My middle son is in the midst of a passionate love affair with French fries, so I’ve done what any good mother would do – I’ve turned that love into a bargaining tool.
He doesn’t like swim lessons? I’ll buy fries after. He hesitates to clean his room? I offer to make fries with dinner. If every trip to the dentist continues to involve tantrums, I might start taking him to the office dressed up as French fries.
When I pulled into the drive-thru at McDonald’s this past weekend, I placed my usual order for Happy Meals and a Diet Coke when the women working there said, “Are you sure you don’t want some extra fries with that?”
I really admired her upsell.
If there’s ever an order that screams “Mom in the car,” I imagine two Happy Meals and a large Diet Coke must be it. And, yes, I did want extra fries. Without those fries I’m stuck a) pretending that I don’t want any French fries of my own or b) stealing fries from my kids, which leaves me feeling both unsatisfied and guilty.
I was even more impressed when I saw that those extra fries costs $3.29, so it increased my overall ticket price by about 35%.
It reminded me that there are some really great lessons that come with working in the service industry, and that food service in particular can be a great primer for sales training.
1. The key to success is managing expectations.
When you’re waiting tables, the people seated at your table are spending hard-earned money to have a night out, and they are paying for all aspects of the experience. They have expectations – like not having to beg for a water refill or an overflowing bread basket – that are part of that.
When your customer expects a pleasant experience, it’s best to do all you can to meet those expectations, and having a surly server or not having a favorite dish puts everyone in a bad mood. For the sake of your tips, it’s best to meet those expectations or acknowledge the ways in which you might have fallen short. An apology for not being able to provide world-famous oysters goes a long way towards communicating that you know, and want to be a part of, your customer’s journey.
(Yes, I’ve read about restaurants that intentionally give you terrible service, and I’d argue that can work because everyone understands the standard. If your expectation is bad service, then you’re happy to get bad service.)
It’s vital to understand what your customer expects so you can meet – or adjust – those expectations accordingly.
2. People like it when you help them solve their problems.
When someone asked me what I recommended off the menu, I never said, “I don’t know.” Instead, I offered 2-3 options of meals that I ate regularly. And the longer I waited tables, the better I got at overcoming objections and having a backup plan.
I had alternate menu suggestions for vegetarians, people who were gluten-free, etc. I knew it was my job to help people solve their problems. In this case, that problem was what to eat, and I gave them solutions I could stand behind.
I’ll also admit that I would tell people honestly when I didn’t have solutions for them. I worked at a French restaurant and café, so if someone came through the door wanting a burger, I told them (nicely) to go down the street. It wasn’t worth it to me to make $3.00 when I knew the guest would most likely be really unhappy with their experience. It was better for me – and the customer – to admit when I couldn’t solve the problem or meet their expectations.
3. People really like it when you exceed their expectations.
Alcohol and desserts are the bread and butter of getting a ticket price up, and they are easy upsells if you take the approach that these little extras can enhance a dining experience.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you push beer on someone who has continually told you they don’t drink (that’s definitely not solving anyone’ s problem!). But all you’ve lost is an opportunity if you don’t mention that an incredibly pecan pie is back on the menu or that pitchers of mimosas are on special during brunch. If meeting expectations and solving problems are the gold standard, exceeding expectations is that little extra that provides a first-class experience, and your bottom line will thank you.