Can't sell starters or desserts to save my life!

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by recky, Mar 20, 2013.

  1. recky

    recky

    Messages:
    263
    Likes Received:
    28
    Exp:
    Owner/Operator
    I think I've tried it all: lots of choice, little choice, exotic stuff, classics, displaying desserts in a well-lit cold cabinet, special boards on the walls. I'm beginning to think that I just don't have the clientele that appreciates anything over and above mains. In fact, many of my customers sit down, eat and leave. Some actually do appreciate the fairly unique ambiance of my country restaurant and comment on it very favourably, but most simply don't seem to care. Quite a few penny pinchers order only two starters instead of a main meal, and in some of those cases I've had complaints about the fact that they weren't filling enough. WTF???

    What is wrong with my customers? Or is it me??? ;-)))

    Should I focus on earning more revenue through my mains and just offer a couple of token starters and desserts, or should I keep trying? I'm completely at a loss here.

    Cheers,

    Recky
     
  2. cheflayne

    cheflayne

    Messages:
    4,161
    Likes Received:
    530
    Exp:
    Professional Chef
    Could be neither, quite possibly could the wait staff.
     
    tjsbeer likes this.
  3. dillbert

    dillbert Banned

    Messages:
    1,034
    Likes Received:
    14
    Exp:
    Cook At Home
    Recky -

    entschuldigun while I have a short chuckle here.  aber, you already know, or indicated you know, the "problem"

    having some significant experience "eating out in Germany" I can offer the following:

    Germans are very fond of value for the Mark - more recently the Euro.
    if you have a non-tourist customer base, there's two issues:
    (1)  the food better be good; sonst, they just don't come back
    (2)  die Hauptspeise needs to be filling.

    so....
    if they know the main dish is adequately sating, no Vorspeise or Nachspeise is necessary.
    granting of course the question:  who can refuse a nice bunch of whipped cream....

    see:  Pfennigpinchers

    ergo the starters need to be ueber-delicious but not too big and priced economically.
    something smackhaft that does not fill you up to the point one cannot appreciate (ala finish) the main course.

    portions in German restaurants have changed seriously dramatic over the years.  earlier, 30-40 grams of Flesich was the norm, now something more like 200-300 grams is typical.  add heavy vegetables... and sauces.

    given a repeat customer base assumption, the main courses are good food.
    to the point a starter is not needed.
    to the point desserts can't be consumed without over stuffing the customer.

    possible solution?
    reduce the quantity and price point of starters
    reduce the bulk of the mains
    (given the options for local German desserts . . . ) not sure how you can miss with that - perhaps dessert and expresso as a combined cost?
     
  4. recky

    recky

    Messages:
    263
    Likes Received:
    28
    Exp:
    Owner/Operator
    cheflayne, this has occurred to me. My wait staff are very young, but professionally trained. They were all trained at the same place, a rather large, conservative restaurant (though not exactly upmarket), work quite efficiently, and considering they have to do everything from making espressos and serving food to cleaning and washing up cups etc. (we are a small place where everybody has to do everything), they seem to cope well and love their job in this place. What they are not is sales people, of course. I do know I would sell a few more non-mains items if I were the waiter, but to some degree at least I think the problem is the clientele we get here.

    Still, how do you think wait staff can be supported in selling more starters and desserts?

    The clientele issue leads me to Dillbert's reply:

    We are indeed in a very touristy (rural) region, with slow winters and busy to frantic summers. In season we see lots of passing tourist trade, in winter this dies down almost completely. Moreover, we have foodie "fans" from surrounding towns and cities somewhat further afield. Then we have - very few! - locals that frequent my place on a regular basis. The locals that do eat here are, without exception, the upper crust of the population. So all things considered, my clientele is actually a bit of everything. The vast majority of the locals couldn't be any less interested in my food; they don't spend much on food at all, when they go out for a meal (which doesn't happen often), they want huge portions with minute price tags.

    So, the tourists don't know how large or small the portions are going to be, while the regulars (or semi-regulars) do. My portions are a bit on the large side, although not excessively so. And what really gets me is that the plates come back completely wiped clean!!!

    I'm beginning to think it's just the food culture in Germany. I mean, I do eat out a lot, too, but since my own place is one of only very few decent, interesting restaurants in the region, I tend to travel to the nearest big city, where things are generally more, well, metro, and portion sizes are invariably smaller than mine.

    I don't think I can win this game, can I?

    Cheers,

    Recky
     
  5. azabeth

    azabeth

    Messages:
    1
    Likes Received:
    10
    Exp:
    Restaurant Manager
    It is a difficult situation, and you're right- sometimes it is your customers and there isn't much you can do. Everyone is so price focused at the moment. We have reduced our a la carte section and introduced a lot of reduced price promotions which seems to be working well.  You could try a couple of things here, if you would rather not make any changes to the size or cost of the main courses. 

    - I train all my waiting staff personally, but i think too much "up-selling" can be annoying to the customer. However, something a little more specific can work well... like  a little friendly competition on a busy night (e.g. Saturdays). If you have a few waiting staff, involve them and explain that you are really looking to up-sell desserts this month. I don't know what your prices are like but we make all our desserts and sell them for the same price- usually a choice of 5-6 different desserts on any one day. Say to your waitstaff that whomever sells the most desserts tonight gets a bottle of house wine to take home at the end of the night- we do this when we need to clear desserts and it has always worked well. Or you could have an "April promotion- add a starter or dessert to your main meal for only 3 euros/or half price/or whatever works with your prices. Straight out reducing the cost of your starters definitely tempts people to only order that- so make the deal inclusive only per person ordering a main course. Or you could do a special 2 or 3 course set menu promotion one month- or enjoy a 3 course meal and get a free bottle of house wine between 2. Order 2 courses and get a free espresso. Make Thursday night "Starter Night- all starters half price with any main meal on Thursdays." Make weekly/daily special starters (only say 2-4) and have the staff read them out as they sit the customers... Getting your staff to communicate with the customers is key. Even if promotions/specials/desserts are advertised in the restaurant make sure the staff still say them. "Good evening- here's your table, just to let you know we have a special this week- any starter half price when you order any main, can i take your drinks order." 

    Good luck- i hope you find something that works. You clearly have a good relationship with the waiting staff which is important. Getting them involved can be a good thing, or even asking for suggestions since they are your point of sale with the customers, so it's not just all on you to make things work. :)
     
  6. wvman2374

    wvman2374

    Messages:
    64
    Likes Received:
    18
    Exp:
    Professional Chef
    I've never been to Germany so can't comment on your customer's or the cultural dining habits you might be facing, but I recall one method I used when I was a waiter many years ago to outsell every one else on desserts.

    Always bring the desert tray to the table.  

    Don't ask them if they want to see it, just bring it to them and go through the whole deal, describing each dessert.  Now, theres some judgment involved, as some tables might be annoyed with this;  but its the servers job to read the table and tell whose in a hurry to get out and who won't mind seeing the dessert tray.  

    The main thing is even if a particular table doesn't get dessert, every table in the section (or the entire restaurant if its small enough) will see the dessert tray....multiple times most likely.  That creates desire for the desserts in all the other tables...perhaps someone sees the tray going by and starts planning to have dessert rather than making a decision at the end of the meal to have dessert.  Or they see it even before they see the menu, as the tray goes by while they are being seated.  

    Of course, the tray must look gorgeous and everything should be delicious.  The tray must be maintained properly and constantly inspected...even the slightest degradation in the dessert can lead to a lost sale.  (One trick for this is to use heavily whipped butter instead of whipped cream for the display items...if the butter is whipped enough it turns white and looks like cream.  Use a pastry bag to create the same shape you would with the whipped cream, then freeze the butter in that shape.  Then you can use the butter on the tray items and it will hold its shape for a long long time.)

    I've never been a fan of "upselling," the last thing I want is for a customer to feel pressure...they should feel ultimately relaxed and pleasant.  (Same reason why I hate to put dollar signs on the menu prices...why remind them of things like money and bills and such.)  But this isn't upselling, its simply quiet advertising of your awesome product to a captive audience.  If you're desserts are good enough, then as the saying goes, this sh** sells itself!

    Also, you might want to check your portion sizes on your mains.  If they are too big and customers are getting full too easily that will ruin their desire for dessert.  Likewise if your desserts look huge that can be intimidating to someone whose just eaten...always have at least one thing small and light for dessert available.  A complimentary cup of coffee after dinner can also inspire diners to go ahead and have a piece of cake as well.

    But you also have to consider how much desserts you want to sell.  If you are plenty busy, then turnover is a bigger profit maker than desserts.  But if you're not super busy then yeah desserts are basically all profit.  Last place I worked we could make great cheesecakes at $0.11 a slice and sold them for over $5 a slice....unbeatable food costs and very low labor costs.  
     
  7. pirate-chef

    pirate-chef

    Messages:
    183
    Likes Received:
    18
    Exp:
    Professional Chef
    Very interesting. you mentioned in another thread that we may have a lot of overlap. Reading through this i think there is a scary amount in common with portion size, starters, deserts. I have the same and honestly the mains " have to be big " ( via the owner) and with this i have seen the lacking of starters and desert. I think playing a little with the price point classics etc may be a help, also it couldnt hurt to have some of your regulars try out your new dishes or send a small plate of something out as an appreciation to someone who is in frequently and appreciates it....  besides this i understand your battle and dont know what else to do im just getting into it myself. 
     
  8. recky

    recky

    Messages:
    263
    Likes Received:
    28
    Exp:
    Owner/Operator
    Thanks everybody for lots of great suggestions!!!! While not every single one may be practical in my restaurant, it's giving me plenty of food for thought.

    One mistake I have definitely made is the size of my complimentary starter. It used to be one slice of tomato bruschetta per person, but because it's quicker, I have resorted to a basket of prohibitively delicious German rye bred with a small bowl of caper butter or crushed white beans with garlic and herbs or something similar. This is definitely too filling! Especially considering that I can't do much about mains portion sizes, as people would feel short changed (it's what they expect in this country. Thankfully, my food cost percentage is very good despite this).

    I have just bought a crêpe maker and in the first two days of using it I have sold more crêpes than I would sell chocolate mousses, apple fools and what have you in two weeks. I actually bought it to feature heavily on my summer season lunch and afternoon menus (sweet and savoury crêpes) where I intend to focus a bit more on passing tourist trade while giving the kitchen more room to breathe for evening menu prep. The jury is still out, but perhaps crêpes are more attractive to my clientele than regular desserts...

    A crêpe promotion ("only € 1,50 with every main") might be in order here... (thanks Azabeth!). Or maybe free coffee with each crêpe!!??
     
     
  9. dillbert

    dillbert Banned

    Messages:
    1,034
    Likes Received:
    14
    Exp:
    Cook At Home
    Recky -

    I'm sensing some conflicting info - but that of course could be just a lack of the whole picture.

    having an interesting restaurant - not sure what "interesting" means in detail - can either make the place a destination for local folks far and wide, or it could mean the place is limited / specialized to the point only a few are interested.

    I am an American born/raised type; but worked for a number of multinational companies. I have spend extended periods in Europe - mostly Germany - and on a day-for-day basis, dang near half of my working career.  "extended" means months-to-years time frame in a specific area. a year in the Hanover area , a year on the Bodensee, three years in Unter Bayern. - with multiple stops scattered in between areas.

    and in different time periods, 3-4 European business trips per year in the 2-5 week range, over a rather wide geographic area from Nordic countries to north African coast countries.

    statistically, Europeans do spend more "eating out" than Americans.  France is, or was, the leader in that regard.

    I present this experience simply to say, been places long enough to establish favorite eateries.
    and further, with extended family visiting, I can also say North American types are stunning impressed by good food in Europe.  the "local menu" as you cite, is unknown in USA outside of high end restaurants.  

    so while visiting family was seriously impressed by the good food offered in almost anyplace other than the Bahnhof, native residents are significantly more picky.

    more specifically, I've overheard / participated in discussions about why to go where.  you might not believe some of the 'reasons' - Gemuetlickeit is an biggie.  but when was the last time you heard a secretary/admin assistant not recommend a place based on their Besteck?  it's real - table setting, grouchy old waiters (my German secretary kept a spreadsheet of eateries which included Ruehetag and which day the Grouch was (not) working. the reasons can get quite small - but regardless "party of eight" went somewhere else.

    in USA you have to do some homework to find a "locally owned and operated" restaurant - most of the offerings are "chains / franchises" - think Weinerwald.  in Europe, the converse is true; there's 'fast food joints' but not too many chain operations.

    the bottom line to this is simply:  if you don't have a significant local customer base, it might be informative / profitable to figure out why 'the locals' are not participating.  there's a couple of issues - presenting an "interesting" menu - given that "interesting costs more" - upi may be on the outside of local value perception.  or it could be the color of the plates.  perhaps less interesting but lower cost menu options could attract locals?

    this situation goes well beyond "weird" - once visiting a local manufacturer we went to lunch.  it was Pfefferling season.  in USA one does not get a Pfeffering season.  so I negotiated a medley of their Pfefferling dishes/sauces/preps which drew a comment from my host: "Keine Fleisch?" - no thanks, I'll gorge myself on the Pfefferling.....

    as to desserts, here's a couple simple facts:  a person can only stuff so much inside before they cannot eat anything more.  example:  my dear wife.  if she sees a special dessert on the card she'll leave some/half/most of the entree on the plate because she wants to save room for dessert.

    a thrifty German will _not_ leave half on the plate so they can have dessert.  the entree is paid for, the dessert regardless of how tempting, is extra.

    you may wish to experiment with small changes to portion size.  it's a very inexact science because not every person has the same 'appetite' - the challenge is to reach a balance where customers see a really good starter, an entree that does not leave them staggering full, with room for dessert.

    ps: looked at the menu.
    for schnitzel, you need spaetzle
    also need steak tartar in that region.  how about veal tartar?
     
  10. cheflayne

    cheflayne

    Messages:
    4,161
    Likes Received:
    530
    Exp:
    Professional Chef
    Everything about your operation from the staff and their duties, the location, the clientele, it all sounds very familiar to me. My restaurant was very similar. I don't like high pressure sales techniques and up selling waitstaff, however they can employ subtle techniques that will increase sales. I will give wine as a example of technique, but the same general idea can be used for appetizers and desserts.

    Number one was making sure that the wait staff knew our menu and wine list backwards and forwards. Everything from ingredients, to preparation, to complimentary flavor pairing. Second was making sure that in their initial approach to the table they presented the wine list and mentioned the previous fact of number one to the table and that as a result they would be more than willing to offer suggestions and help with selections and pairing if the guest desired. Third upon taking the order they would ask the guest which wine they had selected (not if they would like wine, no question that could be answered with a simple yes or no, that and making it sound as if it was all part of the normal course of the dining experience). This simple, low key technique works without being off putting to any one.

    Yes you can win this game. I did, in very similar circumstances. Cheers
     
  11. nickondk

    nickondk

    Messages:
    16
    Likes Received:
    10
    Exp:
    Culinary Student
    Hey Recky!

    i dont know wether this will be useful or not, but have you though about coming up with a set menu's of 1-2 starters, 1 main,1 dessert, with or without wine for a price you think is fair, that sort of deals are very popular here in Denmark,
     
  12. recky

    recky

    Messages:
    263
    Likes Received:
    28
    Exp:
    Owner/Operator
    Nickon and everybody else,

    when you guys do set menus in smaller, "uncomplicated" places (as opposed to fine dining), do you combine stuff you have on the menu anyway or are your multiple-course items exclusive to the multiple courses? What I mean is, how do you deal with customers that want just the main out of your three-course set menu?

    BTW, some empirical stats: One more evening service and I have sold more crêpes than I would normally sell desserts in a week. And it's not the novelty effect, because the customers weren't regulars, but one-offs...
     
  13. raibeaux

    raibeaux

    Messages:
    289
    Likes Received:
    21
    Exp:
    Owner/Operator
    What Azabeth said.  Some of my customers do well to afford the meal, so all I want is my waitstaff to ask if they want dessert and mention we have delicious pies and cakes, etc.

    Some customers get sticker shock at the register as it is.  Fine line, but pushing dessert too hard will turn some off completely.  Don't want them to run around talking about how my restaurant is too expensive.  Just my thoughts, in my situation.
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2013
  14. michaelga

    michaelga

    Messages:
    1,237
    Likes Received:
    64
    Exp:
    Retired Chef
    Don't get too stuck up on the 'cuisine' of the area....

    ... where people live doesn't always equate to what people like to eat.

    Go to your nearest 3-5 grocery stores, ignore what you like to buy / eat.   Check out the take-out counter and ask what is the most popular?  Pretend to be a tourist or whatever.    Then check the frozen meals isle and ask a manager or stockist what sells the fastest?

    You may find some real surprises...

    Also go to a couple of social functions / fundraisers - preferably a pot-luck or other bring something for everyone - don't forget to donate!   The food that you see on those tables is absolutely priceless, make sure to note what is eaten the fastest and what sits around.

    Lots of people these days don't eat 'traditional-food' they eat what they like and what is 'trendy' with all the social media and twitters - trendy changes very fast.   Instead of complaining about how fast it changes start setting / starting those changes.  Make your own page and let people 'vote' on what you are offering as a special next week etc.

    Menu size means absolutely nothing, having something on the menu that people will pay for is everything!
     
  15. Iceman

    Iceman

    Messages:
    2,486
    Likes Received:
    422
    Exp:
    Professional Chef
    WOW.   Brilliant suggestions.  Take that stuff to the bank. 
     
  16. recky

    recky

    Messages:
    263
    Likes Received:
    28
    Exp:
    Owner/Operator
    Michael,

    I know exactly what you mean, yet in my particular case I would have to dumb down my menu into oblivion and miss out on the tourist and foodie trade, which is 95% of my business. In fact, when I go to my local supermarket i will look around only to find that I do exactly the opposite of what's on offer there!!!

    You can't even get a twig of rosemary there, they sell the worst conceivable industrial meat (80% pork, 20% beef, no lamb etc.), the veg section is a-f***ing-bysmal.

    Today, Good Friday, I've had quite a few foodies in (despite the shit weather) and (coz the great bakery across the road is closed today) I made some simple soda bread. I got hugs and kisses for it! Good for my ego, but if something that simple causes emotional outbreaks like that, I dunno what the world has come to!

    Over the Easter weekend my menu has been and will be slightly more elaborate than during the past winter months, trout en papillote with sauteéd leeks, low and slow shoulder of lamb stuffed with gremolata etc., and it's has been going down a treat. None of my customers, and I repeat none, have been archetypal locals, if locals at all. Most were "enlightened" city types on hiking trips So empirical research remains difficult. But it seems to reinforce the impression that I can't depend on the village locals.

    As far as starters and dessert: no starters today, but quite a few crêpes...
     
  17. recky

    recky

    Messages:
    263
    Likes Received:
    28
    Exp:
    Owner/Operator
    BTW, thanks for all your invaluable advice. In return, something back from me:

    When I started this restaurant, I used to do blackboards only, rather than printed menus. Thought it looked cool and "foodie", fresh and cutting-edge. Lots of successful places do it. Last autumn I reminded myself of the fact that I'd used my make a living out of writing; I'd been a copywriter, author of foodie and non-foodie things, a business publication journalist, all that while cheffing "on the side". So I bought some beige paper, sat down, wrote and printed a menu. My rule was that it had to fit on an A4 sheet. I wrote about the provenance of the meats, the veg, how it was prepared, about three to five lines per dish. I mentioned the villages where my goat's cheese and lamb was produced and reared, the fact that it was all free-range and direct from "farm to table". At the same time I (gradually) put up my prices by 15%-20%.

    Nobody, nobody, batted an eyelid!

    So now I print my menus on beige A4 sheets, and that's what my customers get handed. No fancy laminated shit, plain paper sheets that tell stories. Almost every day I get comments on how well my menus read and how "difficult" it is to make a choice from six or seven mains, because it all sounds so yummy. I'm selling the same food, but now it has a story!

    Why didn't I think of that sooner????
     
  18. pirate-chef

    pirate-chef

    Messages:
    183
    Likes Received:
    18
    Exp:
    Professional Chef
    I love that idea. sadly my writing looks like .... well crap. 
     
  19. recky

    recky

    Messages:
    263
    Likes Received:
    28
    Exp:
    Owner/Operator
    Well, I don't handwrite my menus. If I did that I wouldn't sell a thing!!! ;-)

    Now, what I am struggling with is publishing my menus on my website. I simply can't figure out how to convert a Word doc into something that can be viewed on a web page. A PDF simply turns into link...
     
  20. petemccracken

    petemccracken

    Messages:
    3,401
    Likes Received:
    159
    Exp:
    Professional Chef
    MS Word has as web document option