How to Make a Killing on Appetizers and Desserts

Operators looking to grow their business should look no further than the first and last course. Too many operators throw together an appetizer and dessert menu as an afterthought instead of as a centerpiece of the meal. This is understandable in some cases. For example, most guests coming to a pizza place are there for the pizza. Most diners at a Japanese hibachi grill come for the main course.

But deciding to make appetizers and desserts a priority can build per-guest revenue. Most restaurants find a natural plateau in terms of revenue. By making a commitment to sell appetizers and desserts, an operator can get revenues over the hump, which can make a huge difference in the outlook of the business.

Is it easy? No. It takes commitment and effort to build appetizer and dessert sales. Of course, every part of this business takes commitment and effort. Here are a few tips to turn effort into results.

Go the Extra Mile

Ever notice most casual dining restaurants have the same cast of appetizers and desserts? Sure, they may have a different twist on the same standards – maybe they serve the fried calamari with remoulade and a lime wedge instead of marinara – but the usual suspects are all there.

To really sell appetizers and desserts, it takes something spectacular to get the guest’s attention. Most guests have a predisposition about appetizers or desserts prior to coming in the door. If they’re hungry, they may get an appetizer; if they have a sweet tooth, they may get dessert.

Restaurants who sell appetizers and desserts win these guests over with eye-catching items that taste great and pop off the page. They may be appetizers that sizzle or have unique ingredients. They may be desserts that are flambéd tableside or prepared to order. The appetizers simply have to be creative and delicious. The desserts must be decadent and mouth-watering, and neither of them can be typical or too traditional.

Train Your Servers

As much as it may pain us to say sometimes, the servers really drive the guest experience in most restaurants. While server training is always essential, having a staff full of servers who know how to sell appetizers and desserts takes real training and dedication. There should be constant reminders of this emphasis in the kitchen and on the floor, and servers should be required to name a specific example of each at the right time.

Training servers on suggestive selling should start during a new hire’s training period and be ongoing. A few helpful strategies include:

• Sales contests
• Posting total sales in the kitchen
• Re-training sessions
• Observing servers on the floor
• Letting servers try the product periodically

Managers only get a few priorities to emphasize for servers. It’s worthwhile to make appetizer and dessert sales one of them. This is especially true for servers who generally struggle with sales, and in environments where the entrees sell themselves.

Don’t buy Pre-packaged items

There are multiple reasons for avoiding pre-packaged appetizers and desserts. They don’t taste as good as homemade items and they always cost more if they are any good. Guests are savvier than they used to be, and they know when something is homemade. Pre-packaged items send a bad signal to guests, especially when they’re appetizers at the start of a meal.

Know Your Guests

There are a finite number of opportunities to sell guests on anything, which means it’s important for servers to target their guests at the right time. Generally speaking, guests joining the restaurant for business or corporate events are more likely to buy appetizers. The same can be said for diners who arrive later in the evening.

Guests enjoying a special occasion or a night out are more likely to order dessert. Combining the right occasion with servers who know how to merchandise the products and mouth-watering options can quickly build sales.

Give them Away

Giving away desserts for birthdays and anniversaries should be a standard procedure at most restaurants. This is a low-cost way to thank guests and get them thinking about desserts the next time they walk in the door. Appetizers are also a good item to give away, especially to regular customers as a surprise after they have ordered their entrées.

Occasional giveaways are an important strategy, but they only work when the products are creative and appealing, and when servers are trained to sell them correctly. This multi-step process takes commitment and effort from everyone in the building. But it’s a worthwhile step, especially if your restaurant has hit the revenue plateau.