How Top Servers Increase Beverage Sales

Today’s trend towards less traditional stiff, scripted, “fine dining,” restaurants, and more towards casual, approachable environments and service changes a lot from a service standpoint. There are some things that shouldn’t change, though. One of those is our focus on maximizing revenue from every customer we see.

The shift from rote training, focused on training our staff to follow a strict sequence of service, down to exact verbiage to greet tables and sell specials, to upsell cocktails, to offer dessert, shouldn’t mean we give up sales. It means we have to get them in different ways.

Diners today don’t want to feel like they’re at an auto lot when they eat out. This may seem challenging. How do we get our servers to sell more without seeming pushy or following scripts?

The good news is, the shift from scripted service to more approachable hospitality can actually make selling easier for your most personable servers.

Increasing sales doesn’t have to be about memorizing facts about products, and memorizing a script to sell Bombay Sapphire to someone ordering a well gin and tonic. Instead, a focus on increasing sales should be on everyone’s mind, but they should be encouraged to genuinely take care of their guests, and craft an experience.

That statement has two parts. We need to maintain the focus on increasing sales. Ditching a strict script and sequence of service doesn’t change the basics. Do I care about my servers’ verbiage when they greet a table? No. Do I care that it happens within two minutes of being seated, and that after the host, their first point of contact is with a server and not a busser bringing water or bread? Absolutely. Why? Because I know that once people start drinking, they rarely stop mid-meal. Meaning that if my server can greet a guest and get a beverage on the table before a guest even orders their food, they will most likely finish that drink before their entrée arrives. Which almost guarantees 2-3 drinks per guest.

That being said, a focus on hospitality provides us many more opportunities to upsell than the traditional, scripted service. The difference is that rather than create those opportunities, a friendly and attentive server needs to recognize when it presents itself. It isn’t “Would you like Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray instead of well gin?” It is when a guest asks what her favorite cocktail is, the server saying “Well what do you usually drink?” It’s noticing that a guest orders a particular dish, and suggesting a wine or cocktail to go with it, even if their drink isn’t empty. “I know you still have a little bit of wine left, but we have an awesome cocktail with hazelnut, a hint of raspberry and chocolate that is like heaven with the lava cake you ordered. You have to try it!”

Instead of “another drink for you,” servers should be conversating, getting feedback, and selling when the guest gives them the opportunity. “What did you think of that cocktail?” “That’s one of my favorites, but if you want to try something similar, but a little different, we’ve got another gin cocktail as well…”

It is getting someone exactly what they ask for “a gin and tonic” and then seeing them glance at the cocktail menu as they sip on it. “If you like gin, you should really try the Gin Fizz next time you’re in. It looks heavy with the egg and cream, but it is actually super light and refreshing, and just a little citrusy. I think you’d really like it.”

The bad news is, customers don’t want to be sold to. They don’t want to be waited on hand and foot. The shift from “good service,” to “warm hospitality,” though, has given us an opportunity. People are looking for an experience, not just a meal. In crafting that experience, great servers still have plenty of opportunity to increase sales, they just need to identify those opportunities, and take advantage of them in a way that makes the customer feel like they are being shown a secret, or led on a journey, rather than like they’re being sold a used car.


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