Upsell Your Way to Higher Profits: Strategies for Restaurants

Read Time: 12 minutes

Although your business may be profitable, growth is always possible. Upselling can improve your business’s profits by increasing your average ticket size.

What is Upselling?

Commonly confused or used interchangeably with cross-selling, upselling is a selling technique that encourages customers to upgrade their purchase or go for a more expensive option. Cross-selling is the process of adding to the overall sales. Here are some examples of upselling and cross-selling:

Upselling – A couple sits down for a nice romantic dinner on a date night. As they look at the menu, the waiter notices them eyeing the steak options. While they consider a 6 oz. or 8 oz. sirloin steak the waiter suggests that for such a nice occasion, they should treat themselves to a larger portion of porterhouse steak and take home the rest for lunch the next day.

Cross-selling – The same couple sit down for a nice romantic date-night dinner. This time they already know they want to order a simple sirloin steak. The waiter suggests that for a date-night meal, they savor the moment and enjoy an appetizer while they wait for their meal or save room for dessert. Perhaps they should take something home for the kids and babysitter too.

Both of these are effective methods of increasing the average ticket size.

Upselling Vs Cross Selling By Timeworn

The Psychology of Upselling

A desire for bigger, better, and more is part of human nature. From childhood, humans are hardwired to want more. If given the option for a small action figure or an entire playset, a child is more likely to choose the latter. This desire for more doesn’t go away as we get older.  These desires are associated with dopamine. Dopamine connects feelings of pleasure with the motivation to do certain tasks.

In the context of upselling, if motivated to upgrade their salad to lamb chops, they may experience a sense of satisfaction or a feeling of being rewarded. This can contribute to positive feelings that can also lead customers to find their experience a pleasurable one and encourage them to return.

In this sense, upselling can result in happier repeat customers and higher ticket sales.

Successful Upselling Techniques

Upselling is a great tool for increasing ticket size if done properly and if customer satisfaction is prioritized.

A Trained Server is Your Best Asset for Upselling

The members of your staff that have the most direct contact with your customers are your servers. Among the skill sets that a server should possess is the art of upselling. They will be your primary source of bigger ticket sales as they have the biggest opportunity to do so. Staff should be well trained in all aspects of communication with customers. With proper training, servers will be able to better see to the needs of customers and provide customers with an experience that they won’t forget – an experience that guarantees return business to your restaurant. The following topics should be included in the staff training process.

Consider Needs

One of the easiest ways to upsell is by considering customer needs. Consider dietary restrictions as an example. A customer with gluten intolerance may consider a simple grilled chicken instead of a chicken sandwich. If your restaurant provides a gluten-free bread option and if the waiter is made aware of the customer’s gluten allergy, the waiter has an opportunity to both please the customer and potentially increase the ticket size.

Good Communication

Communication is key for upselling and quality customer service in general. Your waiters are the primary source of information for customers. Without good communication, the needs of customers will not be readily available, nor will the customers be aware of what your restaurant has to offer.

Good employees will listen and communicate with customers to get information that can assist them in upselling and provide customers with tailored options they are guaranteed to enjoy. Consider training your staff in communication and listening techniques that can make every customer experience a memorable one and a profitable one. 

Don’t Forget the Drinks

Drinks, particularly alcoholic beverages, are an excellent opportunity to improve a customer’s experience and increase the ticket size. Suppose waiters ensure a better taste experience by going from a bottom-shelf liquor to a higher-quality product. In that case, the customer will leave satisfied, and average ticket sales will go up. Rather than a basic bourbon and soda, a server might suggest the restaurant’s specialty drink. This gives the customer a chance to try something unique to your restaurant and pay for a premium product.

Don’t Be Pushy

Upselling can take a wrong turn if pushed too hard. A customer’s dining experience can become a negative, stressful experience if pressured into buying something they do not want. Upselling is not going to happen with every ticket, and this is acceptable. If a customer feels forced, they will not achieve the dopamine that leads to a positive experience. The unsatisfied customer will be less likely to return, and the negative impact may lead to negative reviews. Forcing customers into a larger or higher quality item may increase that particular ticket size, but it will potentially cost your restaurant a repeat customer.


Upselling doesn’t just happen through waiters. The menu is a great visual for customers to see the bigger and better options. Make sure your most profitable items are visible. Highlighting house specialties increases the likelihood of customers choosing those premium options. To increase those odds, ensure meal descriptions appeal to the senses and fit the price.

Be sure also to highlight items that meet common dietary needs. These needs include gluten or vegetarian options. If these options are clearly marked, customers with these needs will feel more comfortable ordering more than just the basics. For example, a customer with gluten allergies will order a chicken salad rather than a protein-free salad if they know the chicken option is gluten-free. A vegetarian might jump at the opportunity of ordering a plant-based burger instead of a vegetable plate if they see the option clearly marked on the menu.

Good-quality images of your best menu options can also encourage customers to order the more expensive food items. Consider hiring a professional photographer for your menu images. If you must take the food photos yourself, do some research on the best techniques for optimal food photography.

Add Services

Upselling doesn’t have to start at the table. Opportunity for upselling begins with the first interaction. If you are a restaurant that offers reservations, perhaps offer special seating arrangements like a private room that can cater to a large private event if applicable to your business.

Reservations are also an opportunity to add services. Asking for more information on the reason for their reservation can open a conversation to gain information. If the reservation is for an anniversary, for example, the customer can be informed of an anniversary package, or the staff can offer to have their champagne of choice waiting with rose petals on their table.

Monitor Your Upselling Success

As a restaurant owner, tracking performance is an essential and regular practice that ensures profitability, monitors efficiency, and assesses customer satisfaction. Key performance indicators, or KPIs, are measurable ways of ensuring your business is successful. Upsells are a measurable indicator of your sales strategy’s effectiveness. These measurements can communicate customer engagement and overall satisfaction.

Go Beyond Upselling

Upselling is not the only form of adding to ticket sales. Like upselling, use cross-selling to boost your overall ticket size. Offering a wine that pairs well with their order can add just as much value as upgrading the food they ordered.

Offering other, non-food items can boost ticket sizes as well. Merchandise like t-shirts or special glasses with your restaurant logo can become a tempting souvenir to remember their dining experience. The sale of merchandise with your logo also provides your business with the added benefit of advertising.

Gift cards are the ultimate ticket booster as well. The gift of a fine dining experience is something that customers can share with others. This can bring in new customers while making a profit upfront. Encourage guests to purchase gift cards by offering special seasonal discounts or discounts on certain value gift cards.

Upscale your table top to ensure customers will remember your restaurant. Provide a dining experience they won’t forget with customized table tops that add to the whole dining experience. At TimeWorn we can provide you table tops engraved with your logo to ensure people will remember your name.


In conclusion, while your business may already be profitable, the art of upselling offers a viable path to not only increase your average ticket size but also to enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty. Remember, successful upselling is not about pressuring your customers but about enhancing their dining experience by carefully considering their needs and preferences. By implementing the upselling techniques discussed, from training your servers to optimizing your menu visuals, you can elevate the dining experience, ensure repeat business, and significantly boost your profits.

To discover more about how we can help your restaurant grow and to find resources tailored to your needs, visit our home page. For direct inquiries or to discuss specific ways we can assist you, please visit our contact page. And for further details on enhancing your dining experience and maximizing your revenue through upselling, explore our enhancement page.

Thank you for joining us on this journey to restaurant success. We’re here to support you every step of the way, from refining your upselling strategies to reimagining your customer experience. Let’s turn every meal into an opportunity for growth and every customer into a returning guest.


What is upselling?

Upselling is a selling technique that encourages customers to upgrade their purchase or go for a more expensive option, which can improve a business’s profits by increasing the average ticket size.

While upselling involves encouraging customers to buy a more expensive item or upgrade, cross-selling refers to the strategy of selling additional products or services to an existing customer, like adding an appetizer or dessert to their meal.

Upselling is important because it helps increase the average ticket size, leading to higher overall profits. It also enhances the customer experience by offering them upgraded options that may better meet their needs.

An example of upselling in a restaurant is when a waiter suggests a couple choose a larger portion of porterhouse steak instead of a smaller sirloin steak, enhancing their dining experience and increasing the sale.

The psychological factors include the human desire for better and more satisfying products or experiences. Dopamine, associated with feelings of pleasure, motivates customers to opt for upgrades, contributing to a more satisfying experience.

Training servers improves upselling by equipping them with the necessary communication and observation skills to identify customer needs and preferences, enabling them to offer relevant upgrades and enhancing the customer experience.

Good communication is crucial in upselling as it helps servers understand customer needs, provide personalized recommendations, and ensure that the customer feels informed and comfortable with their options.

Drinks, especially alcoholic beverages, offer significant upselling opportunities by suggesting higher-quality options or specialty drinks, which can enhance the customer’s dining experience and increase ticket size.

Visuals such as high-quality images on the menu can entice customers to opt for more expensive items by appealing to their senses and showcasing the appeal of higher-tier products.

Considering customer needs involves understanding their preferences, dietary restrictions, or special occasions, which allows servers to offer personalized upgrades that enhance the dining experience.

It’s important not to be pushy in upselling because pressure can lead to a negative dining experience, making customers less likely to return or to opt for upgrades, potentially harming future sales.

Reservations can be an upselling opportunity by offering special services or seating arrangements, like a private room or an anniversary package, that cater to the occasion and encourage additional purchases.

Menus should highlight premium items, specials, and options catering to common dietary needs, making it easier for customers to choose upgraded options that meet their preferences.

Merchandise like branded t-shirts or special glasses can be offered as souvenirs, enhancing the customer experience and providing additional sales opportunities for the restaurant.

Monitoring upselling success helps in understanding which strategies work best, measuring customer engagement, and refining approaches to increase effectiveness and customer satisfaction.

Upselling can lead to repeat business by creating a more enjoyable and personalized dining experience, encouraging customers to return for future occasions.

Common mistakes in upselling include being too pushy, not listening to customer needs, or recommending irrelevant upgrades, which can all lead to customer dissatisfaction.

Gift cards can be promoted as giving the gift of a dining experience, encouraging purchases as gifts for others while securing upfront sales and potentially attracting new customers.

When done correctly, upselling can significantly enhance customer satisfaction by providing them with options that better meet their needs or enhance their experience.

Customized table tops engraved with the restaurant’s logo can add to the dining experience’s overall appeal, making the environment more memorable and encouraging future visits.

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