Why I Hate Upselling in Restaurants, and the Emergence of Narrative Upselling

Categories: My Rant, Sietsema

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If you asked me the most annoying thing about restaurants lately, I wouldn't say noise level, astronomical wine markups, no-reservations policies, or tiny tables with no room for the dishes you've just ordered. Nor would I hesitate one second before shouting, "Upselling!"

Upselling occurs when the service staff tries to get you to order more food or wine than you'd intended, sometimes by direct suggestion, sometimes by more devious techniques.

Suffering extreme cases of upselling has been the worst aspect of several recent dining experiences. In fact, it's been the rare meal where the waiter hasn't acted disappointed when I didn't order an appetizer, asked me if I wanted another bottle of wine before the first was near being finished, or pressed the dessert menu on me so preemptively -- even after I'd already asked for the check -- that I was made to feel bad about not ordering one.

Yes, I'm sure the saltwater taffy pie with raspberry crème anglais and a dollop of licorice gelato is magnificent, but maybe I've already eaten so many of the dishes you suggested in a tone of false camaraderie that I'm about to barf.

Upselling upsets the traditional waiter-customer relationship. Usually, if a diner wants assistance with the menu, he'll ask, and then the waiter can blab on and on about the merits of this dish and that. But I don't want to listen to a long-winded used-car spiel the minute I sit down. Especially when the dishes are listed right before me on the menu.

How many times have you heard the question, delivered in a wheedling tone, "Have you eaten here before?" Friendly enough sounding, but the minute you make the mistake of answering in the negative (and often also when you answer in the affirmative), out flows a torrent of advice, pre-programmed. "This is a restaurant where the dishes are meant to be shared, so we suggest you order at least two or three per person." What the waiter doesn't tell you is that two or three dishes per person is way too much food, and the busboy will be taking half of it away.

After all, you pay most of the waiter's salary through tips -- doesn't that make you his boss? Yet the upselling waiter acts like your boss, lecturing like a schoolteacher about how you simply must do this and that -- with the cynical objective of turning you upside down and shaking the last bills from your pocket.

Here is the most egregious case of upselling I've experienced so far. It worries me, because it takes upselling to more horrible heights. I've even coined a term for it: Narrative Upselling. Will we be seeing more of it in the future?


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