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There is a subtle art to upselling and whether you are behind the bar or working the floor, it is a skill that is definitely worth taking the time to perfect. Paul Martin, respected speaker and expert staff trainer, gives us a handy how-to guide and explains why it is vital to any venue’s profitability.

What is upselling?

If you think upselling is simply selling something bigger, extra or more premium to a customer or guest, then you may be missing the bigger picture. Upselling is not about selling more, it is about opportunity. The opportunity to deliver a great service experience, to truly exceed a customer’s expectations and to help to build your business’ reputation, customer base and profits as a result. Upselling allows the customer to try something new and broaden their knowledge and encourages return business to your bar.

Recognize hesitation

First, let’s establish a wonderful fact about the bar industry: unlike almost any other retail environment, when a customer or guest walks into your establishment, they are there to spend money. In fact, they are emotionally committed to it. So, when it’s delivered as part of a tailored, personalized service experience, upselling is actually considered a higher level of service by the customer – it is not seen as ‘being sold to’. The vast majority of customers don’t know what they want to drink when they walk into a bar and some are even bored with their regular order, making them receptive to suggestions. When asked, “what can I get you?” they’ll pause, as if for a moment they are hoping for a flash of inspiration that will lead them to something different for a change.

This customer interaction goes something like this:

Bartender: “Hi, what can I get you?”

Customer: “Ermm… Oh, I’ll just have a vodka and coke.”

Bartender: “Coming right up.”

However, great upsellers will recognize the hesitation as an invitation to step in and take control of the service experience, perhaps introducing the customer to something they would never have thought of themselves. This interaction sounds something like this:

Bartender: “Hi, what can I get you?”

Customer: “Ermm…”

Bartender: “Maybe I can recommend something for you? What do you usually like to drink?”

Or alternatively, like this:

Bartender: “Hi, what can I get you?”

Customer: “I’ll just have a vodka and coke.”

Bartender: “Sure, do you have a preferred vodka, or can I recommend one?”

Of course, saying the right things at the right time is just the beginning. Once you are able to recognize and respond to the upselling opportunities, your communication technique is the key to success.

Upselling opportunities

With the above in mind, make sure you look out for obvious opportunities and then consider proactive ways of serving. Here are a few tips:

1. At the point of order

Have they paused when asked what they want? If so, jump in and ask whether you can recommend something.

If they order something generic (e.g. a vodka and coke), ask whether they have a preferred spirit or whether you could recommend one. Provide a recommendation based on the category that the customer would usually prefer to drink and then proceed to propose a serve with similar flavors using a more premium brand. Always remember that if you are recommending a more expensive premium product (KETEL ONE for example) explain why. “You must try it with KETEL ONE; it’s so much smoother than our pouring brand.”

When customers are ordering a drink, another simple way to upsell is to ask whether they would like to make it a double. However, it is important to remember to look out for signs of excessive drinking and ensure your customers are drinking responsibly.

2. Give some thought to which drinks pair well with what food

With a little preparation, it’s easy to upsell beer with food. Instead of just taking a customer’s usual lager order, respond with a statement like, “instead of your usual, how about giving beer X a try, it goes perfectly with that pasta you just ordered.” Approaches like this have an extremely high success rate.

3. When a customer wants another drink

Instead of asking “same again?”, try suggesting something else. For example, “Instead of another GORDON’S and tonic, how about kicking your G&T up a notch and trying a TANQUERAY & Tonic with a splash of grapefruit bitters?”

4. Use the menu

A great way to upsell to more profitable serves is by using your menu. Menus help undecided customers decide what to order and can help promote the serves that you want to upsell, such as the signature serves of your outlet.

Communication is key

Everything you say, the way you say it, your facial expressions and your general body language will all impact the message you are trying to communicate. Here are some tips:

Eye contact

Connect with the person or people you are speaking to by looking into their eyes.

Smiling is important, but don’t fake it!

Customers will recognise a fake smile a mile away and lose trust in you as a result. Far more important than smiling is projecting passion for what you are recommending, both vocally and physically. If a customer can feel your enthusiasm for your suggestion, they are more likely to follow it.

Watch your language

Telling a customer that the whisky you suggested is ‘nice’ won’t have the same effect as saying that it is ‘delicious’ or ‘gorgeous’. Using expressive, descriptive language is much more likely to elicit a positive response.

Words alone don’t tell the story

Our voices give our words context, impact and meaning. It is important that we sound enthusiastic, passionate and genuine. Remember, you can describe something in beautiful terms, but if you sound bored, fed up or disinterested then your words will have no effect whatsoever.

Practice makes perfect

Upselling is an art and, as with any art, developing your skills and putting them into practice over time is the key to improving. If things don’t go perfectly the first time, consider what didn’t work and then give it another try. Your perseverance will lead to the transformation of your business going forward.