Suggestive Up-Selling

suggestive upselling.jpg

QUESTION From: Meg in PA

"Do you have any tips on selling specials? I've tried offering incentives and prizes for whoever sells the most including an entree or dessert of their choice but it's just not coming together. Our check averages could use a boost and I'm open to trying almost anything."

Meg R------



When specials aren't selling, it's usually because either the special is horrible or the staff isn't properly trained on how to sell it. Every pre-shift meeting should entail one or two members of the BOH team presenting, selling and sampling the specials to the FOH staff (including host and bar staff)...and then have them sell it back to the Chef / Sous.

It's pretty tough to sell a product that you don't know extremely well. 

If you're already investing in server education by having every server taste every menu item and then test them on those menu items - the next strategy I would employ would be: "Suggestive Up-Selling".

There are few businesses out there whose “through-the-door” traffic is guaranteed to spend money.

Gas stations, supermarkets and restaurants are among the very few retail outlets that are virtually free from people who are just “window shopping” or “browsing”.

The fact that your guests are physically there means that you have a captive audience who has already decided to spend money... which means the selling lid is loose - and a little bit of effort is all that's needed in order to open that jar and help them spend more via suggestive up-selling.

Keep in mind: suggestive up-selling is not the same thing as an "up-sell" or a “hard-sell”.

Suggestive Up-Selling is not assumptive, pushy or desperate.

It's merely the act of offering the guest relevant options that they may not have known existed or may not have realized they wanted.

A suggestive up-sell is not only a relevant offer that makes sense, it's an offer to custom tailor a guest's order and provide them with a more customized personal experience.

As Shep Hyken of Forbes has written:

Personalization will help drive customer loyalty. Customers want an experience that is personalized. They want the company to know them well enough to make relevant suggestions, send the right marketing messages, and more. Treat each customer as an individual and you’ll earn their respect and their loyalty.”


Suggestive up-selling requires practicing only three things:

1. Product Knowledge

You can’t confidently sell anything if you aren’t able to accurately describe it.

2. Avoidance of “Yes” & “No” Questions.

Open-ended questions increase the likelihood of bigger and more frequent sales by over 80%.

3. Integrating “Yes” & “Yes” Questions  Into The Spiel.

Make it easier for guests to consider the options.


Here are a few ways you can apply each of these three concepts:



When you want to sell something… whether it’s a cocktail, a dinner special, a home or an experience - focus on the details.

Your service staff is a sales force. Educate them in order for them to create a sensual picture of every dish for the guest. 

We buy experiences and we experience things with our senses.

In order to create a strong image in the guests' minds, your servers should play to every sense possible so the guest is left wanting to connect the last dot and actually taste it.  

Have them describe the colors, the aromas, the textures, etc...

List the ingredients (and the sources if possible).

Explain the preparation process.

Describe the textures and how they combine.

#Porsche doesn’t sell cars by simply telling a potentially interested customer that the car has: a powerful engine, nice safety features, leather seats and a woodgrain dash.

They sell 580 horse power.

They sell: a dynamic lighting system, stability management control system, a body armor cage, front & rear parking sensors, automatically-deploying rollover bars that, when not in use, are concealed behind the rear seats and a forward collision mitigation system that emits audible & visual alerts when a potential crash is detected.

They sell hand-stitched naugahyde leather.

They sell walnut burl or zebrano wood veneer accents.

If you’ve got something special -you know it and share the details.

An educated sales person begets an educated consumer and educated consumers are brand evangelists.

Let's say, however, that you're not selling one of the finest sports cars on the planet and're selling hot dogs.

You could sell it as a:

“hot dog & fries platter”...

but you’re not going to get more than a few dollars for it.

A guaranteed way to get double the price and sell ten times as many is to sell a:

“100% All Beef Hot Dog served in a warm and slightly toasted Conshohocken Bakery split top lightly buttered brioche bun with your choice of toppings including: ketchup, yellow mustard, dijon mustard, whole grain pommery mustard, garlic aioli, pickled relish, fresh chopped bermuda onion, sweet Carolina chili with a kick and/or hot melted jalapeno chedder-jack cheese.

Ask for a side of sea salted fresh cut Kennebeck fries for an extra $2.”

Which would you rather have?



I worked with Kelley Jones, of Hospitality Alliance, at STARR Restaurants where he was famous for his hospitality mindset and practical approaches to guest-centered selling.

He says the following re: suggestive selling:

"All you're doing is offering options to the guest. They can always say 'No.'. It's gotta be in a way that's understated and not the, for instance, if someone says "Can I get a vodka tonic" -'"Sure! Would you like Grey Goose or Chopin?'

If someone orders an entree, recommend a starter or app or a side. As far as desserts: If you ask me if I want dessert, 100 out of 100 times I'm going to say 'No' but if you come up and you present the dessert menu and say ' Our cheesecake is my favorite. I'll let you look at that but in the meantime can I get you a coffee, cappuccino or espresso?' - More than likely - after you leave - I'm going to look at the menu and perhaps buy something and share it.

So never ask "yes" or "no" questions when it comes to providing a service for your guests. Always give them options."



“Yes” & “Yes” questions are sometimes referred to as “loaded questionS”. These are questions where the person asking may already know the answer but asks it anyway in order to drive the conversation. Is it “manipulative”? Perhaps ...but it’s manipulating the conversation NOT the guest.

A “Yes” & “Yes” question also proposes options that are intentionally limited so that regardless of the answer provided - it's a desired end result for the server and the house.

For example, asking someone: “Would you rather buy this one or that one? “ makes it easier for them to consider not whether or not they want to but something; but which one of the two they might prefer.

If the guest doesn’t want to buy something - you’re not going to make them buy're just making sure that they're not buying because they haven't considered what you have for sale.

Just be sure to NEVER make the guest feel bad or "less than" for opting out or choosing a less expensive item.


Suggestively up-sell a 2nd cocktail in a young loud music venue by asking:

“Would you like a big one with a double shot or a little one with a single shot?”


Suggestively up-sell a 2nd glass of wine in a more formal setting by asking:

“I can bring you another glass of the Shafer... or would you prefer to try something new? The chef recommends the Malbec as a beautiful pairing with the steak you ordered.”


Suggestively up-sell a side salad by asking:

“If you’d like a salad with your steak, I would suggest either the blue cheese wedge or our most popular choice: table-side caesar salad - with or without anchovies of course.”


Suggestively up-sell a dessert (when everyone looks uncomfortably full) by asking:

“If You’re not interested in something heavy & decadent, I think you’ll appreciate our refreshing berry cup served with a light creme fraiche or I could bring you some coffee while you look at some of our other options."


Suggestively up-sell a 2nd app based on quantity by asking:

“Great choice! They’re incredible. We all love the french onion dumplings. Since there are 3/4 of you and only 5 in an order - would you like two orders so that you can each have at least two or would you like to try a couple of different bites?”

Hope this is helpful. Don’t hesitate to let me know if you would like any help in reprogramming your staff,

Josh Sapienza