for service.

Make Personal Recommendations

Would you be more inclined to order a special that's just listed off the board, or one that a server is passionate about? Our guess is the latter. Personal recommendations are much more, well, personal and effective. Encourage staff to share what they love with guests. If your servers are all about a certain dish or drink, let them show their enthusiasm to guests. A genuine suggestion is better than one that you can tell a manager fed, every time.

Create a loyalty program

Restaurant loyalty programs are highly effective in increasing both customer spend and customer visits. A great loyalty program itself acts as another channel for suggestive selling. With rewards at certain spend levels, they may be more inclined to add something that puts them over the edge.

Offer customizations and add-ons

Think about how many times you went for the guacamole even though it costs extra. Or you added a syrup or double shot to your latte. Or doubled up on protein in your bowl or sandwich. And don't even get started on pizza toppings. Offering customizations and add-ons to meals in a quick service setting can help drive up check sizes, and it makes guests happy to get exactly what they want. Everybody wins!

Leverage restaurant technology

In full-service restaurants, many POS or reservation systems can also help collect guest data for you. Restaurant software like SevenRooms and ResyOS have deep capabilities that can even save diner preferences like their favorite table, drinks, dietary preferences, and more. Use tech like this to your advantage and make even better, more tailored suggestions based on previous orders or trends.

For example, if you know a guest loves to drink Burgundy, offer them a bottle with a slightly higher markup. If a guest has “vegetarian” marked in their profile, you can be sure you don't recommend them a dish for carnivores. It's just another way that suggestive selling benefits both guests and restaurants.

Optimize your delivery apps

We've all been there: “I just need 2 more bucks for free delivery!” Not only is it a pain point for guests that you can help solves, it's also an incredible opportunity for some suggestive selling. Engineer your delivery menu like beverages or small sweets and sides that can gelp get guests over the hump for free delivery or loyalty rewards,

Create some friendly competition

Nothing lights a fire in teams like a bit of friendly competition. To kick-start some suggestive selling, offer an incentive for team members who can do it most effectively. For example, the server who can get the highest rate of suggestions to convert takes home a prize at the end of the month. This encourages smart suggestions, rather than impersonal ones with a low rate of success.

What suggestive selling isn't

By now, you have a good idea of what suggestive selling is. But it's important to understand what suggestive selling isn't. Here are few things to keep in mind:

Making generic suggestions

Suggestive selling is successful when it heightens a guest experience. Use context clues to make informed suggestions. So don't go and suggest the surf and turf to someone who just ordered a tomato soup, or a glass of wine to someone who has had their second pint of beer. It won't be successful, and makes the guests feel as if you're not paying attention.

Putting pressure on guests

If a server or bartender makes a suggestion, and the guest politely declines, the last thing to do is to double down and ask again. A guest should never feel pressured into ordering something that they don't want, and if they are, you'll likely lose them as a customer for good.

Suggestive Selling: Putting it Intro Practice

Armed with the dos, don't's, and why's suggestive selling, you're ready to implement a strategy with your team. Be sure to try out different tactics to see what works for your restaurant, and share ideas, successes, and failures with your team.

Now go make some sales!

Frequently asked questions

Who should train the staff on suggestive selling?

It depends on your restaurant, but the person training the team on suggestive selling should be a shift lead, captain, or general manager. Learn more about the different types of positions in a restaurant.

What is a good example of suggestive selling?

A good example of suggestive selling is when a customer orders a usual signature burger, the server suggests they try a more premium version with additional toppings.

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D. J. Costantino
D. J. Costantino

Hi! I'm D.J., 7shifts' resident Content Writer. I come from a family of chefs and a background in food journalism. I'm always looking for ways to help make the restaurant industry better!