Skills Focus: Making Recommendations

(Note: This is the first post in a series called “Weekly Skills Focus” that is designed to provide a weekly topic for your pre-shift meetings and instructions on how to teach it.  To best utilize this post, plese refer to to my explanation of how to hold an effective pre-shift meeting and the introduction of the weekly skills focus.)

Restaurants have always utilized the power of specials.  As long as there have been restaurants, they have featured specific items at a price designed to make them sell.  The conventional wisdom on this has been that the discount or limited availability is what makes the item sell.  I have found that is not the case.  The reason specials sell so well is that servers present them to the guest and they are set apart from the rest of the menu. This is the true power of specials.

Skills Focus: The Most Important Phrase You Are Not Using

This week’s skill is based on the same principle, but is far more powerful.  When a server asks to make reservations is allows them the chance to give the same level of emphasis to full price items on the menu.  This is the opportunity for your servers to highlight their favorite items on the menu allowing them to sell them with sincerity.  Guests recognize this sincerity and will flock to these items.  Since they are on the menu, the guests know that they can come back in for them and will feel free to recommend them to their friends.

Three key points to emphasize on this skill:

1) Let the servers pick what they want to recommend.  Your favorite item on the menu might not be the same as each member of your staff.  Let them recommend what they want.  You will notice instantly that your staff is more excited about these recommendations than the normal specials they are asked to present.  This is because it reinforces autonomy, which is one of the primary motivating factors of servers.

2) This is not selling. Servers are often hesitant to sell because they feel pushy or that their pitch might alienate the guest.  This is not selling, but rather offering their opinion and the relaying the feedback of past guests to their current guests.  This is a service they are providing to their tables after their tables have given

3) Get them to say why they like it.  Many restaurants have made their servers
worse at describing food with their training programs.  Servers are taught to make suggestions, but not to explain to the guests the reason behind the suggestion.  The reason why this skill is so effective is because it engages the server in explaining why it is their favorite.

How to teach this skill:

Monday-Wednesday: Ask your staff what was the best CD/Movie/Concert they have been to recently.  When someone replies, ask him or her to tell you why.  Then ask them if they feel like they are selling you.  Explain the difference
between sales and recommendations.  Then explain the power of these recommendations. Ask them their favorite menu item is and how they would describe it to a table.

Thursday-Friday:  Ask them to recommend something off the menu for you.  Let them pick the item, but describe it as they would to a table.  Go around the
group letting each person that time allows to give their description.  Solicit feedback from your servers about how this skill is working for them.

Saturday-Sunday: Step back and let them deliver their recommendations.  Pick a category off the menus and let someone describe an appetizer, drink, entrée, etc.  Let them gently critique each other’s descriptions.  Open the concept up to
criticism.  Let anyone who does not think it is a good idea say so.  Then ask if
anyone in the group would like to address the criticism.  By this time the staff members who have adopted and implemented the skill will be defending it to the holdouts.  They will be teaching the skill for you.

This is a great skill to start with because it will produce results immediately.  It will also get your staff thinking about how to describe food in a more appealing way and rethinking their biases against selling.  This skill sets up the next two week’s skills focuses nicely and will get your staff to start thinking about skills they can develop to make better tips.

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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