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

Categories: My Rant, Sietsema

zdesoto.jpg
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?

My Voice Nation Help
10 comments
Katieaniol
Katieaniol

I totally agree with your post despite the fact I am a server myself. I can not be sure what the policy is at the restaurant you visited but at the restaurants I've worked at, chain and privately owned, the servers schedule is often based on their sales. My current employer is so disgustingly greedy and selfconcerned that they track your sales, food and liquor, and your add-on items per person, with a chart in the office. If you are not in a certain percential then you do not get shifts and when you do you will get sent home first. If you continuously end up towards the bottom of the list they will punish you further by giving you "warnings" and then eventually let you go for failure to "make the sale". Its a horrible position to be in as a server and a single mother.

Herbert
Herbert

C'mon Robert, name the names!

some girl
some girl

You must have eaten at Phillippe on East 60th street.  Upselling is the norm and the waiters are smarmy.  The place is awful! 

Kayemtee
Kayemtee

Given the level of customer abuse demonstrated by the grape picking tale, it would have been helpful to name the offending restaurant.

PatG
PatG

Yeesh. I was watching THE FRENCH CONNECTION last night and there was a dingy dawn establishing shot of one of the bridges from the Bklyn side. I could feel the humidity from my ankles to my hair and smell that special NYC smell and missed like Hell the place I called home for 12 years. But this story just makes me want to don an "I HATE NY" t-shirt.

Lewisbee
Lewisbee

the absolute worst are Bastianich and Batali's places, especially Del Posto and Babbo. They constantly trick/push/sneak expensive bottles on us. I asked the sommellier at Del Posto to choose a wine to go with our pasta and he brought us a $750 bottle without mentioning the price!

48volts
48volts

With the story of the server you mentioned aside (that is pretty heinous) - most servers are just doing what they're told to do by the restaurant managers. It gets worse at the corporate-restaurant level - everything boils down to making more money for the people at the top and most of the time, the server is just following orders so that they aren't hounded by their managers who constantly say things like, "Gee Tommy, your dessert sales percentages are a little low tonight. Is there anything you want to talk about?" Or they try to "reward" you with meal credits and set up a competitive rift between you and the other servers, making you feel like you have to prove something, when you're really just there to pay your tuition. And often, the managers too are just trying to make themselves look better for the owners. I'm specifically talking about B.R. Guest-owned restaurants here (Atlantic Grill, Dos Caminos, Blue Water Grill, etc.) and I have obviously worked at one in the past. The false sense of comradery is not only perpetuated among the server and patron, it pretty much dictates the relationship of the server and their superiors. And this is why you end up with servers making the guest uncomfortable; they really don't want to have to offer you dessert because they know you must be stuffed after three courses, but the floor manager is watching them like a hawk. So I definitely understand and empathize with your rant, but keep in mind that its often the fault of restaurant management and their skewed perception of service standards for trying to turn people's pockets inside out.

Rbrggr
Rbrggr

why don"t you name that place so I know where not to go. this sounds like the managers and owners putting a lot of pressure on the waitstaff and coaching them to make the sales. if I'm confronted with that kind of wine salesmanship i just ask for a Corona and safe my money for a friendlier place

Seth Gordon
Seth Gordon

You can't be "tricked" into buying an expensive bottle unless you're, to be frank, a bit slow. It's not that hard to look at or ask the price of something. The only way you can be "pushed" into buying an expensive wine you don't want is if you're afraid the waiter or your dining companions or whoever will think you're a cheapskate or not cool if you don't buy the $750 bottle. In which case, that's on you - not on them. Be a little more strong-willed and don't blame the salesman for your lack of a spine.

I also find it hard to believe that a som would just open a bottle that expensive - a bottle that the diners might very well not have enough money for, in which case Del Posto would be SOL - assuming it'd be okay, unless you'd already ordered wines at that price point, or given them SOME reason to take that chance. Restaurants don't just risk losing expensive wines that way. I suspect there's some kind of prologue to that story that we're not hearing. After all, it would be their loss if you looked at them and said "I can't afford this" and they'd already opened it. If, on the other hand, you suggested to them that price was no object... or to "keep it 3 digits" or something - well, you're going to get a $750 wine. I've asked the som's opinion at a number of B/B restos - Del Posto, Babbo, Esca - and every time I've been either first asked a price range, or the som has engaged me in discussion first - pointing to a particular wine on the menu, discreetly, so I could see the price (usually they'd start with something in the $90 - $120 range), at which point I could nudge him down if I wasn't feeling it or further discuss options in that same neighborhood if I was.

But waving the som away with a "you pick it" could be taken for "I'm not one of those 99-ers, so do whatever." - you take that risk, you pay the price. No sympathy.

Rsietsema
Rsietsema

You are quite right, 48volts, much of the bad behavior seen in servers is the direct result of coercion on the part of the owners. Thanks for pointing that out.

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...