September 5, 2023
Devn Ratz

How to Upsell in a Restaurant: A Server's Guide to Upselling

To begin with, restaurants aim to persuade customers to add more onto their checks and carts through what is called upselling (as compared to what cross-selling is). For a fuller comparison of these key concepts in restaurant sales, see our upselling vs. cross-selling comparison. We also have a convenient, comprehensive guide to upselling and cross-selling.

The truth is upselling organically increases restaurant sales, the average check size, and the brand’s revenue potential. This creates a need for structured, strategic, and sometimes scripted upselling techniques.

As for any enterprise restaurant, the success of your upselling tactics depend on spotting those telling signs from customers, the connection quickly formed with customers, and the training of your restaurant staff. As a consequence, we’ve divided this post into three tutorials on those three needs for how to upsell in restaurants.

Overall, you’ll see that upselling techniques balance restaurant needs with improved customer experiences to build mutual benefits. It may not matter if it’s a larger soda, a better beer, or the more premium glass of wine. Each is an opportunity for your customer to enjoy more‒and for you to profit more.

See the moment to strike an upselling conversation, how to present the idea, and where to begin with renovating your restaurant’s entire approach to server sales through upselling techniques.

Key Takeaway: Your upselling process should fit the skill of your servers, the interests of your customers, and the engineering of your restaurant’s menu design.
Learning how to upsell is also critical in customer retention and loyalty programs, so read up with this free resource to all things customer loyalty for restaurants.

How to See the Upselling Opportunity

Upselling is dynamic. As a server and training manager, you must effectively use several skills to convince, persuade, and compel diners, subtly, toward higher-priced customer satisfaction.

Understand the Menu

The first thing that servers and trainers should spot are the high-profit items in the corners and bold boxes of a well-planned menu format. By starting to familiarize themselves with what they will be upselling, they are in a better position to communicate intelligently about any offer.

Know Your Customers

One thing you can count on is that the customer enjoys what seems complementary. Offering a free taste of wine or beer can whet the spirits for many more rounds.

The other principle is more easily and generally applied. Look for clues from your customers words and questions to identify their palate, interests, and customer profile. This will make the work of recommendations more targeted and informed.

Recognize the Moment

Know how much your customers intend to enjoy their time while in your restaurant‒or when reviewing your restaurant’s delivery service. Find ways you can elevate the occasion.

As a bonus, you can bring the same level of interest in their experience by building rapport upon approaching the table with an earnest introduction‒and “How’s your night going?” Once they trust you, get to the business of enhancing their choices with upgrades and premium ingredients.

How to Present the Upgrade Opportunity

When standing before our guests and patrons, one of the most effective techniques for selling is the simple suggestion. But, an effective suggestion requires in-the-moment awareness and prior preparation. There are a few more techniques you might find helpful as you make upselling suggestions.

Use Stimulating Language

By far, the most stimulating language is flavorful (and part of the menu making process). What does this mean? Typically, it means it appeals to a visual or sensory faculty of the brain. Sometimes the descriptive word is best, especially if your establishments burgers satisfy most with juicy meats on buttery buns with a tangy house sauce.

Build Value with Imagery

Many servers demonstrate the elegance of plated dishes with their hands, giving a visual cue to guests on what to anticipate‒and what to salivate for eagerly.

If the menu doesn’t come with a graphic support to your dinner order conversation, think up to how to get high-margin dishes to appear in the buyer’s mind. While upselling works for sales, it also works for guest retention, meaning these lucid mental moments help paint a picture of who your brand really is.

Assume Simple Benefits

Customized digital menu ordering makes good use of the customization option through prominent buttons and automated offers. With serving, these built-in sales avenues simply aren’t part of the equation without additional restaurant technology.

Instead, assume your diner want the best experience possible. And, make sure to inform them along the way if a smart upgrade (or two) will take the steak to the next level.

How to Train Staff with Upselling Tactics

One of the most important negative influences in the sales process is complexity. Complexity challenges motivation, especially when someone is trying to convey a simple, persuasive message to get buy-in. As a result, there are other ways to support sales that outright, direct, logical arguments for buying more.

Take a simpler, more streamlined approach to upselling with these tips:

Choose “Social” Approaches

Social proof, in marketing and beyond, shows authenticity and ethic. People are more likely to trust products, restaurants, and dinner options that others largely trust. As a result, most online ordering platforms make smart use of these “popular” hotbeds for boosting food delivery sales.

Servers has a relatively straightforward time casually mentioning how they themselves and many of their regular customers enjoy the dish at issue, or higher up in price point. This is a kind of interpersonal social proof that has an effect even if it can’t easily be verified.

Motivate with Psychology

Scarcity and loss aversion are one of the most powerful drivers of human decision making and psychology. The basic idea is that if one might not have something for a long time, they will likely try to acquire it before others. Then, loss aversion states that most people will avoid “taking a loss” if it means going with another, sometimes unplanned course of action.

This tells servers that limited promotion items are ready for reaping when it comes to collecting higher check averages, especially if they delicately present the choice selection of local ingredients the item comes with as “crisp” and “summery”‒for instance.

Instill all the techniques above into a combined, fluid customer experience as your servers and technology prepare your restaurants for maximum profits.

Knowing how to upsell means understanding customer trends and high-level business intelligence. Get the scoop through a free, custom demo of online ordering with advanced reporting.

Frequently Asked Questions About How to Upsell

Discover the reasons that upselling is such a staple, success technique for the modern eatery. Staff use it to improve their livelihood and boost the outlook of the restaurants that employ them.

Get the best examples, strategies, and distinctions of upselling compared to other techniques below.

What is an example of upselling a customer?

As an example of upselling, imagine the local fast-casual eatery down the street getting you to upgrade your meal, drink, or fries. The savvy saleswomen behind the register advises you that a large soda is just $0.23 more than the medium size. She pauses, and says “But only until tomorrow.”

Hypothetically, the upsell is basically built into menu pricing, and all the staff has to do is connect with customers to draw out their natural cooperation with their own maximum enjoyment.

What is the main strategy for successful upselling?

The primary strategy in upselling comes from understanding the customer. If you know their needs and see their true interests, you’ll offer a product which is the best solution‒raising satisfaction ratings and more restaurant KPIs while you’re at it.

The combination of open, honest communication and split-second relationship-building are both made of this awareness toward the customer.

What’s the difference between upselling and cross-selling?

When you upsell, you elevate the purchase decision a customer has already made (like in the example of the medium- vs. large-sized soda). But, during a cross-selling restaurant interaction, you’ll recommend an additional product that may also elevate the dining experience, such as an appetizer, dessert, or cocktail.

Each method intends to bring out the best from the restaurant while maximizing average check sizes and contributing to an improved customer experience. To learn more about the differences and top strategies for each, read out guide to upselling vs. cross-selling.