Your servers might know how to sell, but it’s often just as important to know when to sell. And that goes for management, too. Server sales training is the key. One successful restaurant chain discovered its appetizer sales were falling dramatically. Management struggled to pinpoint the cause until a tableside investigation revealed that servers, as instructed in a service policy change, were delivering baskets of bread soon after guests were seated. By the time the server arrived to suggest an appetizer, it was too late. Most guests, stuffed on sourdough and pumpernickel, were ready for the main course. Dessert sales were also suffering.

The moral of the story: Does your restaurant serve complimentary bread? Chips and salsa? Baskets of crackers? You may want to rethink when your staff makes these goodies available to guests. The restaurant chain in this example changed its service policy to create more sales opportunities. Servers now make beverage and appetizer recommendations before the bread comes. And bread is just the beginning. If your staff delivers glasses of water to guests before servers suggest beverages and specialty drinks, you may be diminishing sales. Not by much, perhaps. But every little bit counts.

It’s important that your servers practice suggestive selling, but they should take care not to overdo it. Imagine the poor guests who had in mind an affordable meal at your restaurant, only to come away with a healthy dose of sticker shock after an effective server sold them everything on the menu. Those guests may decide your restaurant is too expensive and go elsewhere next time. If value is a major component of your operation’s image, you may want to encourage your servers to suggest that guests split an appetizer or dessert. You’ll still make the sale but avoid emptying wallets and purses.

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