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Bartender Upselling Techniques: How to Upsell as a Bartender

Nick PerryAuthor

The bar and brewery industry is booming. In 2024, the American beer industry projects to generate $76.7 billion in revenue. As a bartender, you can do pretty well in this booming industry. You can do even better for yourself and your bar or restaurant if you learn how to upsell as a bartender.

Upselling is when you suggest additional or higher-priced items to a customer, increasing the average transaction value. By upselling, you not only maximize profitability when you open a bar or restaurant but also raise the value of your tips and enhance the customer experience simply by making a suggestion they will love.

In this article, we’ll explore effective techniques and strategies that will help you upsell successfully.

The Power of Suggestive Selling

Suggestive selling is a sales technique in which an employee recommends a product a client might like or suggests an additional purchase. The goal is to make the client spend more than they otherwise would if they were to purchase only what they wanted initially. In bars and restaurants, it’s more commonly called ‘upselling’ - an important skill for waiters and bartenders.

Bartenders who make thoughtful recommendations based on a client’s preferences or the bar’s present specials can guide customers to make choices that are more profitable for the bar. The thing is - it shouldn’t be obvious. A trick like suggesting a slightly more expensive liquor than the house brand for a mixed drink or recommending a pricer wine to pair with a meal are common upsells.

Importantly, as economic sociologist Dr. Adam Hayes says, “Suggestive selling seeks to take advantage of the fact that a customer has already made the decision to buy a good or service and, therefore, may be willing to spend a little more.”

Patrons at a bar have already decided to drink, so a bartender who knows how to upsell can drive the patron to tastier drinks, drink specials, menu pairings, and pricier liquors to help them enjoy their night out, even if they’re spending a little more.

Suggestive selling seeks to take advantage of the fact that a customer has already made the decision to buy a good or service and, therefore, may be willing to spend a little more.

Dr. Adam Hayes
Economic Sociologist

How to Upsell as a Bartender

During any bartender training, you’ll probably cover upselling a bit. Whether you’re a current bartender who needs a refresher, an aspiring bartender, or a bar manager looking to run a bartender training program, these tips will help you upsell as a bartender.

Master the Art of Generalized Upselling

Generalized upselling is all about knowing your stuff. Some patrons go to a bar for an experience. Successful bar managers will ensure that bartenders know the menu well to properly educate customers about any premium ingredients used in cocktails or options on the wine or liquor lists.

Through a short conversation with a patron, you can learn their tastes and preferences while making educated recommendations of drinks they may like. A great upsell is identifying those tastes, suggesting more expensive ingredients or higher-end liquors, and nailing the recommendation so much that the patron orders a few more.

Likewise, you can steer certain patrons towards rare spirits that they won’t find at other bars or limited edition releases that the bar is trying to sell through.

Implement Proactive Upselling

The best bartenders know how to engage the other side of the bar. Sure, some people want to be left alone. However, others may want a more personalized experience and a bartender who seems eager to work with them.

Initiating friendly conversations to find out about customer preferences or if they’re celebrating an occasion will help you make more informed upsells. In groups, being able to upsell multiple people at once by anticipating their drink preferences is an excellent method to upsell - be keen on remembering the customer's drink order and proactively asking them if they would like one more drink that they really enjoyed before.

When using proactive upselling to learn how to upsell cocktails, use positive and compelling language to describe drink options to pique patron interest, and explain the unique qualities of any craft cocktail, rare spirit, or limited edition special. 

Identify Key Touchpoints

Part of upsell training is knowing when the best opportunities to upsell occur. During a customer’s visit, there are two key upselling opportunities: point of order and second rounds.

At the point of order, a patron has come in for a drink and may not know what they want. It’s a natural opportunity to drive them towards a more profitable item.

At the second round, you can reinforce the upsell by proactively offering to get the customer another round or recommending something even more expensive that they might like based on their first order.

Bartenders should understand any menu engineering that’s going on at the bar or restaurant, too. This technique leverages the design of the menu to highlight certain higher-priced items or ones that the bar or restaurant wants to sell. The point of menu engineering is to make more profitable items look more appealing to patrons. A bartender can finish the upsell by agreeing with a patron that the item they’re looking at on the menu is indeed very popular.

Focus on Effective Communication

As you’ve probably deduced, if you want to learn how to upsell as a bartender, you need to focus on being personable and building a strong rapport with customers. While a barback can handle the cleaning and logistical duties, bartenders should be interfacing with customers to upsell and increase profits.

Eye contact goes a long way in making customers trust your opinions, as does persuasive and descriptive language that conveys that you know what you’re talking about. As much as possible, showing genuine interest and excitement about your recommended drinks will make customers feel like you’re living proof that this is a great drink. Testimonials always carry weight.

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If you’re wondering how to upsell as a bartender, this guide is your go-to. Upselling is one of the most crucial skills that any bartender can learn and, often, it makes the difference between working primetime and dead time shifts. That’s because upselling can majorly affect a bar or restaurant’s bottom line (not to mention your own tips).

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