A customer comes to a restaurant for a flavorful, notable entree, but that’s not necessarily where the restaurant makes the bulk of its profit. In fact, the most profitable menu items for a restaurant or bar are the appetizers and premium side dishes.
While some customers are apt to always order an appetizer or special side, it’s often on the shoulders of the wait staff to upsell these items. However, that’s not the only way to boost profits of apps and sides; a restaurateur can also take measures to make these items more profitable through menu adjustments and other tactics.
Take a look at these four tips for boosting sales of appetizers and sides.
1. EXPAND MENU OPTIONS
Some customers are a harder sell than others; that means more available appetizer or side options can entice trial from a larger number of diners. What’s more, adding a variety of custom dishes—featuring anything from onion rings to mozzarella sticks to specialty fries and more—at multiple price points can help tempt value-seeking customers.
Operators looking to update classic dishes can menu them with unique new sauces—chimichurri sauce for fries, garlic-red pepper aioli for onion rings or buffalo chicken dip for mozzarella sticks, to name a few. Let customers choose from a list of new and exciting sauces and dips to bring new life to longtime favorites, or offer a “dip flight” option so they can try a few. A range of prices is ideal, as well. For instance, diners that want to save money by not ordering an app might change their minds if there’s a $3 chips-and dip-option.
However, keep things simple when expanding the menu. Choose items with ingredients that work in more than one recipe, so food waste doesn’t increase and cut back on the overall profits for the restaurant. Another profitable option: Offer smaller portions of entrees as a starter. These allow a customer to sample a variety of options, but don’t require anything extra from the kitchen.
2. OFFER SAMPLES
One of the fastest ways to get a customer to order a starter or side dish is to make sure they know how delicious it is. The price of portioning out one of the best-selling appetizers into a bite-sized samples and offering a taste is nothing compared to the orders that would likely follow.
For instance, try offering up samples of loaded fries, like Zesty Chorizo and Alfredo Loaded Fries, which feature seasoned spiral fries, roasted red pepper and parmesan cheese, topped with chorizo-alfredo sauce. Portion out a few fries and a bit of each topping in small cups and offer customers a taste before they’re seated at a table.
3. OFFER A LATE-NIGHT OR SNACK MENU
Plenty of customers come into restaurants to enjoy a quick snack with a drink, particularly between meal times or late at night. Boost the appeal of appetizers and sides with a special late-night menu featuring these items. Each item could be paired with a wine, a signature cocktail or a craft beer or soda to help boost beverage sales as well. And promoting your late-night menu with custom point-of-sale on the table will only further encourage orders.
4. PROPER SERVER TRAINING
Menu changes, samples and signage will only go so far—servers must know how to use sales tactics to ensure that customers know about their options for starters and sides.
However, the waitstaff should be trained to upsell with finesse, not aggressively. A server should always mention a specific appetizer to the customer; for example, a conversation could begin, “Would you like to begin with an appetizer? Our Battered Zucchini Sticks have been really popular lately.” If the customer rejects that idea for any reason, the server can try one more time with a different option—but then it’s time to let it go.
For servers to do the job properly, they’ll also need to know the menu. Take time to go over the menu, let the servers try items and explain profit margins of each item. Encourage servers to suggest the high-profit margin items first, but know that any sale of an appetizer or side is beneficial for the bottom line.
Boosting business with apps and sides is easier than operators might think—offer an array of options to suit different taste preferences and dietary needs, provide samples to entice on-the-fence diners, offer specials and make sure that servers are educated on the offerings as well as selling strategies. With these four actions, a boost in appetizer and side participation is nearly inevitable.