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Myuzikalsoul's avatar

Can someone give me pointers on how to sell alcoholic beverages to people who weren't initially planning on drinking?

Asked by Myuzikalsoul (598points) June 8th, 2009

I work in a competitive restaurant and I was wondering if there were any experienced servers out there who could give me any tips on upping my alcohol sales. I’m very good at suggestive selling already, and am usually at the top…but I still feel as though I need work in this area. Thanks in advance for any help! :)

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32 Answers

Darwin's avatar

Olive Garden and Macaroni Grill both offer little “free samples” of whatever wine they are pushing that night. That seems to work to some degree.

I must say, though, that as a restaurant patron I dislike waiters who try to talk me into drinking alcohol when I didn’t come into the restaurant planning to do so. It can result in a smaller tip at times.

MrKnowItAll's avatar

Remind your customers that they become better looking and smarter with every drink.

Myuzikalsoul's avatar

@MrKnowItAll LOL. That’s a good one!

Ivan's avatar

Uh, don’t?

Myuzikalsoul's avatar

@Darwin What about waitresses? ;)

I understand the selling limit.. (having crossed it a couple of times) it’s just in how you read people. It’s not about being pushy, it’s about being effective.

@Ivan Unfortunately, that is a large part of my job. And I get “graded” and promoted according to my sales performance. For me, this means less struggling. Someone who can’t sell alcohol is not going to be put in a money making station. Period. And alcohol is a number 1 concern. I don’t make the rules… but I do have to make a living.

Darwin's avatar

@Myuzikalsoul – I was being “politically correct.” Would you prefer “wait staff”?

La_chica_gomela's avatar

One good trick (that I was never able to master) is to ask the chef which wines go well with some of the most popular dishes, then memorize them, and when a customer orders one of the dishes, say something like “excellent choice” then tell them about the wine, as well as some descriptors. Studies have shown that people find food and beverages a lot more appetizing the more descriptors about it they’re given. It just makes their mouth water, you know? You don’t even have to memorize it, if you write down your orders, you can just keep a cheat sheet in your book. Hope that helps!

@Darwin: In the restaurant biz, you typically hear the word “servers” the whole “waiting” thing is so 2006!

Darwin's avatar

@La_chica_gomela – Fortunately for my feet, I have never had to work in restaurants, just patronize them.

YARNLADY's avatar

Show the drink menu and suggest that any one on there can be made without alcohol.

MrItty's avatar

Suggesting an alcoholic beverage after I’ve already said I didn’t want to drink is a good way to get a 0% tip and is quite likely to get me to bitch to your manager about you. I’m at the restaurant for my own enjoyment, not to increase your income. If the two are in synch, fine. If not, my enjoyment comes first, not your income. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. You’re free to find another job if the one you have doesn’t provide you with your desired level of income.

basp's avatar

I agree with Mritty. Sound like a bad policy and one that will be lifted the first time the company is sued for the driver that left drunk and killed or maimed someone.

I worked in food service a lot when I was younger and there are other ways to boost sales. Push the apetizers and desserts. When asked what you recommend lead them to the more expensive part of the menu and be able to describe the dishes with enthusiasim. If a waiter/server tells me he/she has tried an item, I’m more likely to try it.
But, I promise you, if you try to push the liquor on me not only won’t you get a tip, but I won’t come back. And, repeat business is where the money is in food service.

Jeruba's avatar

Some people have a strong reason not to be drinking (such as that they are taking meds that are dangerously incompatible with alcohol or that they are on a 12-step program for real) and yet may have weak resolve and be susceptible to pressure. I think it is unethical to push anyone to drink who says no. Any version of “one little drink can’t hurt you” could lead to serious trouble for some people.

I know this isn’t what you want to hear, @Myuzikalsoul, but in your place I wouldn’t be able to avoid thinking about it.

cak's avatar

I’m just one of those people that if I want a drink, I will order it. If I don’t, I won’t. There is no amount of persuasion that will convince me to order a drink. It’s like shopping in a store where the person keeps asking if I want to open a credit account. I say no, one time. That’s it. I can’t stand when they continue to ask. I had someone ask me 3 times, I walked out – without the purchase.

Now, I was a server…long ago….LONG ago…geez! I do understand that part of the job is to up sell product. Just like any other sales job, that’s what the restaurant manager likes to see! I know that I usually just did the starting, “What kind of drink will you be having tonight?” It was a mix – some people drank, some didn’t. Now, certain times of the night and after certain events, I would very pointedly ask, “What kind of beer or drink can I get you?” Through that in…it seemed to suggest a beer for some of the patrons – we only served beer, at the time.

Ask the bartender for a good drink to recommend to customers. Hot weather, a refreshing alcoholic drink – suggest it by name, when taking the drink order. You might be surprised how much the power of suggestion works, when given a specific choice.

My thing always was, if the person said, “No, thanks.” That was it, I didn’t push the offer.

chyna's avatar

I would suggest that you don’t push the alcohol. If someone is going to drink they will ask for it without you suggesting it. If you push them, they may not come back to the restaurant again.

RedPowerLady's avatar

I must say, though, that as a restaurant patron I dislike waiters who try to talk me into drinking alcohol when I didn’t come into the restaurant planning to do so. It can result in a smaller tip at times.

I agree. In fact, there are many people who don’t drink for very good reasons and will not go back to a restaurant if it pushes alcohol on them.

Instead of pushing alcohol on people I would suggest getting better beer/alcohol/wine. It might just be that you don’t have the “good stuff”. Or even trying a niche like selling only local brew. Or perhaps your food just doesn’t go well with booze. One thing you could try that doesn’t push alcohol on people but does boost alcohol sales is offer free salty snacks (i.e. pretzels, tortilla chips and salsa, peanuts, etc…).

Darwin's avatar

@Myuzikalsoul – Since I see from another thread that you work at Outback, I will say that there was one thing that actually did induce me to order an alcoholic drink there that I hadn’t planned to get. That was when Outback took a page from @RedPowerLady ‘s advice and had a pamphlet on the table about a seasonal beer they were offering and that I had always wanted to try. So I did indeed order it, although it wasn’t the “server” who suggested it.

Unfortunately, they were out of it so I had water instead.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@MrItty Waiter/esses aren’t supposed to push drinks on you, that’s not what the OP was referring to. If you say you don’t want a drink that’s that. But when someone makes a food order, alcohol costs more, which means more income, so it’s smarter to suggest say a nice Merlot over a pepsi. It’s not being pushy, it’s just being a good waiter.

MrItty's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 Nope. If I said I want a Coke, and the waiter suggests a merlot instead, that’s not being a good waiter. That’s being pushy and downright rude. Frankly, if the waiter suggests ANYthing without my asking for a recommendation, it’s being rude.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

I’m not talking about making you an offer after you said what drink you wanted… please read.

Say you go “I’d like a nice Roast please”
a waiter/ess is simply doing a good job if they go “excellent choice, may I suggest our ‘63 Cabernet with that as well?”

I fail to see how that in any way is being rude.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

I do too. I would appreciate the help.

MrItty's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 Yes, it’s rude. You don’t interrupt my order to suggest something to increase your bottom line. When I state my food order, if I haven’t yet ordered a beverage and have stopped talking, you say “And what would you like to drink?”. That’s it. Anything else is rude, because as you said, it’s obvious the waiter is going to “suggest” an alcoholic beverage simply because it costs more. Making a “suggestion” for me to increase his bottom line is pure rudeness, nothing more.

MrItty's avatar

Basically, I don’t see any difference between saying “May I suggest a nice merlot” and “May I suggest a 25% tip”. The waiter’s only goal is to put more money in his own pocket, what kind of dining experience I have is irrelevant to him.

artificialard's avatar

@MrItty I have a few friends in the restaurant industry, some work for great restaurants that value the customer’s interest first while others maybe are more like Myuzikalsoul’s place of work where they’re very specific about how waiters should conduct themselves.

The server is just likely trying to do his job and while it can be poor service, keep in mind that sometimes they’re just following instructions (much like a when you get a junk call).

MrItty's avatar

@artificialard I completely understand that. It just doesn’t change anything. If I go out to eat, I’m looking to have a good experience. If my server in some way diminishes that experience, I will take it out on him/her, monetarily, via tip. Whether it was the server’s own financial desire or instructions from the manager that caused him/her to diminish my experience isn’t relevant to me. I’m sure as heck not going to sit there staring at the “Gratuity: _____” line on the check trying to determine or guess why the server gave me a bad experience. I’m just going to knock the tip down.

Myuzikalsoul's avatar

@Darwin The politically correct term would actually be “server”.
@La_chica_gomela Thank you for your help! It is a good idea.
@YARNLADY Non-alcoholic beverages don’t do anything for your liquor mix. Although I do suggest them to non-drinkers.
@MrItty @basp @Jeruba @chyna @artificialard :

Let me start by stating that the purpose of my question was not to learn to PUSH anything on anyone. That is not what the art of selling is about. And it is an art. Just like anything else.

Also…my place of work (and I) DO care about the dining experience. And it is not true that all I care about is my tip. I think you’re confusing things. My alcohol mix is not based off of the amount of your check. Your check could be $4, and I could still get a high alcohol sales off of your table. It’s a PERCENTAGE. A per person average. I’m not trying to, and would NEVER try to over serve anyone. As a matter of fact, my restaurant in particular is keen on cutting people off quite often, resulting often in an upset and bad tempered guest. We as servers or as the restaurant do not in any way advocate or facilitate drunkenness.

This is something we take VERY seriously.

Also, @MrItty, I assure you that your dining experience is anything BUT irrelevent. It’s actually the most important aspect of my job..ensuring a pleasant dining experience. You wouldn’t believe how much attention is given to detail so that your dining experience is flawless. The nature of your comments leads me to wonder if you yourself have ever been a server. I’d guess no. Simply bc you, among many MANY others, seem to share a common misconception about my line of work. I am a “server”. NOT a “servant”. I am real person, just like you, who has to pay bills, and take care of my family. I am not out to get you. My job is to ensure your satisfaction. My job is also to be a “suggestive” seller. A suggestion is not manipulation. It’s not pushy. It’s a way to create an awareness of what there is to offer. And it is properly done within the initial greet. Not after you’ve already told me what you want.

Perhaps I worded my question badly.

I’m looking for tips on “suggestive” selling. Not on tips to persuade people to make bad decisions. If you have one beer with dinner, that is not going to make you drunk. If I simply ask you, “What do you want to drink?” You may not know that I even have beer. So you may say water. However, if I suggestively ask you if you’d like to start with an ice cold Newcastle, for example, you may think, “hmm..that does sound nice.” You will have a better dining experience while indulging in a tasty refreshing beverage, and I will get a better alcohol mix, which will in turn give me a better station in the future…giving me the opportunity to make more money. I am required to have at least a 12% liqour mix nightly. Anything below that is frowned upon. If I have 2 tables and 1 orders 1 alcoholic beverage and the other does not, then that still gives me roughly a 50% liq. mix. And I am not getting anyone wasted by any means.

See how that works?

MrItty's avatar

@Myuzikalsoul I have only been a server if you count working at the cash register at McDonalds. I assume you don’t count that, and I don’t blame you. Though, we were told to “suggestive sell” there too. (“Would you like fries with that?”) It was scummy then, it’s scummy now.

I do not need you to inform me that you have beer by suggesting a beer. I can read the menu just fine, thank you. If I order a water, it’s because I want water. If I order a beer, it’s because I want beer.

I never said you are out to “get me”. I said that you are out, as well as I expect every other person in the world, to make yourself more money.

I don’t mean to single you out. I am not anti-you, or even anti-alcohol. I’m anti-suggestive-selling. I think it’s a scummy practice, I think it insults the customer, and every time it happens it diminishes my enjoyment of the evening out. Not a lot, but perceptibly. It’s annoying. I can read the menu. By the time you get to my table, I have at least read the drink menu. I do not need you to suggest anything to me. If I ask for a suggestion, great, I’m all ears. If not, leave me alone and ask me what I want, do not suggest that I can’t figure out for myself what I want.

Myuzikalsoul's avatar

@MrItty I don’t think you are anti-me, I just think it’s an interesting subject, and is one that involves what I do.

You stated: “I’m anti-suggestive-selling. I think it’s a scummy practice, I think it insults the customer, and every time it happens it diminishes my enjoyment of the evening out.”

I don’t understand how conveying information could be seen as “scummy”. I’m not slighting you in any way by giving you information. Most people actually thank me, and tip me more based on the amount of information I can provide to them on my product.

“I can read the menu. By the time you get to my table, I have at least read the drink menu.”

Alot of the information that servers give you is not on the menu. Also, in my restaurant, servers are required to greet a new table within 45 seconds… noone could possibly absorb that amount of information in that amount of time. Not to mention that if you do actually read the menu, you are one of the few. Most people would rather not read. It’s sad, but true. You’d be VERY surprised.

Lastly, suggestive selling is all around you. Turn on the television, go to a grocery store, watch a movie, take a drive down the road! Do you think advertising is “scummy”? Do you refrain from going to the movies because the previews suggest other movies you might like??

MrItty's avatar

It’s not conveying information. As you’ve already stated, the point is to increase your alcohol sales. The conveying of information – what is available – is the menu. Your suggestive selling is intended to get me to pay more for something I perhaps wouldn’t have ordered without your suggestion.

If you get to the table before I’ve read the menu, I’ll happily tell you “I need more time”. That does not mean “I can’t make up my mind”, nor does it mean “I don’t know what I want, please suggest something.” It means, very literally “I need more time”. Suggesting something before I’ve gotten a chance to read the menu is rude on yet another level – it implies that you are in a hurry to get me served and out the door to get to your next customer.

Your previous posts have not said anything regarding the servers giving more information than is on the menu. You have stated only that you want to sell a higher priced beverage to those who wouldn’t otherwise purchase one. Giving more information, such as a recommendation for which beverage best accompanies a particular entrée, is another matter, and is very welcome – IF I have asked for the opinion, or have indicated I don’t know what I want.

I do think most advertising is scummy, yes, but that’s not the point. Suggestive selling is worse because it’s one-on-one interaction. You, John Smith, are individually and personally trying to get me, Mark Jones, to spend more money to directly increase your bottom line. That is far less tolerable than a company putting advertisements on my screen trying to convince the population at large to buy their product.

FWIW, along the same lines, I’m equally disdainful of other commission-based salespersons such as at the car dealership or furniture store. Leave me the hell alone until I’m ready to ask for information.

I admit I’m not likely in the majority with these opinions. They are, nonetheless, my opinions. <shrug>

Darwin's avatar

@Myuzikalsoul – “in my restaurant, servers are required to greet a new table within 45 seconds”

That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case in every Outback, and certainly not in the one we frequent.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@MrItty dude never come into my restaurant.

MrItty's avatar

I’ll go to whatever restaurants I choose, actually. I’m the customer, you see.

artificialard's avatar

@MrItty Fair enough, a completely valid point: you’re paying for an superior dining experience, not a sales pitch with food. I think the difference in perspective is that if I can interpret that as just ‘part of the job’ from the waiter I wouldn’t mind it as much.

@Myuzikalsoul If you look at my response I took care to word it so it wouldn’t be misinterpreted to imply you’re offering bad service. I said that some establishments don’t favour the dining experience as highly as others, and that servers are sometimes subject to specific conduct (whether it’s good or bad). I think the fact that you’re taking out your own time to do this kind of empirical research speaks to how invested you are in offering a great dining experience.

I’d tend to agree this kind of selling is fairly innocuous, in fact some people find it odd if they’re not asked about alcoholic drinks simply because it’s so commonplace. Maybe differences in geography and the type of dining establishments could be the crux of some of the disagreement here?

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