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Service Station: To Sell or Not to Sell

Eric Weiss - June 27th, 2014

Service consultant Eric Weiss (founder/president of Service Arts Inc.) guides us through the tricky waters of upselling.

To sell or not to sell, that is the question. When it comes to excellent service, establishing credibility is the answer.

So frequently in the hospitality business we train our staffs to sell and upsell to our guests—buy that extra dessert, that second bottle of wine, that after-dinner drink.

The reality is, who ever wants to be sold on any bill of goods? It’s human nature—the more someone tries to convince us to purchase something, the more we back off, become defensive, and ultimately shut down. I’ll never forget the time in a popular restaurant when half of my Gin & Tonic was still in the glass, and the cocktail server was already asking me if I wanted another one. Was he really thinking about me or was he thinking about the extra gratuity in his pocket?

How can we in fact, with integrity, coach our guests to buy and reach the financial goals we have set for ourselves?

For me, it’s all about establishing credibility as quickly as possible. With the next three articles, I’ll present a variety of factors that facilitate gaining the guest’s trust, which ultimately ensures their return.

Here are some of them:

Knowledge—The more you know about the food and beverage you are serving, the more convincing you’ll be. Be careful. Most guests aren’t dining to have an encyclopedic experience. They don’t necessarily want to know the color and number of feathers on the chicken whose organic, farm-raised egg they’re about to eat. Gauge your guest. If someone wants to know more, their questions will usually indicate a thirst for more information. Don’t get too caught up with any one table. Remember, there are hopefully other diners wanting and needing your attention.

Sincerity—Some guests want your personal input about menu items, but they don’t necessarily need to hear that you are a strict vegetarian and have never tasted the fish, poultry, or meat items you’re offering. Similarly, it’s much better to give specific information about a dish rather than merely say, “I really like it.” Cooking method, ingredients, herbs or spices, origin, etc. are important things to know.

Provenance—In today’s world, many people want to know where their food comes from, whether it be for health reasons, quality associations, regional pride, and sense of place, or just to learn a bit more about it. The whole “farm-to-table” philosophy is not a mere trend. It’s been ongoing for centuries and will surely continue for many more. In today’s service world, provenance is power. If you have information about the product's origins, share it, but share it sparingly.

Good Grooming—Let’s face it, we live in a world where physical appearance is important. If you look put together, there’s a better chance that someone will believe you. Clean, pressed, and fitting uniforms, hair clean and off the face, nails clean and trimmed, shoes shined—all of the many components of physical grooming are essential for establishing a positive first impression, which is done in nanoseconds.

Listening—Too often, servers are obsessed with making an impression and sometimes bring too much drama to the dining room. I recently had dinner at supposedly one of the best restaurants in Philadelphia. Every time the server approached the table, it was as if I were at a performance of “Waiting for Godot.” His dramatic inflections, his sliding up to the table like Seinfeld’s Kramer, and the decibels of his voice made it a service style that was quite inappropriate.

As Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage.” Yes, the restaurant is a microcosm of our world. Remember, however, it’s not all about you. Excellent service is about following the guest’s lead. And one of the best ways to follow is listening for verbal cues.

Options—No one likes to feel cornered. Make sure to give your guests choices. Three is usually the magic number. Present according to category, price point, and richness of flavors. If it’s wine, offer different grape varietals, body, and countries of origin.

Read each guest and then recommend according to the questions or facial expressions you observe. It’s always a good idea to start in the middle. Don’t make the mistake of immediately showcasing the most expensive entrée or bottle of wine. You’ll never establish credibility or gain your guest's trust.

To sell or not to sell, that is the question. If you can quickly establish credibility, buying becomes the natural outcome in the sequence of service.