Skill Focus: Selling As A Server

In the final installment of the skill focus series, I wanted to bring the series full circle.  I began by discussing the value of making recommendations and how to describe food.  These were great introductions to basic sales concepts.  Your staff should now have had time to either get comfortable with these concepts or abandoned them entirely.  Those who have given up on these methods have most likely done so because they are uncomfortable with the notion of sales.  This week I will confront that resistance head on and give you all of the necessary arguments to convert the holdouts.

Most people have negative feeling associated with sales.  We can all recall experiences with pushy sales people.  This doesn’t mean that selling is bad, but rather that those were bad salespeople.  Sales can also be an incredibly powerful force for good.  Here is how I explain this in the chapter this skill focus is based on:

“Selling is a skill that is not inherently good or bad. A doctor can sell a patient on the idea of having a surgery that will save their life. A diplomat can sell two feuding leaders on the idea of ending a war. A teacher can sell a struggling student on staying in school. A counselor can sell an addict on the idea of entering rehab. Each of these sales shares a common trait. The salesperson is advocating what is in the best interest of the person to whom they are selling.”

This certainly shines a much more positive light on the concept of sales.  No one would compare these examples to a pushy salesperson.  If your server sells in the ways discussed in the first three skill focuses, no one will think of them as a pushy sales person either.

The basis for this week’s skill focus is chapter 34 of my book.  It is my favorite chapter and the concept I try to address most frequently in my writing:

Chapter 34: In Defense of Selling As a Server

If you didn’t click that link, you should go back and read the chapter.  It is the premise of the content to follow.

Three very important teaching points to use on this topic:

They Came To Buy:  No one who walks into a restaurant is “just looking.”  The only reason someone walks into a restaurant is to buy food or beverages.  Anyone coming in for a reason other than that is stopped in the lobby. 

They Will Be Happier:  The guests will have a better time at the restaurant if they order a meal that they enjoy.  A server’s job is to make sure that the guests enjoy their time at the restaurant.  That is the service we provide which means that selling them the items they are most likely to enjoy is an extension of service.

You Would Do It For A Friend:  If a server’s friends or family came in and asked what was good, the server would tell them.  They would not consider it sales, but rather they would consider it a service.  If the definition of “hospitality” is to treat your guests as you would friends and family, then selling is truly a further extension of hospitality.

How to teach this concept:

Monday-Wednesday:  Introduce this concept to your staff.  Allow them to voice their concerns.  This is your time to sell them on the concept.  If you do not feel ready to handle any concern they have, re-read the chapter above and take a look at the series I posted on selling as a server on my blog.  Before you can ask them to sell for you, you must close the sale with them.

Thursday-Friday:  Introduce the concept of “taking credit.”  Whenever a guest takes a server’s recommendation the server should ask, “Is that _____ as good as I said it would be?”  This allows the guest to connect the positive feelings they are having with the item to the server.  This will benefit the server on the tip line.  The reason I recommend holding off on teaching this concept until later in the week is that it provides one more opportunity for any hold outs to change their mind.  One of the most basic principles of sales is that people will rarely change their mind once it is made up, but they will make a new decision based on new information.  This new information gives the more stubborn members of your staff the opportunity to save face by making a new decision.

Saturday-Sunday:  Allow your staff to discuss their results.  Focus the conversation on the positive members.  Have them discuss their best practices.  This will help reinforce the benefits to other staff members and get them motivated for the opportunity to try these techniques during the shift.

This is the final post of the skill focus series.  There are a few options I would recommend from here.  The series has lasted 8 weeks.  It might be wise to begin again by revisiting the first week of the series and working back through the topics.  There are also 52 topics waiting to be addressed still in my book, Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips.  This book was divided into 52 chapters to provide you a full years worth of topics and answers to any problems your staff might face in between.  If you have any questions or would like help addressing another concern, I can be reached via email at or on Twitter at @Tips4Tips.

Tips²: Tips For Improving Your Tips, the new book from the author of The Manager’s Office, teaches the skills of exceptional servers that will increase customer satisfaction and dramatically improve restaurant sales.  This book is more than a server training manual.  It is the secret to teaching your staff to enjoy selling and give your guests the experience that will create raving fans.  To learn more about the book, visit  Use the coupon code “MANAGER” to save 20% at the checkout.


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About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of "Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips" and "Building Your Brand With Facebook"

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