The more the merrier

This essay examines the process of increasing you customer average spend by effective selling and merchandising.

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A lot of people ask me how to increase the customer average spend in their restaurants and other food businesses. For most of you there is a golden opportunity to add at least 25% to your business income if you know how to go about it — but like a great deal of the things we teach in our training courses, it’s more difficult to put it into practice than it is to talk about it.

If you want to tread down this path, the first thing you need to do is have a good look at your menus and wine lists. How are they constructed? Are there a sufficient range of ‘bits and pieces’ a well trained salesperson can use as add-ons? We call it the Leggo set approach — start with a basic range of products or services and add-on to customise the experience. Your customers will perceive the Leggo set approach as ‘service’.

It helps if you back up this approach with good merchandising. Well written menus, tent cards, food and beverage displays, and other visual sales tools assist the creation of impulse sales and help your front of house staff make the most of the opportunities that present themselves. In past articles I’ve written of the benefit of using pictures rather than written words to create even more sales — I only mention this because you can afford to get quite sophisticated in your approach to increasing your customer average spend because the potential extra income from getting it right makes the upfront investment a very good bet.

If you combine poor merchandising with staff who don’t really want to sell, you’re really shooting yourself in the foot. Unfortunately, I see this form of ‘double jeopardy’ being committed all too often. I get an overwhelming desire to force the owner to come to training at gunpoint — then we could both make some money. It’d be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic, but there have been a few times recently where I felt that it was really hard to spend money in some eateries. I’m reminded of the spirited woman who leapt to her feet in one well known restaurant and yelled: ‘WHO DO I HAVE TO F*** TO GET A DRINK AROUND HERE?’

The quest to increase your customer average spend invariable loops you back to reassessing how you recruit your staff. Humanity roughly divides into two types of people — there are those who enjoy the challenge of selling and there are those who think it’s pushy and immoral. I suggest you learn how to tell one from the other. Why spend money on marketing that is directed at winning customers if you are not going to take full advantage of the situation when you get them in the door? Poorly chosen staff will shoo a great deal of money out your exit door, still in the possession of bemused or worse still, unfulfilled customers.

Most natural sales people are very competitive. By measuring their results via your cash register you can easily compare the performance of one sales person against another and feed that information back to them. You don’t even have to provide additional incentives — just public recognition of your ‘top dog’ will create a subtle pressure that will be much to your advantage. To illustrate this point, I once witnessed the maitre’d of one of our best restaurants extract an additional $200 off a table full of well oiled businessmen after a taunt from one of the staff.

Of course you could always offer your staff tangible rewards than praise and recognition, but you’d want to tie this to the sale of a certain quantity or value of products to justify the extra cost. Personally, I’ve always felt that staff are already compensated for sales performance by their pay and extra monetary incentives shouldn’t be necessary, but feel free to experiment. I’m a bit wary of incentive schemes in general because they seem to rapidly lose their effect, and when you stop them it seems you can create the opposite to what you want.

You’ll go a long way to creating an increased customer average spend if you stop concentrating on cutting costs in your business and throw the whole emphasis onto building sales. If that’s what you live and breathe, your staff will follow your example. It’s very much do as I do, not as I say. You’d be amazed at the nifty sales ideas your staff will come up with if you communicate that you will make a hero out of anyone who can advance the cause.

It’s also useful if you use your best sales staff to train your weakest performers. Consider it as a sort of bootstrap system — even out your staffs’ sales performance, then gently acquaint the former leaders to the fact that the rabble are gaining fast. If you go about motivating this way some interesting psychology kicks into play. To keep yourself motivated, remind yourself that every time you add a couple of dollars onto a staff member’s customer average you are moving slowly toward that Porsche, holiday or that new house you always wanted.

The beauty of working on your staffs’ sales performance is that the extra money you bring in doesn’t have the normal labour cost attached to it. Additional sales are generally much more profitable than normal sales. If you’re looking for a quick boost to your bottom line, I’d recommend this as one of the fastest things you can do other than sacking your Chef or locking your spirits cupboard after work.

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