How to Empower Servers to Upsell the Menu


Servers play a key role in the success of your operation. When interviewing a candidate, you can get a good sense of their personality. They should be confident, articulate, friendly and approachable. After all, how they interact with you should be a good representation of how they’ll interact with your customers. Once hired, it’s up to you to invest the time to properly train your staff on how to confidently sell your menu.

Servers are one of your most important assets to drive profits so it is important to arm your staff with the tools and techniques needed to up sell your menu. Training should be part of the initial on boarding, as well as a regular practice throughout the duration of his or her employment. When up selling is done well, it can elevate the guest experience and cultivate loyalty while boosting sales.1

Here are a few ways you can empower your servers to up sell your menu.

Knowledge Is Power

When training your servers, take the time to fully immerse them in your restaurant concept and menu. They should have a good understanding of when the restaurant was established, the concept behind it and any and all details regarding the menu. A proper on boarding should include a tasting of nearly every menu item, and if relevant, an overview of the beverage program with pairing recommendations. This will help engage servers and allows them to authentically describe the menu and offer personal recommendations. Make sure your servers understand which menu items have the best profit margins while encouraging them to always mention one or two of these items when offering recommendations.1

Communication Is Key

Servers can drive sales based simply on how they communicate with your customers. It goes without saying that servers should be enthusiastic and engaged with each and every customer. A good server can naturally up sell menu items in a way in which customers don’t even realize they are being sold something.2 It’s all in how they say it. Using vivid descriptions can also help up sell items.1 Inspire servers to use descriptive language especially when up selling additional courses like appetizers, sides and desserts.

Encourage servers to up sell premium ingredients like organic chicken, no antibiotics ever turkey, wild-caught salmon or fresh avocado by offering them on salads, pasta dishes and more. Servers can highlight top-sellers or high-profit items by using terms like “popular” or “best-selling” to help indecisive guests.1

Demonstrate Flexibility

In today’s food service landscape, 72% percent of consumers expect restaurants to allow them to customize meals.3 Understandably, this could complicate things back of house. Therefore, it’s essential to train front-of-house and back-of-house staff on how to accommodate such requests in a seamless manner. In addition to general customization requests, servers should ask guests about allergens or dietary restrictions when taking orders to avoid any issues later in the meal. Catering to a guest’s dietary specifications can help build loyalty and encourage return visits.1

Another way to build loyalty is to try to accommodate guests that have a negative experience with a menu item. Servers should be attentive and offer to bring a different menu item or discount their bill. If guests are hesitant to order a dish because of a sauce or specific ingredient, servers can offer to bring a sample or serve it on the side. This is also a great strategy with beverages. Offer guests a sample of beers on tap or wines by the glass to help up sell beverages.

Experienced servers should be able to read their customers and know how much to engage them. There is a fine line between effective up selling techniques and annoying the customer. When training your team, make sure servers know when to engage diners and when to take a step back. By properly investing in your servers, you can equip them with the tools they need to confidently sell your menu.

Content courtesy of Perdue Foodservice

1BuzzTime Business, Upselling Tips from A to Z: 26 Phrases Servers Say for Bigger Sales, Apr. 2, 2018

2Mealey, Lorri, The Basics of Up-Selling Menu Items, The Balance Small Business, Jun. 11, 2018

3 Cobe, Patricia, “How to Overcome the Challenges of Customizable Menus,” Restaurant Business, Jan. 19, 2016