When properly deployed, this weapon can be more powerful than advertising—in increasing referrals, winning repeat business, and maximizing profits.

Every year, restaurants spend tens of thousands of dollars on “shotgun marketing” in the form of print, broadcast, and online ads while inadvertently neglecting what is often their most powerful form of marketing: their own wait staffs! The bottom line: restaurants could greatly benefit from less “advertising” and more “marketing”—specifically, internal marketing.

An advertisement may get first-time customers in the door, but a well-trained wait staff maximizes chances that customers will return. From my 20 years of experience as a restaurateur, and as the founder of Restaurant Rockstars, I’ve found that every restaurant’s secret weapon is its own wait staff. Here are five highly effective strategies to put your restaurant’s in-house weapon to work.

  1. Ban the “Order Taker” Approach

Typically, restaurant servers anywhere in the U.S. have an “order taker” mentality. They may be friendly and knowledgeable about a restaurant’s menu, but they simply take orders, deliver food, and bring the check.

This mentality and experience is sabotaging both customer experience and restaurant profits.

Imagine an iceberg floating on the surface of the ocean. As large as the iceberg appears, few realize its greatest mass lies hidden and unseen beneath the surface. Same in your restaurant. The ice above the surface represents daily sales that “just happen” when you have order takers on your floor. Servers trained not to take orders but to SELL can educate tables on items “beneath the surface” to enhance the dining experience and capitalize on opportunities too often left on the table.

Opportunities “beneath the surface” include lots of upselling: to premium liqueurs or bottles of wine, higher-priced off-menu specials, add-ons or side dishes, coffee drinks with liquor, retail merchandise, and more.

With this approach, check averages increase and servers earns greater tips. Most importantly, guests have a better experience and are likely to return.

  1. Avoid “Yes-or-No” Questions

One bad habit all “order takers” share is that of asking guests yes-or-no questions.

“Do you have room for dessert?”

“Can I get you a coffee?”

The likelihood of a guest answering “yes” to one of those questions is only 50 percent. Additionally, yes-or-no questions create no intrigue in the guest’s mind about what you offered. Dining out is a special occasion, and a server’s job is not just to serve food and drink, but to provide an experience.

The solution? Give guests options. And bring those options to life.

  1. Leverage the Power of Choice

The purpose of wait staff learning menus should be to empower them to confidently make authentic, educated recommendations about what guests will enjoy. Offering guests multiple choices increases servers’ odds of making the sale.

Restaurant staff should always suggest their own favorite appetizers, entrees and desserts. When choice A is Raspberry Dream Cheesecake, choice B is Chocolate Peanut Butter Blast, and choice C is a “no” answer from the guest, all choices have an equal 33.3 percent chance of success. By presenting two dessert choices, servers double the odds of making the sale: 67 percent vs. 33 percent for a “no” answer.

It pays to give choices!

  1. Theatre of the Mind

Radio stations are a powerful example to be followed in restaurants. Leveraging sound effects and personality, radio DJs can make us believe almost anything from the studio—even if it’s not actually happening.

In restaurants, how a server describes a dish can make or break the sale. The ability to bring a dish to life so that guests can see, smell, and taste it before it even hits the table is an art form that can dramatically increase sales.

  1. Entertainment

Most customers walk into a restaurant because they need or want to eat. While these guests may not be looking for more, you have an opportunity to impress by giving more. Dining out should be as much about experience as it is about the quality of food and drink.

Think about your restaurant business as more than just foodservice—think of it as show business! When the doors open, the curtain goes up and it’s literally “show time.” Every staff member is a performer on stage, there to entertain, educate, and inform guests.

Wait staff should regularly share with guests why your restaurant is unique, what you do best, and how these strengths will enhance their experience. The goal is for guests not only to come back, but to feel compelled to bring their friends with them and spread the word. Proper training of wait staff can increase leverage with both your team and patrons to spread the word about your restaurant—for free!

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.