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Upselling Techniques for Bars and Restaurants

Good upselling techniques are key to making your bar or restaurant more profitable. But did you know that the right tactics can also boost your customer’s experience and help build loyalty among your customer base?

Upselling is a common sales strategy that businesses use to increase the total amount a customer spends.  Developing a good upselling strategy is a detail-oriented process that requires planning and collaboration. Forget pushy or aggressive sales tactics and think more along the lines of the best customer service imaginable. Good upselling is a customer-oriented process that should look and feel collaborative. When done well, it will not only increase your profit margin but will also enhance your customer’s experience and strengthen their relationship with your establishment. There are lots of tactics to employ to ensure that you and the customers are getting the most out of each transaction. Here are some of the best:

Upselling behind the bar

How to Upsell as a Bartender or Server

Bartenders and servers have an opportunity to influence their customer’s orders at nearly every point of interaction. Help your staff lean into this position by training them to act as connoisseurs rather than salespeople. They should not only know the menu but should also be able to provide context on specific items. Behind the bar, this might look like a bartender weaving a liquor recommendation and a backstory together. Specific details about your product’s origin, the aging process, and history help contextualize what you’re selling and make it more meaningful and attractive to the guest. Knowledgeable staff will not only sell more items but will also create a more tailored experience for the guest. For example, a bartender who knows their products and ingredients can easily suggest a good, profitable alternative to a customer who wants to switch up their drink. Cocktails present a unique opportunity for upselling and the more ingredients, liquor brands, and various enhancements your team knows, the better they’ll be able to sell them.

How to Upsell as a Bartender Tips

  • Make eye contact with customers
  • Recommend your favorite or most popular drinks
  • Speak clearly and in a friendly manner
  • Use upgraded or higher shelf liquor for drinks
  • Suggest similar cocktails based on liquor types or ingredients
  • Suggest accompanying food items that pair with drinks (if applicable)

Upselling Techniques in Restaurants or Bars Requires the the Right Items

While recommending your most popular menu item is likely a surefire way to guarantee customer satisfaction, it’s not always the best item to upsell.

Drinks, appetizers, desserts, shots, and specials are usually the least likely to sell themselves and tend to require a little extra help. Pick a few specific items to have your staff recommend and let them use their discretion on the timing.  For example, a specialty cocktail might entice someone on a weekend night but would likely be unappealing to your weekday work crowd. Similarly, your lunch crowd probably won’t be tempted by dessert but might split an appetizer before their entrée.

Use Your POS for Suggested Items for Staff to Upsell at Your Bar or Restaurant

The great thing about many POS systems is that they store consumer information. Analyze your establishment’s data to help determine what food or drink category needs attention. Compare current sales with those from the previous week, month, or year to identify your trends. Look out for total quantities sold, how frequently items sell, and what time of day they’re most popular. From there you can tailor a sales strategy to your establishment’s trends and determine what items to upsell and the most opportune times at which to push them.

turn a profit with these upselling techniques

Focus on High-Profit Margin Items For Upselling in Bars or Restaurants

The price of your items is not the only indicator of their profitability. How much you stand to earn on each drink or appetizer, of course, depends largely on how much it costs to make. High-margin items provide a unique opportunity to increase your revenue without raising the prices of individual tickets.

Recommending a more expensive dish in place of a cheaper one raises your profits but will also blatantly cost your guest more money. In instances where subtlety is necessary, teach servers to guide guests towards an equally priced dish with a higher profit margin.

Knowing which items are more profitable will give your bartenders and servers more flexibility when recommending options. Offering a more profitable drink within the customer’s range is not as obvious as suggesting they try out the most elaborate and pricy cocktail on the menu. 

Menus Can Be a Key Upselling Technique in Restaurants and Bars

Adding customizable options to your menu is an easy way to help your staff upsell. List add-ons like toppings, mix-ins, proteins, or flavors near other items for more sales. Present these additions as enhancements to the drink or meal to help the customer see the value in paying extra. You can also get creative with your sides and incorporate unknown or bold flavors into traditional options. Intrigued customers may be more likely to experiment with a side than they would a main. In general, you want to offer as many opportunities for mixing up or otherwise bettering your customer’s purchase without overwhelming them. Plus, with lots of unknown and interesting options, your customers will be more likely to seek assistance from your staff and respond positively to their suggestions. 

Restaurant upselling strategies

Upselling Techniques for Bartenders and Servers: Supersize vs. Add Fries

Guiding a customer from a gin and tonic to a Negroni raises the quality and price of the order.  Recommending a charcuterie board to balance out the boldness of a Negroni achieves the same thing but in a slightly different way. The first tactic is an upsell, or an upgrade, while the second is an example of cross-selling, or the add on. In a restaurant or bar, cross-selling and upselling are typically interchangeable terms because both strategies increase the overall ticket price. However, you’ll want to distinguish between the two to best identify specific ways to encourage your guests to expand their orders.

One of the best ways to facilitate cross-selling is by making pairings on your menu obvious. Create logical links between items, like a bowl of tomato soup and grilled cheese, to help guide customers towards selecting multiple items.  Program your online ordering service to do the same thing by offering customers additional options or sides before checking out.

Upselling Techniques in Restaurants and Bars

If you’re not already employing these tactics, we highly recommend you pick a few and give them a try. Above all, upselling is about creating a collaborative culture that helps your guests get the most out of what your business has to offer. Train your staff, offer options for upgrades, respond to your guest’s needs, and watch your profits grow!

Maggie Mahar

Writer and Chicago native. Has a greeting card for every occasion. Plant mom and Provi employee since 2017. Marketing Manager.


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