Rule Five: Always recommend what is in the guest’s best interest, not yours.



(Note: There are many hyperlinks today that will send you to posts were I have previously addressed specifically issues that I address in this post.)

This is the second time in two days I have sat down to write this post.  Yesterday, I got caught up in a tangent which I think serves as an important preface to this post.  It even inspired a comment immediately that proved its accuracy.  In the preface, I discuss how restaurant companies have encouraged servers to focus on upselling and thus significantly damaged the relationship between servers and their guests.

I have written extensively about selling as a server in this blog.  I have personally never had a fear of sales.  My father is in sales and I grew up reading books by Ziglar, Hopkins, and other great sales people.  I have spent most of my serving career trying to determine how to best apply their techniques to a restaurant situation.  Many servers fear selling because they feel as if they are trying to make the guest do something they do not want to do.  They are also often afraid of rejection.  In both cases, these servers give their sales skills far too much credit.

A great sales pitch does not make people do things they do not want to do.  No one can really sell ice to Eskimos.  The power of sales is helping to justify the decisions people want to make anyway.  You are not going to talk someone into something they do not want, but instead you are helping them talk themselves into what they do want.  Understanding this means that rejection is not personal and selling is not unethical, if done for the right reasons.

The part of selling as a server that puts a bad taste in the mouth of guests and servers is how it is presented.  A fellow blogger posted an example of this yesterday.  Any server who has spent time in corporate restaurants has heard a manager recite from a memo how upselling salads can increase their income.  Not only do we know that financial incentives like this do not work, but it makes the whole process seem dirty.  It encourages servers to look at the people who walk in the door as ATM machines and not guests.  No wonder servers find the whole process manipulative.

So when is it safe to sell?  It is safe to sell when what you are selling is going to make the guest happy.  My recommendations are the source of many jokes around my restaurant.  When I present the menu I sell the heck out of a couple items.  The reason is simple.  They are the best items on the menu.  My guests will have a much better experience if they order them than if they order something else.  Not all menu items are created equally.  Every menu has mediocre items on it that will disappoint guests that order them.  Part of my job is to dissuade guests from ordering dishes that I know from experience they will not like.  In this way, selling is an important part of service.

Here is a simple test to determine if you are upholding or violating rule five.  If your best friend came in for a complimentary meal, what would you recommend?  If you are recommending to your guests what you would recommend to your best friend, then you are providing a service to the guest.

You are the expert who has tasted everything on the menu.  That expertise is part of the service you provide.  You also have to stand by your recommendation.  Serving is different than sales in as that your “commission” is determined by the guest in the form of the tip.  Recommending a more expensive item that they end up disliking will hurt you by reducing your tip percentage more than they increase in the guest check can compensate for.  Conversely, a great recommendation will result in a higher percent regardless of the effect on the check.  This is because you are actually providing a higher level of service by sharing your expertise.

When it comes to upselling the line becomes a little blurred.  If you are offering premium liquor, house salads, or upgraded sides solely to increase the check, you are violating this rule.  If you are offering it because they legitimately improve the meal, you are upholding it.  I think baked potatoes taste better with cheese and bacon.  Most people seem to.  Offering these items should not be seen as offensive.  Most guests will not object to the offer.  I am intentionally using the word “offer.”  You do not sell these items as much as remind the guest that they are available.  This is not sales as much as a service.  Offering these additional items will not offend guests as long as you are not continuously doing it and they are logical additions to the meal.

Selling is a service when done properly.  The key is to do it in the guest’s best interest and not your own.  Selling items that are not in the best interest will harm you in the long run.  Lower tip percentages will defeat your best attempts to increase their bill.  Never forget that the guest determines your commission.  This can work in your favor as well though.  A guest that has a great meal is a happy guest.  You cannot make every guest order an outstanding meal, but you can try.  If you do try, your guests and your wallets will both notice the difference.

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