A recent webinar presented by NetWorld Alliance focused on tips and tactics to help restaurant owners and operators train their servers to be better salespeople. Interestingly, a national report on coffee sales in restaurants showed that servers only try to sell coffee to guests 30 percent of the time. With the average cup of coffee costing a restaurant 17 cents to make, servers should always try to sell this high margin item to guests. Like coffee, there are many add-on items, such as soups and salads, appetizers or desserts that can help increase ticket averages by 5-to-10 percent if servers are trained to better sell these items. Some restaurants that have invested time and resources into salesmanship programs have even seen increases in check averages of up to 18 percent.
Implementing a sales program will help your servers learn that sales is the primary goal of your business and will also help your servers make more money themselves, as higher ticket averages generally mean higher tips. While your restaurant may have the best food or drinks in town, it takes the ability of your servers to effectively describe and sell your menu to guests if your goal is increasing your profits. While developing a sales training program does take time and resources, consistently training your servers on how to effectively sell your menu to guests is a proven way to maximize ticket averages. Below are key factors to keep in mind should you choose to begin a sales training program at your restaurant.
• Create a training manual. Lay out the sales and performance criteria that are expected of your servers from the beginning. This will help them know what types of actions, sales techniques and behaviors you expect of them, and what standards they will be reviewed against.
• Test. Both written and performance testing of servers ensures that they are knowledgeable about your products. Written tests work well for making sure servers know the ingredients and cooking methods of menu items as well as wine pairings for each dish. Performance testing, such as role-playing exercises, helps servers learn exactly what type of language and interactions you prefer them to have with guests.
• Engrain product knowledge. This goes hand in hand with testing, but it is also a good idea to have pre-shift meetings with staff to discuss new dishes and specials so that they can easily describe them to the table. Your restaurant’s menu is your servers’ sales brochure, so they should be able to speak to and answer questions about everything in it.
• Hold training workshops. Holding occasional workshops to train new restaurant employees or refresh older employees on effective selling tips is vital to your salesmanship program. This is a great time to practice role-playing conversations with guests. For example, practice avoiding negative selling. Servers should never say, “You didn’t want an appetizer, did you?” or “I guess you didn’t leave any room for dessert.” Which sounds better, “Coffee?” or “Would you care for a cup of freshly-brewed coffee?” These types of exercises are very effective during a training workshop.
• Monitor and review. Monitor your servers’ performance through hired mystery shoppers or recording each server’s average sales. Mystery shoppers can help you test whether or not your staff is practicing all the sales techniques they’ve learned in training. Also, check with your POS system provider to see if they have a product that provides employee performance reports to stack rank your employees based on tip averages, add-on sales, comp averages and void averages, etc.
• Reward good behavior. Set up a reward system for your servers. Consider trading gift certificates to your restaurant with local businesses for items such as movie tickets or tickets to entertainment events. Reward staff when they achieve certain goals or hold a contest to see who can have the highest increase in sales.
Every restaurant is unique in how they develop their sales training programs. What are some ideas that you’ve seen work well?