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How restaurants can encourage servers to sell

restaurant server
Photograph: Shutterstock

Question:

As a waiter, we are being made to sell dining club memberships to each table for $25, for which we get nothing. If we do not sell, our shifts are cut or we're given bad sections. Is it legal to force us to be salesmen?

– Server, Clearwater, Fla.

Answer:

It is absolutely legal to ask servers to sell. Many servers see themselves as some combination of order taker, guest services professional and food runner. And while those roles are important, it is important to remember that servers are also (or maybe even primarily) salespeople. No one else interacts with the guest in the same way, and your sales are key for the health of the operation (not to mention your income).

To answer your question, let’s look at two different things that are happening:

  1. You are being asked to sell something outside of your normal food and beverage sales and service role.
  2. There is no incentive for a successful sale, just a disincentive for not being successful (losing shifts or preferred sections).

 

The problem is not that you are being asked to sell. After all, it’s your job. Increasingly, many restaurants are looking to diversify revenue opportunities and encourage servers to sell not just menu items but also merchandise, cook books, special event tickets or frequent dining memberships, as yours does.

The problem is one of training, expectations and incentive structure. In order to be successful in your sales role, my advice is that the operation needs to establish:

  • A clear training program for not just what to sell but how to sell it, which I think would allay some of your frustration.
  • Clear and reasonable sales targets or expectations for how many you should be selling, as opposed to: “Sell more!”
  • An incentive structure—whether it’s commission, prizes, or other rewards—that will encourage successful sales rather than doing the opposite: Punish those who are not selling.
  • Ongoing support from management to give guidance on sales strategies and tactics to try to improve sales performance proactively.

 

It sounds like some or all of these elements were missing, which caused your frustration. That lack of structure may be indicative of a larger problem with the operation. Try to meet with management to establish clarity on what the goals are for the sales promotion so you can gauge how to be successful in that environment.

More on sales goals and incentives here.

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