Whether you work behind the bar or serve tables, upselling is an essential skill for any top bar professional to have. Not only does it help boost profits but it also ensures you are giving your customer a great experience. Paul Martin, renowned speaker and bar staff trainer, shares his expert advice to help you achieve upselling success!

What is upselling?

If you think that it’s 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 as a result help to build your business’s reputation, customer base and ultimately profits. Upselling allows the customer to try something new and broaden their knowledge and encourages the customer to return to your bar.

Getting started

So, let’s establish a wonderful fact about the bar industry. Unlike almost any other retail environment, when a customer or guest walks in to your establishment they are there to spend money. In fact, they are emotionally committed to it. Within this environment, upselling, when delivered as part of a tailored, personalised service experience, is considered as a higher level of service by the customer. It is not seen as being sold to. It’s an interesting fact that the vast majority of customers don’t know what they want to drink when they walk in to a bar. In fact, it’s not so much that they don’t know what they want as much as it is about the fact that they are often bored with what they usually drink and for a short moment when asked, ‘what can I get you?, there is a pause. As if for a fleeting moment they are hoping for a flash of inspiration that will lead them to something different for a change.

This customer interaction sounds a bit like this:

Bartender: ‘Hi, what can I get you?’

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

Bartender: ‘OK, sure.’

However, most great upsellers recognise the pause (the ‘ermm’) as an invitation to step in and take control of the service experience and introduce the customer to something they would never have thought of themselves. For them, the customer interaction sounds something like this:

Bartender: ‘Hi, what can I get you?’

Customer: ‘Ermm…’

Bartender: ‘Well, maybe I can recommend something for you? What do you usually like to drink...’

Or alternatively, if they miss the ‘ermm’ they take the following opportunity like this….

Bartender: ‘Hi, what can I get you?’

Customer: ‘Ermm, Oh I’ll just have a vodka and coke.’

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

Of course, simply saying the right things at the right time is just the beginning. Once you are recognising and responding to the opportunities to upsell, your technique in terms of communication is key.

Upselling opportunities

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

1. At the point of order

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

b. If they order something generically, ie: ‘vodka & coke’, ask whether they have a preferred vodka 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 flavours using the 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.’

c. When customers are ordering a drink, another a 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. With food, give some thought to what drinks pair well with which dishes.

For example, upselling beer (if you have given it some prior thought) is so easy 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 asking whether a customer wants another drink.

Instead of asking, ‘same again?’ how about suggesting something else. Something like, ‘Instead of another GORDON’S and tonic, how about taking the G&T to another level and trying a TANQUERAY & tonic with a splash of grapefruit bitters?’

5. 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, all impact the message you are trying to communicate. Here are some tips:

1. Use positive eye contact

This means regularly connecting with the person or people you are speaking with by looking into their eyes.

2. Whilst smiling is important, it’s not so important that you should fake it

A fake smile can be picked up by most people instinctively and they will experience a lack of trust in you as a result. Far more important than smiling is a need to project your passion for what you are recommending both vocally and physically. If a customer can feel your enthusiasm for your suggestion they are very likely to go along with you.

3. Consider the language you use

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 words will be more likely to draw a positive response from them.

4. What do you sound like? 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 believable. 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.

Practise upselling!

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

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