Did you ever see the cartoon of the waiter with the black eye who comments, "I don't make suggestions anymore"?
The debate goes on: Is "Do you want fries with that?" over the top? Is it offensive when the waiter suggests an appetizer, or a dessert? When is it helpful? When is it annoying?
My friend Joan explained that it bothers her when the waitstaff upsells. She visits a waterfront restaurant where the servers always greet her by asking, "Can I start your meal with a cocktail or some wine?" so she responds, "My favorite cocktail is water." Joan explained that she has her children with her and she doesn't think an offer of a cocktail at a brunch is a good thing. She would order a soda or iced tea if they hadn't assumed she would like alcohol.
"I just hate the idea of someone trying to 'squeeze' as much money out of me as possible, so I order nothing," she said.
"Suggesting" in a restaurant is called upselling when the "suggesting" is geared to coaxing the customer to spend more. It is when the server suggests an additional course - "Did you want an appetizer?" "Our raw clams are fresh today" - or a more expensive dish - "Our prime rib is on special for only $2 more" - or an extra on a dish - "Did you want shrimp on your Caesar salad?"
The debate centers around how we feel about these suggestions. Are these suggestions selling or is the server just being accommodating? Is the waiter helping me or helping the restaurant or increasing his tip?
We may be "on to it" at McDonald's, but we still fall for it or order it. Why? Well, much of the time it feels helpful. McDonald's speaker: "Would you like a beverage?" Then I think, "Yes, I forgot to order it." Waiter: "Did you want mushrooms on the side?" And I think, "Oh, sure, that sounds good," so I order them. Waitress: "Dessert, anyone? Our special is strawberry shortcake." Me: "Oh, perfect, thank you for suggesting. I wanted that desperately but I didn't want to mention it."
Being a restaurant advocate, I like to think upselling is a win/win for the customer and the restaurant. Remember, in order to take an order, service persons must ask some questions. People don't always understand the menu and need to know about the food. Customers are often hesitant about what to order and actually need a little coaxing so that the rest of the guests aren't there all day. And, as a free human being, you can say no.
I think the issue is more how the suggestion is made, rather than if it is appropriate.
Upselling is good for the restaurant. Making suggestions increases sales. Statics show anywhere between 40 and 60 percent of the suggestions made by waitstaff result in the customer buying more. A good restaurant will train the staff to be helpful with recommendations, not pushy. Getting a few extra dollars from the customer does not do any good if you permanently lose that customer due to pushy upselling techniques.
When I was teaching, I gave my students the following thoughts for successfully and non-offensively upselling:
Understand the menu. This is extremely important. The best time for servers to upsell is when the customer asks questions or asks for their opinions, so know the answers. Sometimes just explaining what a food is sells the item.
Provide useful suggestions. Don't overdo it. Direct customers to items when placing the menu that upsell well: "Our seafood bisque is a house favorite."
Sound as if you are helping them to make a decision, which you are. "If you like raspberries, you might like the raspberry pecan salad." "My favorite is the Caesar."
Explain items using inviting words, like "fragrant lavender herbs."
Limit the amount of recommendations. One or two is fine. Too many sounds too sell-y.
Linger after making a suggestion to let the suggestion brew.
Introduce a product when suggesting an additional course. "Would you like a dessert, say, our chocolate swirl cheesecake?"
Notice how the customer reacts. Stop making suggestions if they are not interested.
Give a warm smile and thank the table for the order.
F.Y.I.: Has anyone noticed that McDonald's has stopped asking if we want fries with that? Why? Perhaps it's because many of the value meals already come with fries, or perhaps it has become such a cliche no one hears it anymore.
Comments can be sent to email@example.com.