Upping that Average Check

Every food professional knows that the primary way to increase revenues short of increasing the number of customers is by increasing the average check.  While this is important in all food service operation, it is particularly important in private clubs where each club has a finite number of members and cannot attract the wider audience of the general public.  But regardless of what type of food service operation you run, how does one go about upping the average check?

If you consider most menus, diners have a choice of appetizers, entrees, desserts, wines, and specialty alcoholic drinks.  Most go out to eat with a particular entrée in mind – “Honey, I’m hankering for a thick, juicy sirloin tonight,” or “Gosh, I’m dying for the chef’s veal shanks in a cabernet sauce.”  What they have not thought about, and will not think about until they sit at the table is – what might go well with their entrée?  Here is the opportunity to increase the average check!  The server can “sell” customers/guests/members on the idea that this or that accompaniment will add to their dining experience.

But as any rookie salesperson knows, “you can’t sell what you don’t know!”  Given that we hire bright, outgoing, but often young and inexperienced people to work as servers, how do we give them the necessary knowledge to upsell the chef’s offerings?  Further, recognize that food and beverage is an inexhaustible fount of knowledge not easily mastered in a lifetime of concerted learning.  While this presents a challenge, it is not insurmountable with a little organization and effort.  The following steps, if implemented and persistently practiced, are guaranteed to increase your revenues through higher check averages.

1.   Benchmarking

Break your revenue projections for food and beverage down into volume and average sale.  For example, if you know from history that your average check for dinner is $18.53, you can divide your projected revenue for dinner for a given period by the average check to see how many dinners you will have to sell.  If your budget is $50,000 for February, then you must sell 2,698 dinners to reach your goal.  You can further break down the goals into weekly or daily targets.  By benchmarking your appetizer, dessert, wine, and specialty drink sales, you can likewise determine the current average sale for each and compute a target figure for the number of each you must sell in a given period. If you’ve not previously benchmarked, your first few months’ targets may not be very accurate or realistic, but you can adjust them as you gain experience.

2.      Establish Realistic Goals and Track Results

Use your benchmark numbers to establish goals for future operating periods for appetizers, desserts, wines, and specialty drinks.  Post those goals prominently in the pantry or other central location for your servers to see.  Break your monthly goals for each category into daily goals.  Then challenge your servers to surpass those daily goals.  Every day post the previous day’s and the month-to-date results so each and every server can monitor their success or lack of success.

3.      Teach Servers to Upsell

Use your pre-shift meetings (you should always have a pre-shift meeting!) to continually train your servers about the food and beverage products you serve.  This means appetizer and dessert tastings and teaching them about wines, liqueurs, and spirits in general and those that you carry in particular.  Equipped with this knowledge they will be far more comfortable in suggesting accompaniments to members.  Exhort them to use their new knowledge to sell, sell, sell!

4.      Provide Servers with Product Knowledge

Use Menu Item Selling Sheets, HRI Form 484, and Wine Selling Sheets, HRI Form 485, to educate servers about all items on the menu.  These selling sheets should include ingredients; flavorings (herbs and spices); cooking times; portion sizes; special distinguishing characteristics such as vegetarian, organic, farm fresh, kosher, heart healthy; country or locale of origin; presence of dairy products or possible allergens such as peanut oil, shellfish, etc.; method of preparation (e.g., sautéed, pan fried, roasted, deep fried, etc.); types and preparations of sauces; and any other pertinent information of interest.  Lastly, the Chef should include his suggested wine accompaniment for appetizers, entrees, and desserts.

5.  Continue Tracking Daily Sales against Goals

Design contests or offer prizes to those who sell the most.

6.  Continue Benchmarking Your Sales

Not only is this historical data helpful in setting goals and projecting future business, but the detailed benchmarks you keep this year will help you budget your sales for next year.  Lastly, there will be a clear record of the progress you’ve made in increasing sales – certainly a nice thing to have when you meet with your supervisor at your next performance review.

Charles A. Coonradt, in his wonderful book, The Game of Work, explains how people will work incredibly hard for no compensation to lower their golf handicap or beat their best time in a 10k race or improve their bowling average.  The same desire to improve oneself or improve one’s performance can be demonstrated at work if people simply get measurable feedback on their performance in a timely manner.  The key to measurable feedback is knowing past performance – easily acquired in a business setting by benchmarking – and setting challenging goals for future performance.

Increasing your average check is one of the easiest things a manager can do to improve his Food and Beverage bottom line.  The additional revenue helps overcome the high fixed cost in food operations and will bring more margin to the bottom line.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

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