September 12, 2023
Devn Ratz

For Starters: Settling the Upselling vs. Cross-Selling Debate

Does a debate rage in restaurants? Maybe it’s more of a mystery, but restaurateurs and servers alike often wonder and weigh upselling vs. cross-selling. Which is most effective for customer experiences, profitable service, and restaurant growth.

They ask—in real-world restaurants and online ordering hubs—if it would be better to upgrade what a customer has already decided, or raise the stakes with the chance to discover new drinks or dishes.

We asked the very same thing, and after a little research, the winning contender is clear. Our data tells one story, but does it align with what you know about restaurants, service, or off-premise and table-to-table sales moments? Let’s find out.  

Key Takeaway: Time, place, setting, situation—all factor into palatable differences between upselling vs. cross-selling, especially for restaurant revenue.
Get the whole scoop on menu design tactics with this free guide to the perfectly plotted path to more orders, higher checks, and better impressions.

What is Upselling?

Upselling is a delicate but practical art. It’s a sales technique enhanced by the skills of timing, emotional intelligence, and mastery of a restaurant’s menu. The sole aim of upselling is, of course, to successfully promote new dishes, add-ons, and highly profitable meals. That’s why it demands a kind of balancing act from servers and their management. 

Whether on-premise or off-promise, this is the situation: to succeed at upselling means you correctly identified a menu item perfect for your customer. That perfect menu item is one they themselves have not yet ordered. In other words, you have anticipated their needs by drawing on your knowledge of the restaurant, its menu, and the customers who sit before you.

It’s no wonder then, that as patrons get better recommendations, customer satisfaction levels also rise. A restaurant menu’s format itself can upsell the customer (and boost satisfaction experiences), but this is a different tactic and technology which we go into a little later. If you’re curious, read our guide to data intelligence in restaurants

Quick Tips for Upselling Skill-Building

To master upselling as a marketing strategy, your restaurant must make the most of its time, its menu, and its server’s instincts about customer interests. Try these interventions if it’s something you’d like to enhance throughout the culture of your restaurant:

  • Perfect Timing: Train your servers through role-playing example scenarios to practice the best moments for upselling they’ll actually encounter.
  • Menu Knowledge: Regularly schedule tasting sessions for servers to try new items or add-ons, so they can genuinely sell dishes they’ve previously enjoyed. 
  • Emotional Awareness: Try your hand in restaurant psychology by quizzing new servers on body language, verbal, and other upselling cues.
Make your menu standout from competition with patented technology to improve ordering revenue through both upselling and cross-selling at your restaurant.

How to Upsell (and How Not To)

Since the beginning of restaurants, upselling has existed. In that time, we have learned a lot about ourselves as customers—people under a combination of influences as they shop, dine, pay, and (hopefully) reorder. Today, the factors at play with upselling are clearer and more in-focus than they have ever been.

It all begins with an expert menu design, an excellent, streamlined dining experience, and a staff member’s (or software program’s) gentle call-to-action. Follow these steps throughout your restaurant to see where you’re going wrong—and right—with upselling strategies. 

Simple Menu Engineering Tips

The simplest and most straightforward path to making a sale is for your customer to know there’s something on offer. Here are a few ideas for your restaurant if you want to get into the nitty-gritty:

  • Make your high-margin items stand out with borders, bold, and eye-catching icons. 
  • Prefer clear, crisp descriptions of your dishes to make them inviting and approachable.
  • Limit the options your customer puzzles over with a concise menu, especially for cost reduction.
  • Contrast certain high-cost items with lower-priced meals to serve customers the impression of savings.

Sales-Ready Training Methods

While life is often the best teacher, role-playing as server and customer is never a bad idea with new service staff. But, if scenarios or fictional situations don’t stir their learning, try some of these approaches:

  • A quick pop quiz on menu items, prices, ingredients, preparation, or what-have-you.
  • Offer quality feedback on the hurdles you see staff struggling with during shifts.
  • Reinforce the idea that service is a balance between predictable structure and authentic improvisation. 

Examples of Effective Offer Bundling

Here are some of our favorite examples of bundling that you can use at almost any enterprise restaurant:

  • Offer a so-named “family package” with a main course for two, a few sites, and let’s say a two-liter of soda at a slightly discounted rate. 
  • Play on the “date night” with service that includes three, square courses and a delicious bottle of wine. 
  • Then, go for lunch too with one of your hottest-selling items paired with a select side and small drink.

But, don’t let us tell you what is best for your restaurant type, growth goals, or service approach. The key to success in selling is to make proven tactics your very own.

Avoiding Insincerity in Service

Servers are some of the most engaged listeners you might encounter in your day. They are then, in fact, to listen to you—often word-for-word—and carry out very detailed instructions for the seamless experience of getting what you pay for. 

However, some restaurants make the mistake of letting the customer down in a few key areas, where it’s clear to everyone that the restaurant is merely another business trying to make a quick buck. 

Ask yourself whether you give off this bad-for-sales impression in these ways:

  • Hurried service. Do you present a relaxed pace, or one that makes it look like you are rushing from kitchen to table and back again without a moment to spare?
  • Uninspired recommendations. Do your servers intimately know what they are selling? Are they honest about these experiences?
  • Impersonal attention. Can your staff recall the names of your regulars? Do they know how to build trust by remembering this simple fact?
Key Takeaway: There's no replacement for well-designed menus paired with optimal service staff for connecting, listening, and easily increasing averages.
Learn to maximize revenue with upselling and cross-selling through data insights from our free guide to restaurant technology used properly.

Upselling Techniques: Pairing Service and Software

Beyond the menu, table, and way up in “the cloud” is a place where upselling has been perfected. It sits at the intersection of customer information and prediction based on CRM systems, food data, and more. It suggests what customers will want before they have a chance to reason it out for themselves. 

Some of this technology has come about because of patented online food ordering technology for restaurants. In the final analysis, it’s the outcome of intelligent, profound integration between on-site POS systems and every other restaurant system, including off-site, third-party ordering platforms. 

Surprisingly, only two definite steps are involved in unlocking this upselling technique, and it’s tantamount that they are done correctly—if not elegantly. 

Step 1. Integrate. 

Tenderly, carefully, and above all seamlessly—integrate your data from POS systems with other restaurant technologies through a trusted software partner. As systems align, so will the pieces of the puzzle for how to increase sales for your particular restaurant. 

Step 2. Segment.

Then, become the enterprise eatery that actively targets users with precise, sophisticated upselling strategies. For instance, create tailored menus and order suggestions based on previous orders. 

It probably sounds simple, but it gets messy when we’re discussing multi-location restaurants with many millions of items ordered and thousands of yearly customers. To speed the process, review our restaurant AI tools breakdown to get up to speed on this mission-critical reporting and analysis.

Discover the difference between you and restaurant competition through an integrated look at your customer data with Revolution Ordering.

What is Cross-Selling? 

Most basically, cross-selling enhances sales by offering new items based on customer behavior, purchasing trends, and many more considerations.

The difficulty is cross-selling means different things to different people, depending on the role you play in the restaurant. As a server, concerns are distinct from operations and management, and the same distinguishes business owners. So, let’s dig into these differences based on who you are. 


Cross-selling means an enriched experience for customers. It is not about getting more items to fill their stomachs. Instead, cross-selling is about complementing, elevating, and finally profiting from the sublime enjoyment customers receive from your savvy attention.


As a server, your primary aim may to elevate experiences, but your sole mission is to increase those end-of-shift tips. Without loyal customers who know where to go for better dining, there’s often not enough to go around. Cross-selling serves as a way to perk up paychecks, in that sense. 


For management, cross-selling is most serious. To get customers prepped to order more and more, we offer these options to taunt more value before their eyes:

  • Feature limited-time restaurant meals, drinks, or sides for the adventurous. 
  • Create quick guides for your servers to see the best combinations at a glance.
  • Leverage order history information to embolden even  tried-and-true item favorites. 


If you’re a restaurant owner or operator, your goal with cross-selling is to grow. For help optimizing traffic (in-person and online), get your demo with Revolution Ordering to learn about our proprietary integrations. 

Key Takeaway: Cross-selling is an interdisciplinary game with many actors, but it works only if the customer is satisfied with the attempt to elevate their dining experience. 

Upselling vs. Cross-Selling: Final Words

When compared, merit for merit, the upsell and cross-sell both prove to increase revenue, stir customer satisfaction, and maximize restaurant returns. But, they are still not equal. 

Before we reveal the most effective method, let’s get clear on what makes them almost matched and nevertheless aligned as sales strategies.

Upselling and cross-selling seem to equally encourage customers to order, spend, and engage more with your restaurant’s branded offers. For instance, a customer might:

So, both the upselling and cross-selling process add volume, increase averages, and improve experiences. Beyond shared results, they also both rely heavily on the skill of your staff and the excellence of your restaurant’s menu. 

The Decisive Difference

The upsell vs. cross-sell are different in the way they look at the customer’s existing, voiced choices: the upsell encourages more of the same; the cross-sell complements with something fresh. 

Upselling requires that customers have made a choice upon which you can build great tasting promotional deals to spice up sales volume. It’s like the barista who so generously gives you just a bit more in your cup, at a special rate: it’s you—and you’re a regular. Finally, it’s additional spending—no matter how you slice it. 

But, imagine the same barista’s recommendation to include a new crunchy topping, non-dairy milk, or even sweeten it up with fancy syrup. Cross-selling adds a fresh, new dimension to existing products—rather than decisions. It does so while aimed at tips, satisfaction, and brand revenue, but it is nonetheless a new aspect to the experience. 

Which Will Win?

As promised, we’re here to explain which method is more effective. Simply put, upselling is better at giving the potent and personal touch needed to effectively encourage spending without distracting from the experience. 

Cross-sales will always have their place on the menu of sales tactics for modern restaurants as long as our customers haven’t exhausted our options. But, if you’re looking for the path of least resistance, consider what you can get by adding a hint of helpful encouragement here and there to what customers have already set their heart’s on.

Key Takeaway: Seeing that upselling statistically improves profitability and experiences compared to cross-selling, don't neglect to use both tactics to encourage new offer adoption.
To go beyond upselling vs. cross-selling differences, get the insights you need to grow your restaurant from Revolution Ordering.