How To Sell More Food

The following is a copy of a proposal I wrote to prove that it’s mine and that it created on this day December 14th 2016:

How To Sell More Food

Why ‘To-Go’ Boxes Are Awesome

By Antony M. Copeland

In American restaurants it’s fairly common for the wait staff to ask you “would you like a box?” when you’re done eating. Particularly if you have food left on your plate. This is not something you see done in England. Most British restaurants would be more than happy to provide a ‘doggy bag’ or a piece of tinfoil if asked, but the wait staff don’t ask, and it’s not an expected part of the culture.

Having ‘to go’ boxes as a normal, and encouraged, aspect of the restaurant business enables customers to order more food than they can comfortably eat in one sitting. Guilt free. Comforted by the knowledge, even before they begin, that anything they don’t eat on this occasion can be taken home and eaten later. In others words they buy more food.

Some restaurants even ask if you’d like your dessert to go. This is a great way of introducing the idea of dessert, as well offering them a way to have the delicious dessert they’ve secretly been looking forward to all meal despite the fact they’re already stuffed.

At least one American restaurant change has taken the ‘to-go’ box’s potential even further. Applebee’s restaurant encourages you to order two main courses. One to eat in, and the other to be packed and taken home with you when you leave. They also have their ‘Carside to Go’ service that allows you to order your food over the phone, and then go collect it to eat it at home.

In this way Applebee’s uses the to-go box to sell their food to people who aren’t even in the restaurant, and also sell a lot more food to those eating in. It took Applebee’s a while to introduce these services, building on the existing culture. We don’t even have the ‘to-go’ box established as ‘a thing’ yet.

So let’s take this in baby-steps. A how-to guide of the marketing and promotion that would be required to make it normal for your customers to order way too much food, and then dispose of the leftovers for you.

Step One – Making the To-Go box a thing

Like I said before, it’s been normal in America to box up your leftovers for decades. It’s going to take some time, work and willpower to really establish it in your own restaurant. I would strongly recommend an advertising campaign. It doesn’t have to be loud, brash or everywhere. If it doesn’t fit the branding and image that your restaurant has already established, then it won’t be as effective.

If you do radio spots already, then update those spots to inform your customers that they can ‘ask about our “to-go” boxes’. They don’t really need to ask, the name ‘to-go box’ really says it all for you, but pitching the information as a command including the word ‘ask’ activates the inquisitive/curious parts of your brain. It’s designed to get you thinking about to-go boxes.

You could also use this same phrase on in-house posters, newspaper ads, your website and/or blog, employee t-shirts, and the menus. It doesn’t have to be that exact phrase. If you can find a catchier way to ‘incept’ the idea that they can just take home whatever they don’t eat, then be my guest.

Again, if your image is low-key, don’t go overboard, keep your promotion in keeping with your low-key aesthetic. Customers can be intimidated if an idea seems too different or too off-message. It feels pushy. Do what you’ve always done to tell your customers what you have to offer, but add the ‘to-go box’ message.

Remember, you’re trying to make people feel okay with ordering too much food. Try to avoid seeming politically incorrect and keep it simple. Even adding ‘ask about to-go boxes’ on the menus is a start.

The big difference, and probably the hardest thing to change, will be training your staff to ask the question “Would you like a to-go box?” When they collect the plates. It’s easier if it’s part of their initial training, and really tough for those who have been doing the job for years already. Encourage them to practice and test themselves in supervised role-play sessions if necessary.

Step Two – Dessert to Go

Once the employees have gotten the idea, and customers are regularly ordering larger portions and unnecessary sides knowing they can just take what’s left home, it’s time to step it up a notch. Even if the customers have left their plates spotless, have the staff ask your customers “Would you like your dessert to go?”.

Of course it goes without really saying that it’s important that a server be available around the time they finish their meal. You want to ask if they want to take home their leftovers while the food still looks appetizing, and offer dessert while they’re still in the eating mood.

If you leave a customer waiting they’ll possibly become frustrated at how long it takes someone to get to them. The food will have started to congeal, the food will be sitting heavier in their bellies, and the longer you leave them waiting, the less they’ll want to stay a moment longer. They may even avoid coming back. Some may claim to be annoyed by wait staff constantly checking on them, but feeling ignored is far worse and less likely to be mentioned.

People are more likely to smile when smiled at, and more likely to feel happy when they’re already smiling, and far more likely to come back if they are made to feel happy. Encourage them to try and cheer up the customers too. Not just chat about any old thing, but to actively attempt to make a customer feel welcome and appreciated.

This should be a simple basic level of customer service provided everywhere, but not everyone got the memo. If you happened to miss class that day, it’s not too late to start. In fact, making sure you have staff circulating the restaurant, smiling and offering drinks refills, should be step 0. Before you do anything else.

If you’re staff already do this, then it should be a walk in the park to do the rest. As they go to clear the empty plates, they can easily be asking “Would you like a to-go box?” if there are leftovers, and “Would you like your dessert to-go?” if the plates are empty. In fact I would recommend that, after the leftovers have been addressed, the “dessert to-go?” question be asked also.

As I mentioned earlier, the phrase “Would you like your dessert to-go?” is crafted to leave only two logical answers. “Yes, please” and “No, I’ll have it now”. It must include the word ‘your’. Saying “Would you like the dessert to-go?” lacks the implication that the dessert is already theirs. People feel entitled to what is already theirs.

So by now you should have smiling staff available to ask customers, as they’re collecting away the plates of the main course, one of two phrases. “Would you like a to-go box?” or “would you like your dessert to-go?”. Let’s move on to…

Step 3 – “And what would you like to-go?”

This one may take some explaining. Make sure your staff understand the concept so they can in turn explain it to the customers. Instead of asking after the meal, this question takes place after the food order. Right after they’ve asked “anything else?”, but before they verify the order.

It works even better if the wait staff asks “What would you like for here?” when they come to take the order, already anchoring the concept in the customer’s mind that there may be another way to get food besides eating in. After writing down what everyone at the table wants for their starters and main courses, then the staff member asks “And what would you like to-go?” and if necessary list menu items that won’t be available to go. Include the ice-cream if you do this. It may seem obvious, but it prepares the customer’s mind for the to-go dessert question later.

What you are offering the customer is the opportunity to buy two full meals each. One meal to eat in, and another to take home when they’re done. Even if they have agreed to the meal to-go, they should also be asked if they would like their leftovers and dessert to-go when the table is being cleared.

The customers will receive their to-go order along with their bill. This also encourages the customers to pay-up and leave promptly before the food spoils, without any members of staff having to risk seeming rude. The sooner you can seat another group, the sooner you can sell another 2 full meals plus desserts per customer!

Step 4 – Park and Pick-up

This is what I would have called Applebee’s “Carside to-go” service if I’d been in their marketing department. Park and Pick-up. The idea being that a customer that’s not in the restaurant, or the bar, can call in and order food, pay for it by phone, and then park next to the building to collect it from a staff member that will come out to them. They don’t even have to stop the engine and get out.

This, again, requires your staff to be vigilant. Have them check the pick-up spot periodically to see if the the customer is waiting for their order once an order has been made. Staff would have to be trained to take phone orders, including the time the customer wants to collect the order, a name and phone number, what they’d like for starters, mains and dessert, and perhaps even what they’d like for tomorrow.

As I stated in the intro, this allows you to sell food even to those who aren’t in the restaurant. By establishing the new sales steps slowly, making sure each new behaviour is thoroughly second nature before moving on to train the next, your staff should be quite skilled at selling two full meals and desserts to every customer that calls or comes in.

Bringing it all together

By going through every step, including step 0, with every new employee, you’ll be able to maximise your food sales. Particularly if your bar staff are also recommending that those customers who are only in for a drink order a meal to go also, and one for the wife. Plus lunch for tomorrow. Hopefully bring home the next couple of meals will keep them out of the doghouse a little longer, assuming that’s why they’re drinking.

Again the bar staff should already be talking with customers to keep them happy, making them feel welcome, and encourage the customer to talk about whatever they want to. If a customer, particularly a customer drinking alone, feels like they are listened too they are more likely to listen to suggestions such as bringing home dinner for the family.

Staff in the bar or the restaurant shouldn’t just be talking all the time of course, especially if the customer can’t get a word in. Conversation in any customer interaction should be encouraging the customer to talk, or should be casually trying to improve the customer’s mood. One of the simplest ways to do both is by smiling warmly and welcomingly to every customer.

With more practise in customer service, sales of both food and drinks should increase. Certain food items might even be suggested to customers. Finding out what the customer wants is easier if they are a customer that already eats their regularly, however, it’s also possible to find out what a customer likes while they are talking, by steering the conversation towards favourite food.

By asking the right probing questions, and encouraging the customer to feel hungry by discussing food, barstaff can then ask something like “Would you like that [Steak] you mentioned to go?” and sell them on meals for the family/ tomorrow also.

It may be easier to encourage your staff to take the time to check on customers, offer drinks refills, ask the extra questions, and probe for additional sales opportunities if there was something in it for them. A bonus, or commision, on every meal sold perhaps. Add additional prizes for those that achieve certain goals and targets. At the very least allow them to keep their own tips, demonstrating to those that don’t smile, or leave their customers waiting, don’t get rewarded as well as those who do.

If you like this idea, feel free to use it. I would appreciate a gift, whatever you feel the idea is worth to encourage me to share more ideas with you in the future. The better the amount paid, the higher you will be on the list. Thank you for your time.