Restaurateurs face rising rents, increasing food costs and competition for customers, so upselling has become a necessity for maintaining profits.

Ideas for increasing sales include writing more compelling menu descriptions, using menu engineering techniques and providing detailed descriptions of ingredients and their sources. Training staff in upselling techniques generates powerful results because servers are the best sales tools that restaurants have.

Alternative Income Streams

Restaurants can choose from an ever-expanding list of ideas for generating extra revenue. The options range from adding service hours for early mornings or late at night to renting out space when the restaurant’s not in use. Restaurants with limited hours can rent their space during downtime for meetings, parties or kitchen use by local caterers, food trucks or food-packaging businesses. Other successful income streams for restaurants include:

  • Offering signature gift baskets, foods, condiments or merchandise
  • Providing catering services
  • Hosting parties and events
  • Starting a food truck or delivery service
  • Building the takeout business by distributing menus, installing a fast-serve counter or kiosk or preparing boxed lunches or meals for sporting events
  • Writing local or restaurant-specific cookbooks
  • Holding cooking classes, afternoon tastings or food demonstrations
  • Distributing prepared foods to local supermarkets
  • Catering events off-site
  • Selling retail items that relate to the restaurant, community, cuisine, food preparation or local sports teams

Menu Engineering

Menu engineering can be an effective way of focusing attention on the most profitable menu items and encouraging customers to add complementary side dishes to their orders. Menus often include such descriptions after listings such as, “Add fries, slaw and a drink to any of the above items.”

Shading or boxing key foods on the menu makes customers more likely to order them. Menu engineering is a tool that restaurant managers should investigate for its power to increase sales. Keeping prices in columns encourages customers to order the cheaper items. If managers don’t understand the principles of menu engineering, they can get professional help for designing their menus.

Upselling to Existing Customers

Restaurants spend more on payroll than any other expense, so it makes sense to use employees to generate sales. Getting to know customers makes it easier for servers to offer relevant suggestions. Technology tools also encourage customers to buy more. Apps like tableside and mobile ordering, virtual sommeliers, digital message boards and online menus ignite sales, but nothing sells as well as thoughtful suggestions from a trusted server. Techniques for server upselling include:

  • Make sure that each server knows the menu, ingredients, anecdotal stories about the cuisine and which suppliers the restaurant uses.
  • Never deliver the guest check too soon or assume that customers won’t order dessert.
  • Make specific suggestions based on the customer and his or her ordering history.
  • Recommend side dishes and appetizers that complement the entrées that customers order.
  • Ask whether customers want an alcoholic beverage or wine with their meals.
  • Recommend top-shelf liquor when customers order a cocktail.

Problems with Generating Extra Restaurant Income

Generating extra income in restaurants has its drawbacks. Managers don’t want to be pushy or focus on alternatives so forcefully that regular service suffers.

Training Sessions for Staff

Sometimes, getting staff to recommend products and upsell customers is difficult. Managers can help by offering tips and strategies to staff to increase guest checks and servers’ tips. Most diners base tips the on check’s amount, and managers need to stress this fact. Additionally, restaurants can offer employee incentives for achieving higher guest check averages.

Upselling doesn’t come easy for some people, so training servers is time well-spent. Create mock scenarios where servers can fine-tune their selling skills. Train staff in how to sell and serve wine. Instead of asking if a customer wants a salad, a server gets better results by focusing on a specific dish like “peppery arugula greens with cranberries and pecans.”

Training staff how to recognize sales opportunities and upsell without becoming intrusive are valuable accomplishments that deliver increased sales and better customer experiences. Techniques for educating staff include:

  • Providing descriptions for servers to use when describing dishes.
  • Hosting role-playing demonstrations
  • Holding contests for achieving certain goals such as selling the most desserts, gift cards or merchandise
  • Training servers about the ingredients used in food
  • Educating staff about available wines
  • Providing samples so that servers know how foods taste
  • Explaining the best accompaniments to each dish
  • Identifying the highest profit items and encouraging staff to recommend these items when appropriate
  • Observing staff after training and giving suggestions and advice for improving their performances

Failing to Use Customers to Generate Revenue

The most successful restaurants encourage their loyal customers to write reviews, bring friends and buy value-added products and services for mutual benefits. If restaurants don’t take advantage of these opportunities for extra sales, other restaurants, retailers and online marketers certainly will do so. Wasted sales opportunities for restaurants include:

  • Asking customers for referrals and reviews
  • Getting diners to consider hosting parties at the restaurant
  • Providing incentives for restaurant loyalty
  • Using customer-generated content for advertising and promotion

Allowing Waste and Misinformation to Limit Profit

No matter what the revenue-generating strategy may be, restaurateurs need to approach the effort wholeheartedly and professionally. Don’t expect sales to come automatically without creating a business plan and marketing the service.

Each part of generating revenue needs careful planning and execution for success. Sidelines and alternative income streams often get ignored by staff, which could cause extra expenses and waste unless they’re actively promoted.

Misinformation could also prove damaging when servers don’t explain alternative services, additional food choices and preparation options correctly. Restaurants get the best results by holding ongoing training sessions for their staffs. Restaurants increase sales by upselling products and services, marketing useful merchandise and turning loyal customers into unpaid marketing champions for the business.