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Incremental Profitability Starts with Your Servers

waiter server restaurant

Along with a smile, a sense of hospitality and a can-do attitude, a restaurant server should have a handle on menu profitability.

Servers know there is a direct relationship between the guest check amount and their tip.  However, they should also know there is more to being a productive member of a dining room team and a restaurant staff than just building the check. Another important way servers contribute to the overall success of the restaurant is by suggesting menu items that are high in profit. Selling dishes that please patrons and drive dollars to the bottom line not only helps the business thrive, it also adds to the sense of pride and accomplishment that servers feel as they collaborate with kitchen staff and management to achieve excellence.

Thus it is extremely important for restaurant operators to make it clear to servers which menu items have the best profit margins—and thus are the most beneficial to sell—and offer them incentives and rewards for doing so.

Pushing high-margin items

The fact is, menu prices and profit margins do not necessarily correlate. Often, the highest-priced dishes on the menu are relatively modest profit producers because they have high food costs. For example, a dry-aged ribeye steak may run up an impressive number at the bottom of the check, but the house makes relatively little on it.

This is not to say that servers should shy away from selling big-ticket items. But they should make it a priority to suggest those with higher margins. A ticket that includes several appetizers or small plates, premium beverages and desserts will drive more dollars to the bottom line than a ticket with the highest priced dishes.

Items commonly regarded as high in profitability include appetizers—such as cheese fries, onion rings and stuffed jalapenos—specialty coffees, cocktails, beer and wine, desserts and food-and-beverage pairings. Certain dishes that combine modest amounts of protein with relatively low-cost ingredients, such as entrée salads, pastas and pizzas, also boost the bottom line.

Servers should also know that selling add-ons and upgrades to menu items, such as toppings, sauces and side dishes with a surcharge, raises net profitability. Suggesting bacon jam or house-made aioli on a burger or a special cheese blend on loaded fries or pizza can make a big difference.

Implementing contests and quotas

The first step in raising profit consciousness is helping servers identify high-margin items. Classify menu items by color on a chart in the kitchen: green for high margin, yellow for moderate and red for low. Encourage them to sell greens and yellows.

Create some friendly competition among servers to see who does the best job of selling higher-profit appetizers, beverages and desserts. Set sales goals or quotas and grade servers on their performance. An “A” grade means a server has done a superior job of selling profitable items and upholding high standards of hospitality and service. Lower grades mean there is room for improvement.

It can be motivating to offer simple prizes, such as a free meal or movie tickets, at the end of the shift or the week to the servers who perform the best. But what may be even more rewarding for them is the professional pride that results from making an important contribution to a team effort. So be sure to recognize servers for selling high-margin menu items and praise them for taking greater responsibility for the profitability of the restaurant.

Restaurant servers skilled in salesmanship, hospitality and service will reward operators with better bottom lines and repeat patronage. For more insights about server training from McCain Foodservice, visit www.mccainusafoodservice.com.

This post is sponsored by McCain Foods

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