Search engine results are one of the most amusing parts of writing a blog.  I get to see what people are searching for that lands them on this page.  Almost every day someone lands on this page looking for sales techniques.  Upon closer examination I am seeing a trend of the phrasing of the searches.  “How to get servers to sell” and similar phrasing lead me to believe that a lot of these searches are from managers attempting to get their servers to sell more.

For the sake of managers reading this blog, I will share my first rule of restaurant management.

You cannot manage servers.  You can lead servers.  You can motivate servers.  You cannot manage servers.


Trying to manage servers is like trying to herd cats.  The more you try to manage them, the more of their energy will be diverted from the guests and towards defying you.  Servers are almost inherently antiauthoritarian.  People become servers because it is a job where by working hard you can make far more than comparable jobs.  Serving is designed for the individual to excel.  There is a certain rugged individualism intrinsic in servers.  Trying to control or manage servers will certainly backfire killing morale and hurting your guests’ experiences.

This does not mean you cannot get servers to do what you want.  It does mean that you have to be intelligent in how you get them to do what you want.  If you try to motivate your staff through a “carrot and stick” approach while forgetting about the carrot, it will fail.  Instead of trying to make your servers sell you must make a convincing case that it is in their best interest to sell.  In tomorrow’s post I will present this case, today I want to address how to avoid common mistakes managers make.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

What To Sell: The only reason a server should recommend or sell an item is because the guest will enjoy it.  Restaurants profit from the sale, but servers profit from the response.  Telling your servers to push a sub par item based solely on profit margin is actually telling them to shoot themselves in the foot.  It is difficult for even a trained sales person to sell a product they don’t believe in.  If you want to see your servers sell, let them pick what they sell.  A contest to sell appetizers will get better results than a contest to sell a particular high profit appetizer.

Sell It First: This is vital to the concept of leadership.  If you cannot sell an item to your staff, how can you expect them to sell it to their guests?  If you introduce a new item or would like your staff to sell it, sell it to them.  Educate them on what makes it so outstanding and give them the tools to sell it to their guest.  Coming up with a reason they should be excited about the item is the first step in them conveying this excitement to guests.

Incentives Not Punishments: If you want a sure fire way to kill morale, decimate customer service, and increase theft, threaten servers jobs for not selling.  I recently read a description of the most misguided attempt at increasing sales ever.  Threatening punishment for servers who do not sell is going to affect your restaurant negatively in more far reaching ways and unify your staff in revolt.  Instead offer incentives to servers who excel.  Recognize and praise them for their efforts.  Create a culture of reward instead of consequence and your staff will respond positively.

Get Creative With Incentives: Your servers are not clones. They are each motivated by different things.  For some it might be money.  For others it might be praise.  A Saturday night off could be punishment for some and reward for others.  Look at your staff and determine what the best prize is.  One of the simplest and most effective rewards is telling your staff that if they sell a particular number of any entrée, they get one on the house for dinner. This will motivated them to go out and sell their favorite item, that might be too expensive to pay for themselves even with their discount, to all of their guests.  This is so effective because they get to pick it and their excitement at the opportunity to have it for dinner will spill over to their guests.

Leadership and management are two different skills.  You manage objects, but you must lead people.  It would be far easier to simply manage servers.  You can choose to not lead your staff, but if you refuse to take the extra effort how can you expect them to do more than simply take orders?  As my father would say, “You can’t push a rope, but you can pull it.”  The speed of the leader is the speed of the pack.  How fast is your leadership leading your pack?

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