Types of Selling for Restaurant Servers


The basis of any restaurant training program aimed at increasing sales must first cover the basic types of selling. Take a look:

  • Upselling is enhancing an item already ordered (such as “up-sizing” a value meal or a draft beer, or adding cheese and guacamole to a burger).
  • Suggestive selling is describing an item guests have not ordered yet but could enhance their dining experience.
  • Situational selling is assessing the situation and informing guests of items or deals that best enhance that situation (let them make the choice).

Restaurant Training for Situational Selling

There’s a time and a place for all types of selling in a restaurant, but situation selling does the most to increase check averages, improve service, and promote guest loyalty. Train your servers on these situational selling techniques:

  • Ask questions. If guests can’t decide which bottle of wine to order, an on-the-ball server can ask questions about what type of wine the guests usually like to drink and how much they prefer to spend. If they tend to gravitate toward inexpensive brands, it’s wise to suggest something in their price range. Otherwise, they might suffer sticker shock at the end of the meal. Sell to the situation.
  • Suggest unique items. Everyone offers standard fare, and it should be on the menu, but to get guests coming back again and again, it’s a good idea to let them know about items they can’t get anywhere else. Or maybe it’s the method of preparation that sets a familiar dish apart. In other words, promote what makes your food distinctive: Server: “You may be thinking it’s just another hamburger, but we cook ours over an open flame with mesquite and special seasonings. If you’re not a meat-lover, you can order it with a veggie or black bean patty instead.”
  • Modify suggestions to address specific dietary needs. Servers should find out if there are any dietary needs or concerns right up front: “Before I tell you about my favorites, does anyone have any dietary concerns or questions I can answer?” If they want a low-carb meal, suggest a low-carb beer or a glass of wine.
  • Watch what you say. When it comes to celebrations, determine who’s paying. Is it okay to make suggestions about specials or is there a price range in mind? Work with the party host to identify parameters and customize suggestions.
  • Follow the lead. During business meetings, guests often hesitate to order an appetizer, dessert or alcohol. Servers can usually identify the person in charge and take his or her order first. If an appetizer or, say, a beer is ordered at that point, others will follow suit. On the other hand, if the top dog goes last, chances are a bunch of waters with lemon will be heading to the table. Another approach is to discreetly ask the person in charge if it would be appropriate to suggest items such as beer or wine.
  • Eliminate questions such as “Would you like…” and “Do you want…” They virtually encourage a “no” response. For example, “Would you like dessert?” If guests are indecisive, “no” is the easy way out. Or perhaps they’ll decline because there are too many unanswered questions: “How much is it?” and “What do you have?” and “Which one is the best?” When you don’t make it easy for guests to see the benefits, expect “no.” What’s more, the proper answer to “What’s good here?” is never “Everything.” Guests want direction. What are they in the mood for? What type of meal are they looking for (pasta, salad, steak)? Information is power.
  • Watch the negatives. Since most servers only sell like they’ve been sold to, they tend to repeat what they hear when they eat out. Unfortunately, many of those phrases are negative and may have crept into their vocabulary. When was the last time you actually listened to one of your servers or hosts make suggestions? Post a sign in the break area or on the POS terminal with a big red X through these phrases: “You don’t want dessert (or an appetizer or another beer) do you?” “Anything else?” “Decided yet?” “Is that all?”

Restaurant Service and Sales Training

The Service & Sales Excellence Waitstaff Training Series is based on Service That Sells!, a restaurant training philosophy developed by restaurant owners for restaurant owners. Click here to learn more.

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