a waiter is using suggestive selling techniques to persuade restaurant guests when taking orders

Suggestive Selling Techniques in Restaurants

“Would you like some side dishes?” isn’t enough to make customers nod and open their wallets. These days, as consumers are becoming savvier, your staff need more skills than just ask. This is when suggestive selling techniques in restaurants can be put into training.

By “pitching” menu items properly, wait staff can motivate diners to spend more, hence boosting sales. But if they do it the wrong way, you risk alienating once-loyal consumers.

In this post, you’ll read about suggestive selling techniques in restaurants and how to actually apply them in your business.

Suggestive selling vs upselling

Suggestive selling is a sales technique that involves persuading a customer to order menu items that are different from what they ordered or would normally order. For example, you suggest customers to choose gourmet pasta for a different dining experience, while their usual order is pizza.

Wait staff need to learn about customers’ preferences by observing their body language and asking open-ended, probing questions. Using that information, they can then recommend suitable items and services that meet customers’ needs.

Upselling refers to situations in which wait staff suggest an upgrade or add-on. For example, you recommend guests to order extra onions or cheese for their burger.

In fact, these two terms can be used interchangeably.

The advantages of suggestive selling are obvious: creating a personalized dining experience at your restaurant, hence boosting sales and revenue.

How to apply suggestive selling techniques in restaurants

Make the right recommendations

Guests love personalized recommendations, especially when they don’t know what to order. This is a good opportunity to put suggestive selling techniques in place.

For staff to give the right recommendations that make customers want to listen to right away, they need a thorough understanding of what your restaurant offers.

Make sure that your wait staff are well-versed on your restaurant menu items and services, from the prices, ingredients, availability to specials and promotions. You can also let them taste the dishes and come up with their own recommendations.

Recommendations should be made based on what’s currently available in your restaurant, with price sensitivity in mind. Customers may feel misled if they’re offered something that is unavailable. Similarly, if your staff proposes an add-on item that is too expensive, your customers may feel taken advantage of.

Show interests in customers and listen to them

When taking orders, servers should show interest in their customers. Simple actions like introducing themselves, showing a positive attitude, or even making a joke can go a long way. Train your employees to do more than just writing orders down.

Make sure your waiters give guests the opportunity to talk and ask about the dishes. As your staff get to know more about customers’ preferences, they can make better-tailored suggestions.

Read your customers

Reading customers’ body language can help staff adjust their recommendations accordingly. If a guest appears unsure or hesitant of what to order, your staff can mention their favorite items to help out.

When reading customers, consider the dynamics of the group. Each guest table will have their own personality. Knowing what it is can help your wait staff decide when to recommend and when to listen.

In many groups of diners, there’s always an  “alpha buyer,” the person who leads the ordering process. Determine who that person is and focus upselling efforts on them.

Give good description of the dishes

Waiters and waitresses should use descriptive language while explaining dishes to customers. When the correct adjectives are used, they become a potent weapon for suggestive selling. This is just another reason why waiters must have a thorough understanding of your restaurant menu.

Create a restaurant loyalty program

Keeping an existing customer is easier than finding a new one, and is beneficial to your restaurant’s bottom line. Creating a restaurant loyalty program can inspire your customers to dine with you more frequently, which means more opportunities for suggestive selling.

Diners also like loyalty programs because of the benefits they can gain when spending at your restaurant. For example, they love to get more reward points by spending on a more expensive dish.


Suggestive selling techniques in restaurants give you opportunities to boost sales while keeping customers happy.

Experiment with different approaches. When one tactic proves to be more successful than another, share it with your staff. Once you’re more experienced, you can create a handbook full of tips and distribute it to your team.

Read more about how to upsell in restaurants.

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