beer and appetizer

How Bartenders Master the Art of Suggestive Selling

Professional bartenders know how to suggestive sell. Period. Raising the guest check average, increasing gross profits, and suggesting alternative food and beverage menu items to their customers all combine to create a better customer experience – and keep the bar owner happy.

So, how do bartenders master the art of suggestive selling? Experience. Anyone can offer a customer an upsell. Or suggest an appetizer with the meal. In order to master the technique, you must know when to use it! Bartenders that are really good at this know how to anticipate their customers needs.

What, exactly, is suggestive selling – and how is it applied in a bar? It’s simply ‘upselling’ or ‘add-on selling’ by suggesting to the customer an additional purchase that may suit their needs.

For example, when a customer orders a gin and tonic, a good bartender will ‘upsell’ them by suggestion Tanqueray gin instead of the house brand.

Or, a food server may ask the customer if they would like sauteed mushrooms on their steak. Or a side salad with their meal.  How about dessert tonight, folks? Suggestive selling takes on many ways, shapes, and forms, and is certainly a great tool to use with almost every customer.

Almost all bars offer food items, and sales-oriented bartenders know this. Offering appetizers along with a round a drinks goes a long way towards increasing that check size – and tips!

Most bars and restaurants will teach suggestive selling techniques as part of their training program. For new bartenders – pay close attention as bar owners (the good ones) will be keeping track of each individual employees’ sales figures. Your future pay raise may depend upon it!

Many new bartenders make the mistake of memorizing hundreds of drink recipes that they’ll rarely, if ever, make. Knowing the basics is mandatory, of course, but memorizing the TYPES of alcohol brands is equally important. You can’t upsell if you don’t know what the bar has in stock!

There is one very important thing to keep in mind here, so pay attention: Don’t irritate your customers! Regular customers know what they want – and so should you. If all they drink is Cutty on the rocks – don’t be suggesting they upgrade to a single-malt!

There’s no reason to bother them by suggesting some sort of house specialty drink when they’re a ‘shot and a beer’ type of drinker. Of course, making sure that a bar appetizer menu is within view is a very nice (and silent) “suggestive selling” technique!

Selling techniques are important in restaurants and bars, as in almost any industry, There are core ideas and methods that are beyond the scope of this article, so for a very good introduction to selling techniques, I found a good article here.

The below suggestive selling techniques have been around for a long time. Almost anyone who has worked in the food and beverage industry for any length of time will have run across them.

Brand-new, aspiring bartenders certainly don’t need to know every selling skill out there to be successful – but you should have the basics down.

Common Bartender Suggestive Selling Techniques

Let’s take a look at the most common suggestive selling techniques – as well as some more unique ways to maximize customer sales. The most common methods of suggestive selling:

  • Make sure your customers have food and/or drink menus in front of them
  • Always offer appetizers and snacks
  • Ask them if they would like a second (or third), drink BEFORE they’re finished with the first
  • Suggest premium and top-shelf liquors in place of ‘house’ liquor
  • What are the house specialties? Suggest them
  • Know your menu! Suggest appropriate items
  • Suggest sharing food items

Food and Drink Menus

Always place a food and/or drink menu directly in front of your customer, Or, at the very least, make sure that it’s within arm’s length. This includes your regular customers. Sometimes that’s all it takes. It’s what bartenders call a Silent Suggestive Selling Technique.

Many bars have drink and food menus displayed somewhere on the back bar. Point these out to your customers. Casually. Remember to never be ‘pushy’ when offering suggestions. Is there a daily special? And, more importantly, is it good? Suggest it.

The house may be offering some type of specialty drink or ‘drink of the day.’ Suggest it. Many times bar owners have overstocked liquor that they’re trying to push. Be aware of this and do your part.

Offering Appetizers

wine and appetizer

Placing an appetizer menu within reach of your customer is great, but don’t forget to remind them that the bar serves food. Are they waiting for dinner? Are they waiting for someone to join them?

A good example of this is, “We have all appetizers at half-price until 6:00. Might I suggest the jalapeno poppers? They’re really good.” Or, “would you like some cheese sticks while you’re waiting for your friend?”

Suggest Another Drink

Always suggest another drink before your customer finishes their first. Sometimes a simple nod and pointing at their drink are all it takes. What I always did was offer them another drink to take with them to the dining room.

“How about a fresh drink to take with you to the dining room?” Or, “Would you like me to send a couple more drinks to your table?”

Offer Premium and Top-Shelf Liquor, Beer, and Wine

Probably the number one technique used by bartenders. Remember that drinks made with call, premium, and top-shelf liquors cost more. The liquor cost is a bit higher, but the gross profit on a bottle of premium liquor is much more than that of the house brands.

Here’s where knowing the brands and types of liquor that your bar carries comes in handy. The bar owner will certainly appreciate your efforts, and you’ll come across as the all-knowing bartender to your guests. Know your liquor, beer, and wine!

“Would you like your martini made with Beefeater’s? A call liquor generally costs a dollar or two more than a house liquor drink. A premium or top-shelf liquor is a couple of dollars more. You do the math.

Liquor pouring cost is on the mind of every good Bar Manager. How Do You Calculate a Bar’s Liquor Cost? I’ll show you how.

Offer House Specialty Drinks

How Bartenders Master the Art of Suggestive Selling

This can be tricky. In my opinion, most house specialty drinks suck. Yep, I said it. Someone in the corporate office makes up these ridiculous drink recipes trying to increase their sales and lower liquor costs. Careful with this.

You’ll find that the vast majority of people coming into your bar know exactly what they want. And, the more experience you have as a bartender – you’ll begin to read people fairly well.

For those customers who are indecisive – or not your everyday, regular drinkers, this may be a good suggestive selling technique. Don’t push it!

Know Your Bar Menu!

What’s on the appetizer menu? Knowing all of the bar’s drink and food menu items is crucial. What are your favorite food and beverage menu items? Many times, when the customer asks you ‘what’s good,’ they’re asking for your personal opinion. Be honest, and suggest something that you know is really good.

If you’re a brand-new hire, most likely you’re going to go through the bar’s training program, whatever that may be, and you’ll be provided with a list of specialty drinks and food items. Learn them!

Suggest Sharing!

An often overlooked technique. It doesn’t take much to say something like, ” Our shrimp cocktail  is rather large, and many of our customers like to share it.”

Or, “Our giant margarita’s are perfect for two people!” Read your customers – you’ll get the hang of it.

Advanced Bartender Suggestive Selling Techniques

Although the most common suggestive selling techniques will provide new bartenders with plenty of ways to increase that check average and please their customers, there are a few additional techniques that can put you over the top.

Make no mistake – selling is an art. The more experience you have working as a bartender the better you’ll become at reading your customers and making the appropriate suggestions. This takes time!

Let’s look at a few additional ways to increase the bar’s revenue:

Incentive Programs for Employees

Obviously, this would apply to bar owners. Holding contests and awarding something of value to the employees who consistently have higher guest-check averages can be a good way to increase sales – and gross profits!

Bartender Enthusiasm

This is so important in suggestive selling. If you’re recommending something – you better like it and make sure your customer knows it! Again, this comes with experience. And, a helpful, kind, and professional bartender will always contribute to keeping your customer’s sticking around for a longer period of time.

Bar owners spend a lot of money getting customers in the front door. It’s your job to keep them there as long as possible, in most cases, and spend as much money as possible. Never forget this.

Final Thoughts on Bartender Suggestive Selling

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Suggestive selling is an art. The more experience you have as a bartender – the better you get. Most importantly, you’ll learn when NOT to suggestive sell.

If you’re preparing for a career as a bartender, knowing how to suggestive sell will be an important tool in your arsenal. In fact, the bar manager may even ask you about this topic in the job interview. Knowing the basic idea behind suggestive selling will go a long way.

Bar owners are, generally speaking, looking for experienced bartenders. Mastering suggestive selling techniques comes with experience. In my opinion, knowing when NOT to apply these techniques is just as important as implementing them.

Related Bartender Suggestive Selling Questions

What if I suggest something to a customer and they end up hating it? Ouch. First of all, apologize – and get specific. Why did they dislike it? If it’s a preparation problem, offer to fix it immediately. Or, replace it with something else.

Obviously, if you misunderstood – or made the drink incorrectly – fix it immediately. You may not have any control over food items, but you can certainly send food back if it’s not cooked to their liking. Situations like this WILL happen. Remain positive and suggest alternatives.

Should I offer my customers a stronger drink if they order a food item? Of course not! The strength of a drink is ALWAYS dictated by the bar owner or manager.  The bar may already be offering discounted ‘happy hour’ drinks or something similar, so don’t make up the rules as you go along.

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