Restaurants that want to increase beverage profits may be surprised to learn how easy it is, once management takes the lead, and may be shocked to learn how much they can net. 

For example, one T.G.I. Friday’s franchise implemented a simple Blue Moon craft beer contest that cost the restaurant $3,000 for prizes yet grossed $1.2 million in sales during its two-month run.

Restaurant Management recently met with two beverage marketing consultants to learn a few key tips. Kim Gouch and Celia Waddington, who recently left a restaurant and hospitality firm to form their own company, Ignite Creative Services, in Phoenix, Arizona, bring more than 30 years of hands-on experience to the restaurant and hospitality world. Here's what they suggest:

Manage your incentive programs

Many restaurants schedule incentive programs but then fail to manage them. Gouch and Waddington, who’ve seen programs fail without proper supervision, suggest you'll do a better job of motivating staff to sell more by hosting regular contests that encourage a little competition among them and then follow up with immediate reward

To keep it interesting, change prizes regularly as well. “It keeps them on their toes and gives them something to look forward to,” says Waddington.

Implement Suggestive Selling

Instead of letting staff ask the general question customers hear most often (“What can I get you to drink?”), train staff to suggest something specific, focusing on the beverages that set your brand apart.

Called “suggestive selling,” this takes away the thinking game for the customer who, given the choice, may just choose water—or nothing—over a premium drink from the menu.

Gouch goes so far as to say suggestive selling needs to be mandatory, from introduction to departure. Once you’ve created a culture of suggestive selling, she says, you no longer need to discount.

Push the brand, not your opinion

If the menu offers drinks your customers already like or expect to see in your restaurant, keep the marketing focus there. A restaurant that specializes in Mexican-style meals, for instance, should not be pushing wine—even if that’s what the general manager enjoys.

Staff should be pushing the margaritas. That’s what customers want to drink with their tacos. “Leave your personal opinions at the door and push your brand,” Gouch says.

Add the “what’s in it for me” element

Help staff buy into the incentive programs by finding ways to make it fun and easy for them to sell and reminding them that the more they sell, the higher (technically) their tips.

Employee rewards should be something special like electronic gear, or something with perceived value so they try harder.

"One of the best incentives to offer is a Visa gift card," says Waddington, "They can use that for groceries or rent."

Provide the tools for success

The general manager can post a schedule that lists what drinks should be pushed that day. “You base your contests around those pushes,” Gouch says.

If you need to, write out scripts for staff. Answer all of the questions they might have about a specific drink.

If they still don’t get it, explain how it can affect their bottom line. How can they put more money in their pocket? Just adding one Coca-Cola per table per day adds up. Gouch says, “Tell them, ‘Do the math.’”

By Jackie Dishner
Beverage, Industry News, T.G.I. Friday's