Don’t Call Them Waitstaff

Based on everything they do, salespeople seems a much more fitting definition for waitstaff.
Waiter smiling holding ipad

Go to a new-car showroom, a clothing boutique or a building-supply store and you’ll be waited on by a salesperson. Someone who’ll answer your questions, probe your needs, identify your options … and quite likely try to upgrade you to a pricier solution.

You know, just like a waiter or waitress is supposed to do.

So why do we persist in calling our front-line personnel waitstaff and not salespeople?

Here’s why the label matters. All too often, the term waitstaff becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. For employees, it translates to “I’m doing this while I’m waiting until something better comes along.” For the customer, it can come to mean “I’m waiting for someone who likes their job to take care of me.”

Defining the restaurant salesperson

Now consider this definition of “salesperson” from “The duties of a salesperson include customer communication, customer assistance, demonstrating product knowledge and completing transactions. Communicating with the customer, the primary duty of a salesperson, includes greeting the customer, assessing needs and answering questions. These duties revolve around the ability to provide information and offer guidance regarding specific products. A salesperson must have a friendly disposition and excellent communication skills to effectively assist the customer.” 

That sounds like a terrific job description for a great new job title: “Restaurant salesperson.” Let’s look at how the definition can apply to your staff:
Build product knowledge. No one can sell what they don’t know. Your sales staff must try every item—preferably as a group, in the kitchen, with everyone offering comments. People learn how to sell an item by hearing others describe its taste, flavor, consistency, appearance and other attributes. A great salesperson can sell an item without even mentioning it by name.

Provide information. A salesperson should never use the word “special.” To a customer, “on special” sounds like something that needs to be used before it turns bad in your cooler. Instead, you want to draw attention to “featured items.” Of course, a salesperson always knows what additional items complement the featured selection.

Assess needs and answer questions. Fabulous salespeople answer customer questions with questions of their own, to help them discover which menu items they should recommend. Consider this common exchange: Customer: “What’s good here?” Waitperson: “Everything!”

This is a far better approach: Customer: “What’s good here?” Salesperson: “What types of foods do you like?” Customer: “I never walk away from beef.” Salesperson: “We have many choice steaks on the menu; how hungry are you?” Customer: “I haven’t eaten yet today. Got anything besides a small filet?” Salesperson: “You bet. Do you like a rich flavor?” And so on.

Offering guidance. Appetizers and desserts remain the least-sold menu categories in restaurants. It’s all in the presentation. The waitperson asks, “Can I interest you in something from our appetizer menu to get things started?” Customer: “No thanks.” The salesperson phrases it so it’s not a yes-or-no question: “Now that I have your drink order, I’d like to tell you about two very popular items to get things started.” After he describes them, he asks, “Which of these two would you like?”

As for desserts, most waitstaff either forget to present them or do it after the main meal. But the best time to sell desserts is while the customer is still hungry. A salesperson turns in the entrée order, then returns to the table to present dessert options before the entrée is served.

Greeting the customer. Today’s attention spans require a salesperson to stop by a customer’s table within 20 seconds. Even if they’re on the way to something else, they should stop and introduce themselves and tell the customer they’re taking care of another patron and will return promptly. 

Once the salesperson returns to the table, they have 60 seconds to establish a friendly rapport. I suggest a “periscope search” of the table, briefly engaging the eyes of each guest while extending a personal welcome.

Getting the sale. There is one more wait vs. sales distinction. Waitstaff earn tips; salespeople earn commissions. That instills a different mentality. Help your team transition to a sales mindset by challenging them to upsell every table by $5 more than the table is prepared to spend. The average tip (commission) is 20 percent, so an additional $5 on an order should net the salesperson an extra $1 in commission income. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but if they have 25 tables during a shift, that’s an extra $25 in their pocket.

Sales are the lifeblood of any business. If you want to do better, you need to sell more. Referring to your front-line personnel as salespeople rather than waitstaff—and training them accordingly—will change the way they think about and approach their jobs … to the benefit of your bottom line. 

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