Maximize revenue with upselling

Maximize revenue with upselling

Whether you’re running a restaurant, bar, or other venue that includes a food and beverage experience, your beverage program is the perfect place to boost profits. If you offer standard wine, beer, and cocktails, we have a few, simple ways to upsell an order, enhancing both the guest experience and your bottom line. Here are a few things to consider when building your upsell arsenal.


If you want to successfully upsell, begin by taking a look at your entire operation, not just the beverage program. This will help you effectively strategize. Analyze your internal trends, apply understanding of your target markets, and take into consideration the larger global context in which we all operate. This ripple-structure creates a solid foundation to boost your beverage program in a way that fits into the big picture.

As with every business decision you make, consumption trends and your most popular offerings will guide upselling decisions. Identify favorite drinks, busy nights, and peak hours. Pay attention to how patterns fluctuate from hour to hour, day to day, and season to season. As we mentioned before, it’s important to include research on other areas of your business as well, most importantly your food offerings. Being well-versed in food and drink pairings is always important.

Don’t be afraid to crunch some numbers, either. For example, what drinks or other menu items result in the highest return for you program? Focus your effort on these items. If there are some that don’t offer as much bang for their buck, consider switching them up seasonally to see what performs better.

Most important, upselling should never be forced – curating a unique and enjoyable experience for your customers is always the top priority. That being said, beyond understanding the inner workings of your program, you should also identify the common demographics and psychographics of your patrons. Curating meaningful relationships goes a long way in sales, so take the extra time to truly get to know your customers.

A great way to anticipate popularity within your service is to be aware of current trends. What’s the buzz on social media? What are people talking about, getting excited about, and posting about? Being plugged into our ever-changing world allows your program to stay ahead of demand.



Now that you’re armed with data and trends, it’s time to get your staff on the same page. Successful upselling might not come instinctively to everyone. There’s a certain nuance required – it should come across as natural because you never want the customer to feel tricked or pressured – and like any other skill, it takes practice. We all see a red flag when we feel particularly “sold to” and, more often than not, we don’t end up buying it. Offer  learning opportunities for your staff as a way to ensure effective upselling.

Every member of your program should be well-versed in the art. From bartenders and waiters to managers alike, there are four main areas of proficiency: (1) your operation, (2) your menu, (3) communication, and (4) upselling. Notice that a few things come before actually upselling. As you are building a foundation for your operation, familiarize your staff with the information and goals as well. Transparency allows everyone to have an active understanding of what makes the business tick and feel more invested in success.

Communication skills are one of the most important aspect in upselling. Build confidence by holding practice sessions outside of operating hours. Let employees try out various tactics so they can feel prepared at game time. Upselling can be intimidating, so encourage participation by offering incentives. Involving your staff will also improve relationships and boost morale, bettering your entire operation.



There are three approaches to upselling, each of which has its own strengths. First is the most obvious and effective – direct verbal upselling. Second is indirect verbal upselling – it’s all about fostering relationships. Last but not least, let your menu do the work for you. The way you structure your menu can greatly influence buying decisions.

Direct verbal upselling 

Direct upselling will be your primary route and can be as simple as making a recommendation when a guest orders. If you recognize an indecisive guest, take the opportunity to share your favorite menu item. People are typically receptive to recommendations, so it’s an easy way to nail the sale. Another suggestion is to offer a food and drink pairing. If they order the house steak, tell them about a fabulous red that would pair perfectly.

The way you phrase your recommendations is everything. A Cornell University study found that rich, vivid descriptions of menu items and drinks increase sales by 27%. Becoming familiar with the nuances of a beverage will make your recommendation feel more legitimate. Rather than simply explaining features of an item, discuss persuasive, enticing benefits. Another study has shown that adding a “because” to your explanation increases the likelihood of a sale by 93%. Give them a reason to say yes! Additionally, you can assert confidence and close the sale by phrasing commands instead of questions.

The final way to directly upsell is to offer samples. This could be a bite-size food selection or a taste of a drink. This is an opportunity you don’t want to miss: complimentary samples have been shown to boost sales by up to 2000% (yes, that’s 2000%).

Indirect verbal upselling

Indirect actions can be just as important as the direct tactics. The goal here is to make the customer your friend. Giving them a personalized experience is likely to increase their purchasing and tips. People in general like to feel a sense of belonging. That’s why we are often drawn back to places where we feel like a regular. The best thing you can do is use a guest’s name. It’s proven that hearing your name activates the reward center of your brain, which opens customers up and encourages sales.

As simple as it may seem, smiling and making eye contact also goes a long way. Guests are deterred when their waiter or bartender is disengaged. Devote positivity to each individual patron in order to achieve lasting relationships. Plus, the better their experience, the more likely they are to recommend your establishment to a friend.

Menu upselling

Using your menu well takes some of the load off of your staff. Curating an effective menu leads customers in the right direction while offering unique specials every night adds a sense of urgency and exclusivity. Seasonal menu items are an especially great way to upsell. Everyone loves fresh ingredients, and their limited availability allows for higher price tags.

Your pricing also has major influence in buying behavior, whether a customer realizes it or not. The magic numbers are zero and nine. MIT studied the impact of the number nine in pricing and found that a price ending in nine is much more likely to sell than the next digit up. It’s a $0.01 difference that will certainly pay off. Another study looked at zeros in pricing. Prices that include zeros do not do as well as whole numbers – this means that $8 will sell more than $8.00. Fewer digits is seen as a smaller price, which guests are more willing to pay.

Beverage upselling

Beverages are the perfect place to bring in revenue. Over the course of a night, a guest will probably only order one entree or a couple appetizers, but they might go through multiple drinks. In terms of upselling, multiple size offerings is a great place to start. If a few people at the table order wine, offer a bottle. If they can’t decide on what they’d like, offer a flight. If they want a margarita, ask if they’d like the small or large. Any beverage can be offered in a larger glass. Or, suggest a shared bottle or cocktail fish bowl. Aside from just playing with the size of the glass, it’s easy to offer variations. Mixed drinks can include floaters, an extra shot, or a specialty spirit. These tactics together fosters a fun, personalized experience within the party, which then associates your venue with good memories. That’s long-term, reliable upselling.

Another option is to suggest premium brands. In a mixed drink, recommend a nicer liquor than the standard offering. Consider recommending quality upsells, rather than price upsells, in order to build trust, which could later lead to a monetary upsell.

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