Mastering the Art of Menu Recommendations

Menu recommendations are more than just suggestions to new customers who are unfamiliar you’re your plates. Proactively training your staff in the art of menu recommendations can boost everything that your restaurant business thrives on: sales, positive experiences, and strong relationships.

During the pre-shift meeting, bring out a sample of the latest special, new menu item, or most profitable plate and let your have a taste it while you point out the highlights. Let them know what wines and desserts are best to pair with it. Doing so will help them remember what you have said and make them appear more authentic when describing the dish to guests.

Make menu recommendations like talking with a friend

There is a right and a wrong way to do just about anything, including the art of menu recommendations. Make recommendations the right way and they can become excellent chances to build trust and credibility; do them poorly and you waste valuable opportunities.

What Do Menus and Movies Have in Common?

The next time you or your staff get asked about a recommendation for some food or drink item, don’t just volunteer an offhand remark. Think about a favorite movie. If a friend asked your opinion of the latest blockbuster, would you say, “It was good. Go see it”? No. You’d add more information – who starred in it, what it looked like, what it was about, where it was set, how awesome the special effects were, etc.

That’s a good way to describe a menu item: tell the story, give a little preview, get people interested, and they are more likely to try your recommendation.

Good and Bad Ways to Make a Menu Recommendation (the art of menu recommendations)

Imagine yourself as a server. Your customer asks, what do you like? What is the best thing I could order today?

Here is what not to say:

  • “Everything is good here!” Sure, you’re enthusiastic, but you’re also lazy. They haven’t been helped at all. Narrowing in on a few popular items or your personal favorites creates an additional touch point between the server and guest.
  • “I don’t know.” But you do care, right? This isn’t an acceptable response. Every employee should have the opportunity to sample the most popular menu items, new dishes, and specials.
  • “I like the steak.” It’s an improvement, but your reply is a wasted chance. Why? Because you are not selling the steak by talking about what exactly it is that you like about it.

Here are some better options:

  • “I really like the steak. It’s dry-aged premium Kobe-style beef seasoned with…” Tell them what makes the recipe great – the special ingredients, the chef’s magic touch with red meat. Make them want it. This is also a great time to upsell by adding “and our house pinot noir goes great with it!”
  • “The steak is awesome! It comes plated on a cobalt-blue square platter with red and blue potatoes, purple asparagus…” Describe it visually, which tells them what to expect and builds anticipation for a delicious meal.
  • “Do you prefer red meat or seafood? Right now, we have seasonally-fresh salmon…” First, you’re engaging the customer, which is important. You’re also letting them know about the origins and limited availability of a special dish.

Paying attention to the art of the menu recommendations lets you interact with the customer in a whole new way. You get the chance to present yourself as an expert, and if your recommendation is successful, your guest may decide to order other things – like dessert – that they might have skipped. It’s a way to boost everything that the restaurant business thrives on: sales, positive experiences, and strong relationships. And you can track average check, credit card tips, and other metrics to see if improving your recommendation skills is working.


Watch Compeat’s Free Webinar: Recipe & Menu Engineering 101

Download Compeat’s Restaurant Guide for Recipe & Menu Engineering

Read: Making QSR Menus Maximize Profits

Read: Designing the “PERFECT” Online Menu

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