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Use the Power of Upselling to Boost the Profitability of Your Bar

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14/04/2023 If used correctly, Upselling has the potential to do wonders in terms of over-the-counter sales as well as overall profitability.

One of the most powerful sales techniques that you have for maximizing the profit potential of your bar is known as upselling. In a classic upsell, a customer orders a mixed drink made with a premium spirit, or orders a specialty cocktail instead of a standard mixed drink. When upselling works best is when it is subtle and geared to the tastes and preferences of the customer – if you are trying to upsell a spirit or a drink that the customer doesn’t want, upselling will come across as “being pushy,” which is why so many servers aren’t sure where to begin with upselling. With that in mind, here are a few ideas for getting started…

Transform classic cocktails into premium cocktails

Many customers may order the same drink, over and over again, without ever realizing that it could be enhanced or made different by using a different base spirit. One example here is the classic Negroni, which can be upgraded by using a premium artisanal gin instead of a traditional London Dry Gin. Or, even better, a classic cocktail can be made into a premium cocktail by encouraging customers to use a premium spirit. This might be a new craft distilled spirit, or it might be a premium offering by a brand.

According to surveys, it’s much easier to encourage customers to “go premium” within the same brand rather than experiment with a new brand with which they are unfamiliar. As a result, it might make more sense to upsell a whiskey drinker to a premium version within the same brand, such as Johnnie Walker Black instead of Johnnie Walker Red, or perhaps even a limited edition Johnnie Walker, like Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Triple Grain American Oak. 

But you don’t even need to change the spirit to create a premium cocktail. You could, for example, experiment with different glassware, different garnishes, or different mixes. Cocktails, more than other items on your bar menu, offer a very multisensory experience. Not only can they be strikingly vivid from a visual sense, but they can also offer a lot in terms of aromas and flavors, such as if you add new herbs or botanicals.

Place a premium on staff education and server knowledge

One good rule for bars to follow is to ask their wait staff to become very familiar with the three top items on the bar menu, both in terms of overall profitability and in terms of popularity. In order to make that a reality, of course, you will need to invest in staff training and education. You need to ensure that knowledge across brands and categories is consistent from server to server, and from table to table.

The big caveat here, of course, is that servers should not be robotic in the way they list special offers or promotions. Customers want knowledge and expertise, not someone who is just rattling off facts that they have memorized. In short, they want deeper understanding. This gives them the confidence to accept a recommendation or suggestion. A customer might never have thought of ordering a premium craft distilled Bourbon, so he or she needs to have the confidence that the suggestion coming from the server is going to be the right choice.

Practice upselling by downselling

In this case, “downselling” does not mean offering customers a lower-priced spirit or cocktail. Instead, it refers to a sales technique in which bar servers take steps that would, on the surface, appear to be unprofitable for the bar. One great example here is the “sample pour.” This is a sales technique in which bar servers offer a free sample of a spirit in order to encourage the customer to commit to the sale. The great news here is that researchers have found that a free sample pour can increase the profitability of a spirit by 2000%! It’s mostly just a case of overcoming the initial skepticism and reluctance.

Another downselling technique is known as “the break-even bottle.” This is when a bar opens up a rare, exclusive and very expensive bottle, and then sells shots of the spirit at the bar’s cost price, without any cost markup at all. On the surface, it would appear as if the bar is making absolutely no money on this. However, studies have shown that opening up a break-even bottle can be a great way to enliven a slow night at the bar, attract customers on weekday nights, and build buzz and excitement.

Experiment with power selling phrases

Within the bar and restaurant industry, there are many different phrases and even single words that have been shown to be very effective with upselling customers. Words like “popular” and “bestselling,” for example, have shown a lot of power to convert. Another power word is “because” – as in, “Would you like a frozen cocktail to go with your meal because it’s so hot outside?” One study, for example, found that the power of that “because” word is so strong that 93% of people immediately say yes.

In the same way, recommendations that come with the word “I” in it are seen as much more authentic and powerful by customers. This could be something as simple as the server saying, “I just tried it yesterday – it’s great and I love it.” Also, anything that makes a guest feel like he or she is missing out on something can be a powerful upsell technique. This is based on the phenomenon known as FOMO, or the Fear Of Missing Out. You can tap into the power of FOMO to help sell specials by saying something like, “We only have a few left…”

Moreover, power selling phrases do not always have to be words. They can sometimes be numbers. The number “9” is particularly powerful, and a cocktail priced at $9 is going to seem much more attractive to a customer than a cocktail priced at $8. Moreover, a cocktail priced at $9.99 is going to seem incredibly more appealing than that same cocktail priced at $10.

One common phrase heard throughout the hospitality industry is the following: “To sell is to serve.” This perfectly captures what you are trying to do with the upsell – you are making a sale by serving the customer. In some cases, you are suggesting or recommending options that they would like or enjoy. In other cases, you are serving them by exposing them to things that they otherwise might never have thought to try. With the right amount of training and practice, it’s possible to use upselling as a powerful tool for boosting revenue and profitability.

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