If a restaurant wants to increase profitability, one of the best methods is incorporating upselling techniques into your marketing strategy. But upselling in restaurants is a bit different than with other businesses, where an upsell can be a warranty, extended support or a higher tier of service for a discounted price.

upselling techniques

What is Upselling?

When you upsell, you’re trying to encourage a customer to spend more money actively. In the restaurant business, the goal may be to get a customer to purchase chicken with their fettuccine, or to encourage customers to order a higher-end steak.
But upselling is not to be confused with cross-selling. Cross-selling and upselling are two very different things.

  • Upselling encourages the customer to upgrade to a better version of a food item.
  • Cross-selling occurs when you offer a related food item to the customer.

When cross-selling, you may encourage the customer to order wine with their fettuccine rather than upgrade their fettuccine to a larger size or add in extra ingredients.

You need to be very cautious when upselling to a customer because customers do not like to be “sold.” If a waitress is too pushy when trying to upsell, it can turn the customer away quickly.

Upselling Techniques in Restaurants That Increase Restaurant Profitability

Average restaurant profit can be maximized with successful upselling. But upselling skills need to be learned over time. The first step is to train your staff properly. Your menu will offer a very soft upsell, but the team can help a customer choose a higher-priced version of a dish, too.

Servers need to be trained regularly on:

  • How to make suggestions without being too pushy
  • Which dish upgrades exist
  • Which specials are being offered

Servers need to be able to recommend high-end versions of dishes or offer “upgrades," which may be a special of the day. While the difference in cost can be $0.50 or $1, the additional revenue will add up over time and increase profit margins in the long-run.

upselling tips

If you want to know how to maximize profits, take a look at the upselling strategies that other restaurants are offering:

1. Describing a Menu Item with Storytelling

When you sit down at a winery, you may not know what to drink. A lot of customers will sit down in a restaurant, and they’ll look to the waiter or waitress to offer their advice on a drink or entrée.

It is is a great time to upsell, and a little bit of storytelling can go a long way in making the sale.

Wine, for example, is the perfect choice for story-telling. The waitress can explain that a particular vintage originates in France, that there are hints of chocolate, and that the wine had been aged for two years.

When describing a rosé, the waitress can explain how there are hints of strawberry, rose petals and rhubarb. They can also tell how it’s the perfect blend to go along with a lighter meal.

Storytelling can be incorporated into many food items, and the goal is to make the item stick in the customer’s mind. Often, it’s these stories, especially when the food or drink meets the customer’s standards, that will make the sale.

2. Offer Effective Upsells on the Menu

Restaurants need to look at their menu for upselling opportunities. One of the upselling tips that work is to provide upgrades on the menu. When reading “add shrimp for $1,” or “add chicken for $1,” it is far less pushy than having a server recommend the upsell.

Sometimes, upselling is as easy as offering options to the customer that they may not know exist.

Don't be afraid to make the upsell standout from the crowd in your menu. This can be done by:

  • Highlighting the upsell
  • Adding a bullet next to the upsell items
  • Bolding the upsell

When positioned right next to the food item, upselling is even more effective. “Add this ingredient for a $1,” is all that’s needed to increase a dish’s cost by a dollar.

Another common upsell is to charge extra for additional sauces. A local restaurant charges $0.75 for extra sauce for their wings. A high-end steak house in London charges £2.50 for additional sauce for their 8-ounce rump or tail-on-ribeye.

The key is to find additional items that customers often ask for with a dish, and you’ll have an easier time making a sale.

upselling in restaurants

3. Upsell on Items Split Among Guests

A growing trend in the restaurant business is guests wanting to split entrees. This trend can cut into a strategic profit model because it lowers the overall profits of the company. If you expect each table of two to order two steaks and all of a sudden everyone is splitting one steak, profits will drop drastically.

One of the strategies to increase profitability, in this case, is to:

  • Charge a base fee when customers split meals
  • Servers can upsell a steak to a ribeye or a larger version of the steak
  • Servers can also recommend an appetizer or another side dish

Guests have a right to share their food. It’s up to your staff to encourage a larger version of a meal (perhaps offer this as an upsell on your menu) and to also offer side suggestions. Maybe the couple wants to split an 8-ounce steak, but the server knows that the couple is likely to be hungry afterward.

So, the waitress may suggest that the couple choose the 12-ounce steak or add a side of steamed potatoes and vegetables. Not only will the customer be happier with their choice, but you’ll increase your restaurant’s profits in the process.

4. Understand Customer Behaviors

One key to restaurant profit systems it to understand your customers and demographics. The menu offered needs to reflect the demographics tastes and behaviors. Tools and technology exist that can help a restaurant analyze the purchasing behavior of customers.

One of the best tips on upselling is to know and understand your customers.

This can be done to:

  • Recommend a larger pizza to customers based on 70% of customers opting for a larger pizza.
  • Create a special dish, based off a social media campaign that is higher priced yet has brought in more traffic than the traditional dish.
  • Offering samples of high-priced items to guests.

While there is a difference between cross-selling and upselling, you may also use analytics to help customers make better pairing options. If most guests choose a particular wine with a pasta dish, the server may ask “would you like X wine with your dish?”

The key is for the server to not be too blatant when trying to upsell or cross-sell.

Cross-selling and upselling strategies should be part of every restaurant’s in-house marketing.

tips for upselling

5. Don’t Forget to Upsell Online

Much like your menu, your online sales should have upselling included. These upsells can be a little more blatant. A lot of customers are accustomed to online upsells, so it seems less intrusive as a result.

A few tips for upselling in restaurants when offering online ordering include:

  • Tips that suggest pairing items or upgrading to a larger version of a dish
  • Encouraging multiple item sales
  • Encouraging customers based on the number of customers that recently ordered a dish
  • Offering a popup to upgrade to a larger entrée size

With interactive ordering options and menus, it’s easier to upsell online and to incorporate clickable elements into the menu's design.

You can even upsell more effectively with less of an “in your face” approach by claiming “this size feeds 1 – 2 people,” but the next size feeds “3 - 4 people.” Simple tweaks to your online menu can make a major difference in your sales and average sales per order.

When upselling, you want to encourage customers to upgrade, but you also need to make sure that the customer knows that there’s an additional charge. One of the fastest ways to lose business is to make the customer feel as if they were tricked into paying more for an item.

Transparency in pricing will help, and it’s never a bad idea for a server to ask if the customer wants dessert after finishing their entrée. Even suggesting a few desserts to try or offering an option to include a dessert for a lower price on the menu can help boost sales and profits.

First-time customers, those who don’t know the menu, will often ask for advice from a server, and this is a prime time to upsell. Servers can educate the customer on a particular dish and explain that they can add meat for an upcharge or other items to the dish that they may have overlooked.

Incorporating upselling techniques into a restaurant’s sales strategy can keep customers happy, add to revenue and boost profitability.