The tired old maxim “your servers are your salespeople” is as true today as it ever was, but just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean you have armed the front of your house with every weapon they need to drive your restaurant’s profits.
Really, there’s no understandable reason why servers shouldn’t be some of the best trained people in any restaurant, but as I go through a mental check of every place I have eaten in the past two months, I can only think of one that had exceptionally trained staff.
That place was the Macaroni Grill in Ft. Collins, CO. I’m not trying to promote them or anything, I was just really impressed, as I always have been when I eat there, by the effective way their staff drives sales and provides top shelf service at the same time. Those two goals don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and in fact they can be completely complimentary if you’re willing to take the time to train your staff.
Tim Kirkland, the founder of the Renegade Hospitality Group, has developed a highly effective strategy to improve sales volume, check averages, and server tips, not to mention the quality of service. This strategy stems from the fact that 30 years of the standard upsell (“Do you want _____ with that?”) has lost its effectiveness because consumers recognize it as a sales technique and are more likely to say no as a result.
Besides, it’s not a very proactive tactic, because your servers are simply trying to tack something on to the customer’s decision, rather than helping to guide those decisions in the first place.
The more effective strategy, promoted by Kirkland, can be broken down into the 4 R’s:
Reconnaissance: Evaluate what kind of customer has just been seated in your section. Is it a couple on a date that probably wants to be left alone as much as possible? Are they high maintenance or ready to party? Servers should analyze the mood and disposition of the group and adjust their attitude and technique accordingly.
Regularity: Determine if you are dealing with first time customers or regulars. First timers need a lot more information and it’s important to make an exceptional impression the first time. Regulars, on the other hand, don’t want to sit through all the explanations and are probably ready to get down to business. Servers should adjust their approach depending on how experienced the customer is in your restaurant.
Reason: Different customers have different priorities. Some might be stopping for a quick bite before a game or a movie while others may want a long, leisurely experience. Servers should engage their customers and determine their priorities.
Rate: As a response to the information collected in the first three R’s, decide on a pace and flow of service that meets your customer’s expectations and needs. Fine tuning service according to what the customer wants is a two part process: gathering information and then using that information to serve your customer better.
So how do the 4 R’s help you drive sales? Because it creates a rapport with guests and that leads to a relationship. The process of gathering information and then adjusting to it leads to a relationship between the server and the table. That inevitably is going to create more trust, and when that basic level of trust has been established, the server can be more helpful to the customer.
This isn’t some cynical methodology. Under no circumstances should your servers be trying to use a carefully built trust relationship to talk patrons into spending more money. However, servers should absolutely be informative about everything your restaurant has to offer, and tailor the information according to the buying decisions the guest is making.
For instance, if a customer wants a martini, the server should let the customer know what kinds of gin and vodka your restaurant has, and include a mix of top shelf and well brands. If a customer orders a hamburger, let the customer know that you offer mushrooms and cheese as extra toppings, or a house salad instead of fries.
Yes, this is upselling, but it’s upselling in a way that informs the customer rather than leading him. The whole thing is built upon a relationship of trust, and that relationship can bring many benefits, from better service to better sales to great customer loyalty. As a restaurant owner or manager, it’s imperative that you take the time to train servers in the strategies of relationship building based on the 4 R’s and use that system to drive sales in your restaurant.