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Upselling in restaurants

Went out for brunch today with my husband and daughter.

Waitress offered to "start" with our drink orders. We both ordered plain hot coffee. Can I make that a cappuccino? What about a mimosa? Would you like orange juice in a plastic cup for your daughter? No, no, no.

Waitress returns with coffees. We place our orders- pancakes for me, French toast for husband. How bout a kids plate of pancakes for the baby? Husband replies she'll share with us, and that's all we'll be having.

Side of bacon? Side of sausage? Seasonal fresh fruit? Cheese plate? Side salad? Are you sure nothing for your daughter? We have a fantastic bread basket, how about one to share? No, no, no, no, no...that's all we'll be having, thanks.

Waited 15 minutes, no food. Waitress comes back to offer another ($15) bread basket. Husband asks for the food, toddler is getting restless.

Another 15 minutes, food comes out. When we're done, waitress offered dessert. When we declined, she asked if she could "set us up with drinks to go." At this point, I got up and husband asked for the check.

Does it ever end? I understand that the restaurant is there to make money, but it was bordering on ridiculous.

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  1. Where are you located?...is there much competition in the area?
    IMO...humble as it is....take it for what it is...
    I live in NYC....if it was me...lucky if the server got $1.00
    If it is elsewhere....please tell!!!

    13 Replies
    1. re: PHREDDY

      NYC. Lots of other brunch type places nearby with similar prices.

      1. re: cheesecake17

        Cheesy.....find another spot....there are so many places...you should not be subjected to this....try some place in Queens of Brooklyn...Please let me know for recs!!!

      2. re: PHREDDY

        Stiffing a waitress because she was doing her job is tacky and uncalled for.

        1. re: kurtt

          By "stiffing", do you mean leaving no tip? That I wouldn't do, but part of a server's job is, without doubt, making sure of not pissing off the customer. A rankled diner is, I think, justified in leaving less of a tip. In the case presented by the OP, I would certainly drop from 20% to 15%. ymmv

          1. re: grampart

            "I live in NYC....if it was me...lucky if the server got $1.00"

            A dollar is stiffing. If you have a problem with the upselling take it up with management. It's the the server's fault if they are just doing what management instructed them to di.

            1. re: kurtt

              This server went way beyond what any manager would be asking of their employees. It was ridiculous.
              The server was on the verge of harassing the OP and her husband with a toddler who was getting restless. Keep in mind the food was slow coming to the table.
              All-in-all it was miserable experience and the server, in fact, deserved waaaay less than the normal 20%.
              Once a server starts with that kind of behavior and lack of service she/he is bound to run into a customer who's going to leave the bare minimum.

              1. re: latindancer

                "This server went way beyond what any manager would be asking of their employees."

                You know this how?

                "Keep in mind the food was slow coming to the table."

                Do you think the server was keeping the food at the pass or maybe, just maybe, this is the kitchen's fault.

                1. re: kurtt

                  <You know this how?>

                  You're right. I don't know. Nobody really knows why the server acted the way she did. Could be she wanted to sell as much food as possible to receive a bigger tip, could be she has a manager watching every move she makes. Whatever, it was was upselling to the extreme. I don't dine in restaurants like that with servers who act like that so it's difficult to speculate.

                  I've never really cared whose fault it is when the food comes out slowly...if the kitchen is slow then it's up to the server to get it out faster *if* the server's at all concerned about serving the customer well. It's been my experience if the kitchen is being slammed the server will make it up somehow. *That's* a great server and the tip will reflect that.
                  BTW...'stiffing' from where I come from means 'next to nothing or nothing at all'.

                  1. re: kurtt

                    In my opinion, it was the server's fault that the food was slow. I think she wanted us to order more food, "quicker" food, and the way to do this was to wait to bring the food out. A table next to us ordered similar food (pancakes, French toast) a few minutes after us (same waitress) and got it before us.

                    1. re: cheesecake17

                      So all your food came out cold? You didn't mention it in your original post.

                      1. re: kurtt

                        It wasn't cold like from the fridge, but it definitely was sitting around. My the French toast was not steaming hot, and the pancakes were warm. Not the best way to describe...but my toddler was able to take a bite immediately.

                        1. re: cheesecake17

                          no, that's pretty descriptive, and that's where I would have asked for the manager immediately, then sent the whole lot back.

                          You're a far more patient person than I, because I would have handed all of that back to her, tied up with ribbons of 24K grouch.

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            I was on Best Behavior, since we were celebrating hubs/dd birthdays. Husband didn't seem terribly upset, so I kept my mouth shut

        2. some restaurants will fire their servers if the servers don't adhere to these scripts.
          (many chains will send in "secret shoppers" to make sure.)
          it's horrible for you as a customer, and mortifying for many servers.
          also, i personally believe that hounding the customer like this causes the customers to become so irritated that they don't tip as generously as they would have if the server was given the leeway to omit this spiel

          6 Replies
          1. re: westsidegal

            Ooh the worst part- waitress came up to my husband with the bill and told him she punched in the wrong coffee so the bill was fifty cents higher than it should be. She told him if he realllllly wanted to, she could go and find a manager to fix it.

            1. re: cheesecake17

              This shouldn't even have been a conversation. She should have taken the time to do this without telling. I would have said to get the manager because I have additional things to discuss anyways.

              1. re: melpy

                I agree. He told her if a manager wasn't available, he could fix it himself thru the tip.

              2. re: cheesecake17

                that's where I just say "yes, I reaalllllly want you to go find a manager."

              3. re: westsidegal

                Speak to Willy Jack Deigel of Uncle Jack's in
                Bayside, NY the first and foremost hustler in the business....along with his TV antics...he did it to me 10 years ago at a Christmas party I had in his place...needless to say I am no longer a customer of his...

                1. re: PHREDDY

                  <needless to say I am no longer a customer of his...>

                  The thing is, PHREDDY, I don't think businesses like you're talking about care too much if you come back or not.
                  You're not the type of customer they want.

              4. The waitress was just doing her job....and the delay in food being served was probably out of her control. It's apparent you know they will try to upsell, so why get annoyed. it's a fact of the restaurant business every time and every where you will dine out.

                3 Replies
                1. re: fourunder

                  It seemed to me that everyone else was getting their food so quickly...that's what made me crazy

                  1. re: cheesecake17

                    I did not mean to insinuate your complaints were unreasonable or unjustified, just not the servers fault

                    1. re: fourunder

                      Yes if they are getting their food more slowly than other customers, that is the server's fault. She is their advocate in the kitchen.

                2. This sort of thing just happened to me at a very high-end, expensive fine dining establishment.

                  The waiter, enthusiastic to wait on the two of us, asked what we'd like to begin our dinner....wine? Cocktail?
                  My friend does not drink. "We'd like a large sparkling water please and keep the bottles coming, please"
                  Next thing we know we have another waiter, after waiting 15 minutes for the sparkling water.
                  Our original waiter was 'too busy' to wait on us, we were told by our new waiter, so I'm here to help out.
                  We got lousy service the rest of the evening.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: latindancer

                    Wow. Just wow. How classless of them.

                    1. re: pinehurst

                      I wrote a long, handwritten letter to the manager explaining what'd happened and how I have *never* had an experience like that in a restaurant *anywhere*.

                      I never received a response. What I found, and I believe correctly speculated, is that they do NOT want my business.
                      They, most likely, congratulated the waiter(s) mentioned for their behavior. Their attitude to me is/was 'see ya' :). What I don't understand, though, and it was the reason for the letter to the manager...we ordered alot of food. There are lots of people out there who don't drink alcohol....are they all treated that way?

                      I could go viral with the place, it's a place that is newly opened and people have been waiting for virtually years of its arrival.
                      I know people who could make my experience, and other things that happened that evening, public in a flash but I think places like that create their own demise. I will never go back and I will badmouth them forever...just not on the internet.

                      1. re: latindancer

                        it's too bad for me that there is no way for me to find out the name of the restaurant.
                        we live in the same city, i eat out all the time, and unless someone else is driving, i never order booze. also, except at Lukshon, where the sparkling water is complementary, i don't even order any other beverage.

                        1. re: westsidegal

                          While I realize this is CH, and one of the many reasons to come here is to discuss potential dining spots, I really can't find it in me to post the name.
                          Please, westsidegal, understand this isn't anywhere near where you and I ordinarily dine.
                          For personal reasons I stated in my letter I wouldn't mention it on one of the myriad of blogs out there. I have to stay true to myself and there are times, like this, when I leave the karma on them.
                          The main purpose of my letter was *not* to expect anything any return, although a simple "I'm sorry it happened" would have ended my displeasure. The main purpose of my letter was to explain the sadness I felt for the kind, lovely and highly respected individual I was dining with. She was completely and totally disrespected in a place I would have never imagined it happening.

                          1. re: westsidegal

                            Westside....the OP's experience was in NYC

                            1. re: PHREDDY

                              i was addressing latindancer who, i believe, resides in my neck of the woods.
                              probably should have named him/her in my post.

                              1. re: westsidegal

                                not an issue....
                                In general...it appeared to be just terrible service...and not just "upselling"

                          2. re: latindancer

                            Send an email or call..CEO John M. Scott

                            Best to you!

                      2. Being upset about restaurants upselling is as profitable as being upset about it snowing in winter. It happens.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Harters

                          I dunno.. This seemed a bit....much

                          1. re: cheesecake17

                            I agree! There's up selling that comes across as an offer of service and gentle suggestion and then there's the boorish litany you were subjected to that was excessive, and tone deaf, in your case.

                            Lots of room between.

                          2. re: Harters

                            Eh. We moved to Florida to avoid the snow; we'll also skip restaurants where the upsell is constant to the point of feeling overpowering.

                          3. I have never seen anything to this degree in my life. Kudos on remaining strong.

                            1. Upselling is part of the game just some servers are better at it than others. The good ones upserve you and you don't realize it just happened. This one was obviously not good at it. With pos systems it's easy for the restaurant to keep track of who their "best" servers (aka, salespeople) are. Just the other day while at a Starbucks, I overheard the manager, who was training two new people say something like "...never use the word small (or "tall" in Starbucks lingo)". By the way, this is not unique to the restaurant business. You will be upsold with insurance, car repairs (and cars for that matter - "how about the poly razmataze undercoating?"), lawn mowers, cell phones, computers, T.V.'s, - you get the idea. Some sales people are good at it and some are not - you got one that wasn't. You did good by just saying no.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: bobbert

                                <Upselling is part of the game>

                                Anyone with a few brain cells understands this and I'm pretty sure they've realized it's happened to them.

                                It's the way it's presented, executed and carried out that gets in the way of most people, including me.
                                My favorite restaurants, service rep @ the car dealership, hotels, market, plumber, etc....
                                I have relationships with these people for a reason....they don't try and pull that s%$t on me.
                                When I've had it happen I simply say 'no thank you'. If they don't like it and the service suffers because of it? I simply don't return and I'm sure (absolutely & positively) they couldn't care less if they ever see me again. They actually do not want my business, for that I am sure. There are too many out there who don't say 'no thank you' and actually enjoy the conversation. These are the customers they want.

                              2. After maybe the third try, I would say very slowly, 'Bring us what we have ordered, and nothing else.' Repeat as needed, slower each time. Explain that I am reducing the tip by 1% each time. (OK, in my dreams, that last part.)

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: mwhitmore

                                  After the first round of upselling, I would convey my thoughts with a "look" that clearly expressed how I felt about it. If it continued into a second round, I'd politely tell the server that I understood what she was doing and why she was doing it, but to please cut it out. Any more after that (including attitude) would certainly result in a lower tip.

                                2. I wouldn't have a problem with low-level upselling - "Do you want fries with that", or asking if we want appetizers, or desert, or listing the specials or add ons.

                                  But this goes way, way beyond that - five rounds of trying to get you to buy more stuff, plus returning after she's taken your order, but before the food has shown up to try to sell you extra stuff.

                                  Either the waitress was doing this on her own initiative (more food/premium items = more tip) or it was policy. In either case, it might be worth writing the owner/head quarters to complain, and also state that you will not be going back, and you will be telling your friends that the hassle of eating there is not worth it.

                                  The only way they'll change the policy is if they get the idea that it's hurting business, by scaring away customers.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                    I think it was the waitress trying to get us to buy more and tip more. She didn't extend this harassment to other tables.

                                  2. Good to be concerned. And yes, it's a bit much. As a server myself, I do my best to first of all- be honest, and second of all read my tables. Honesty and being genuine helps to bring customers back. And returning customers are always more valuable than sucking every dollar out of the customer and then scaring them off. Sometimes I wish managers would understand this.

                                    That said, if I do know my table is here to celebrate or enjoy their evening, I may offer suggestions that can help them accomplish that. Other tables, i will recognize they are simply here for the meal they ask for, and I try and respect that.

                                      1. re: jujuthomas

                                        Agreed. Sounds like orders from management to really push hard. Don't like it at all.

                                      2. I seldom encounter what I would typify as upselling, but that is in higher-end restaurants.

                                        When I am in a mid-level restaurant, I do encounter that, as the staff has probably been trained to push ___ . In those cases, I just tune them out - sort of like the salespeople at the Best Buy, who have been trained to sell the extended warranty on the US $15 mouse, that you are buying, for US $49. I just smile, pretend that I do not speak English, and shake my head in a negative manner.


                                        1. I hate it, full stop. I know I can just say no, but it still sours me on the experience, and I have written to the corporate offices of chains when I felt it was excessive. I feel the same way about being pressured to sign up for the store credit card, or extended warranty. I'm in your business, I'm trying to give you money - is that not enough? Are you not entertained? Sure - push some specials or apps, but don't try to upsell every. single. course. I know it's generally not the fault of the server, but it still annoys. And worst of all - the list: "Would you like to start with an appetizer tonight, perhapssomecalimariorpotatoskinsorhowaboutourcomboplatter". Like, I can read, thanks. "No thank you" I say. "Are you sure?" YESSSSS!!! Die! BURN!

                                          Rant over.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: NonnieMuss

                                            Your rant is NOT falling on deaf ears, at least on CH.


                                          2. Upselling is an art that most have no clue how to execute.

                                            Management should realize that reverse psychology works.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Beach Chick

                                              Agree with you Beach Chick, AND

                                              when management (usually Executive management) requires that servers memorize these scripts to upsell and requires that all servers always uses these scripts (most of which are poorly constructed in the first place), they are
                                              1) hurting their own business because the customers are irritated
                                              2) mortifying the servers, thereby increasing employee turnover.
                                              3) reducing the amount of tip income that the servers get which increases employee turnover.

                                              the practice of sending out secret shoppers to ensure universal compliance with the script and firing any server who doesn't adhere to the script is counterproductive in so MANY ways.

                                              1. re: westsidegal

                                                Good points.

                                                Corporate management seems to be clueless, about some aspects of patrons' buying patterns, though the spend millions on dozens of focus groups.

                                                Going back over a decade, a Texas restaurant corporation was given a grand award, and high recognition for developing a business model that specified that all patrons would be denied a table, for 45 mins., while they were peppered by servers, offering apps. and drinks, regardless of the occupancy of the restaurant. Imagine arriving at an empty restaurant, and then being told that the wait for a table would be 45 mins.. Next, during that wait, a line of servers would attack you, selling various apps., drinks, and wines, while you waited, seeing an empty restaurant. That got the "grand award" for marketing? Yes it did, and other gushed how they were going to adopt that business model, to make even more money.

                                                To me, that is the "ultimate upselling."

                                                In an actual dining situation, I seldom see "upselling," but there HAVE been a few instances. Most often it is something like "The Maine Lobster and Kobe Sirloin is a great option," and the price of US $145 is seldom mentioned. When pressed, the server will often answer, "Well, market price, of course... " Er-r-r, not good enough.

                                                I also see many "table talkers" about some "featured wine," that were provided by the distributors, and the wines are usually not even close. That is a point in the evening, when I reach for the wine list, knowing that the sommelier has been compromised, and is helping the distributors, more than me.


                                            2. What is the name of the restaurant?

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Jay F

                                                I don't want to share the name publicly, because (according to husband) the service is usually fantastic and he's never had issues.

                                              2. Now if we really want to end upselling we must take their upselling offers... and then cancel everything else. This is how it works:
                                                Pull up to the drive through window and order 5 burgers, 5 orders of fries and 5 drinks. When the voice on the other end asks "would you like a hotĀ apple pie with that?" you respond with " you know,that apple pie sounds great! Cancel the rest of the order and just give me one apple pie." If we all did this, upselling would become a thing of the past.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: bobbert

                                                  but dealing with the 4 other hungry people in the car is going to be an issue.