The Art of the Upsell
Dessert is the last impression diners form of their meal and the restaurant. So why is it that this sweet way to leave a fond culinary memory is so often the most neglected aspect of the meal? Adding a tasty closer like a creme brulee or molten chocolate mousse, matched with a fine cappuccino or espresso and a liqueur, can add at least $12 to the tab and put extra money in the server's pocket.
Servers are on a restaurant's front line in promoting a higher check ring, and with the right selling strategies, they can ensure diners leave with a sweet taste in their mouths.
"The power of suggestion is huge," says chef consultant Gary E. Miller. "As a wise man once told me, when someone comes into your restaurant, they've come to be sold to, so sell them something." Too often, he adds, servers consider themselves order-takers instead of salespeople. "Your kitchen is the production and manufacturing department, and your wait staff are your sales department."
Training servers to sell
"Servers have to be reminded to do these things," says Miller. "It's the job of managers to train their staff and remind them to sell. Some places hold competitions - see how many desserts can you sell this week. The server who sells the most desserts gets a piece of special dessert of the week or some other incentive."
Servers need to believe in the desserts they're selling, so a good chef or restaurant manager will ensure the servers have tried all the desserts. If they love them, they'll do a better job of selling them. Wait staff must also speak intelligently about desserts, for instance noting whether certain recipes contain nuts or cream.
Managers should train servers in the art of using vivid language to sell dessert items. It's never just a piece of chocolate cake, it's a five-layer chocolate cake with Kahlua cream filling.
Tips to put dessert on diners' must-eat menu
Dessert is a perfect way to finish off a great meal, but not if diners are looking at a half-cleared table with the remnants of dinner when the server offers the dessert option. Servers should clear the table completely and pause before selling dessert.
Once the table is ready for the final course, servers should avoid asking a question like "are you interested in any dessert?", which is all too easy to answer with a NO.
Here are some upselling strategies servers can use to put dessert back on the menu:
- Always bring a dessert menu and put one in front of each diner.
- Use upselling lines, such as: "I guarantee you'll like our dessert tonight." Then paint a tantalizing picture of the sweets on offer. Creating an attractive image helps sell more effectively than simply listing the desserts or leaving a dessert menu on the table.
- Don't be afraid to embellish. By adding a few superlatives, such as "creamy," "indulgent," "chocolatey," you create a desire for dessert. Diners won't even ask the price.
- Recommend a house specialty. "Our chocolate pots de creme is a very light dessert, unique to us. I think you'll like it." Here you're selling two features: a house specialty that's also light a consideration for people watching their waistlines. Or tell diners, "We have the best cr?me caramel in the city." Even if they don't order it that night, they'll remember for next time.
- Bring a dessert cart or tray. Some restaurants still offer this option, which attracts diners to after-dinner sweets.
- Consider selling dessert before the meal. For instance, tell diners that tonight the restaurant is featuring homemade pie or souffle, but only in limited quantities. "May I put one aside for you?"
- Offer "tasters." Who can resist trying small portions of a variety of desserts? Gary Miller says one restaurant he visited offers "just a taste," with a few bites of dessert for $1.49.
- Always carry desserts at table level (not above the head) and take the long way around the restaurant. Being able to see and smell the desserts is an excellent persuader.
- Recommend lighter options. If diners say they're too full, make sure to suggest a lighter option, like a plate of biscotti or a dish of sorbet.
It's all in the power of suggestion. If servers can get diners to say yes to coffee, they should be able to add a little sweet accompaniment to end the meal in style.