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If you think upselling is simply about selling more, think again. It’s an opportunity to exceed customer expectations, deliver excellent customer service, to build trust and ultimately, profit. Charlie Gilkes, CEO of Inception Group shares his expert tips to master this subtle skill.


There is no one size fits all approach to upselling. It needs to be tailored to the customer, to be grounded in knowledge whilst embracing a narrative for it to be effective. Across our eleven venues, including Mr Fogg’s, Cahoots and Bunga Bunga, upselling is a key skill we train all our staff in. In the current climate with physical distancing in place, our seating capacity has been heavily restricted and so it’s a skill that’s never been so important - not only does upselling generate a better spend per head, but done well it can really add to the customer experience.



Make sure your staff know what they are selling. There’s nothing more off putting than someone recommending the most expensive spirit on the menu without knowing anything about it. Your team should know the processes used to distill each spirit and, where possible, have tried it themselves. We actively seek to broaden product knowledge across the group and do so with regular training, whether through tastings, brand visits, or trips to the distillery or vineyard. We find this really helps generate enthusiasm and a deeper understanding among the team.


Upselling shouldn’t feel like a sales pitch, when done successfully it should feel like effortless storytelling with a focus on quality and being able to highlight points of difference, for example, between the whisky they might have ordered to a more premium upsell.

We encourage our team to recognize customer feelings to understand if they’re open to new things on this occasion and if so, what their preferences are. They can then tailor their suggestions accordingly. For example, if someone was celebrating a special occasion and has a preference for fine oaky whisky, then of course, Johnny Walker Blue Label would be a perfect recommendation.

In our venues we always let customers try something new first with the offer to take a drink back if they don’t like it. This builds trust between the customer and the person serving them. We also go a step further and encourage our staff to remember customer preferences on a return visit and have a CRM system in place to facilitate and further cement loyalty.


Knowing when and when not to upsell is a skill in itself. We train our team in the behaviors or cues to look out for to help identify when customers just want a quick beer or when they are open to trying something new. For example, do they stall when you ask for their order? Are they browsing the menu? These are key signs that the guest hasn’t yet made up their mind. These are both opportune moments to step in and offer your expertise. Similarly, guests who are in a meeting or full flow conversation typically prefer minimal interaction with our waiting staff. Opportunity can still arise here though, particularly if they order another of the same drink, you can recommend a twist or a way to upgrade this if you sense the mood is right.


People come to bars and restaurants to have a unique experience away from their homes. In the current situation, this is tricky but not impossible. Faced with reduced capacity or layout restrictions, you can still ensure that guests enjoy their time with you, whether it’s through a special drink or a set menu you think they’ll love. Across the group we have a range of unique vessels, garnishes and accompanying theater which is highlighted in a highly visual and unique way throughout our menus. Our drinks are designed to fit within our narratives and form an important part of our customer experience. Our group of Mr Fogg's bars are based around the story of the fictional Victorian explorer, Phileas Fogg, and, for example, at his House of Botanicals in Fitzrovia the menu is designed around plant-based ingredients, whilst at our 1940s ration-era bar, Cahoots, we have a focus on ingredients grown from the land served in everything from bespoke Churchill to Vera Lynn mugs. Whilst keeping in character our staff will make suggestions and we tend to find a domino effect once our most visual vessels are served.


Like all skills worth having, it’s vital that you continue to practice and develop your upselling skills and approach on an ongoing basis in order to improve. Our management team train staff and provide feedback where possible to help elevate skills in this area. Accept the fact that you won’t always get it right, don’t dwell on it but instead consider what you could have done better, take note and try again next time.