How To Increase Check Average At Your Restaurant -

How To Increase Check Average At Your Restaurant

Increasing the check average is one of the popular ways of boosting your restaurant’s revenue. You have done the work of encouraging your customers to visit your restaurant; now they are ready to order. However, very often, it turns out that diners do not spend as much money as you would like them to. If that’s the case at your restaurant, read on to learn how to increase check average in order to maximize your sales.

Simply put, the check average is calculated by dividing your overall sales by the number of covers. For instance, if you had 100 guests in one day and made $4,000, your check average would be $40. Therefore, increasing the check average is equal to (subtly) pushing your customers to spend more.

There are some techniques you can use to encourage diners to spend more during their visit to your restaurant. They include three areas of your business:

  1. Menu Design
  2. Marketing
  3. Services

Below, I will discuss in detail what changes you can implement in each of these areas to increase your check average.

Menu design tips on how to increase check average

Identify items with the highest profit margin

First and foremost, you should know which items are most profitable. That includes your appetizers, entrées, desserts, as well as all types of beverages. The most expensive dishes may not yield a high profit because their cost may also be high. 

The profit margin is a ratio of your profit (revenue minus cost) divided by the revenue. Therefore, a profit margin on a steak could look like this: ($22 – $6) / $22 = 0.73 = 73%. That is assuming that you charge $22 for the steak and you pay $6 for one piece.

If you don’t know the cost of each menu item, ask the chef or the person who designs the menu and orders the food supplies.

Once you have the profit margins calculated, you will know which food and drink items are most profitable and, as a result, you want to sell most. Then, you can move on to the next steps.

Highlight the most profitable items

Once you know which items are most profitable, you should highlight them on the menu. There are a couple of ways to do so. 

1. Place the items in ” the golden triangle”

Below, I have attached a graphic of where consumers’ eyes go when they look at the restaurant menu. “The golden triangle” is created by the first three spots that people usually notice. Their eyes usually go from the center just below the top to the right top corner, and then the left top corner. You should try to place your most profitable dishes in those spots.
eye scanning patterns for menu design

2. Highlight high-margin items in different ways

The golden triangle is not the only spot where you can put the high-margin items. You can also call them out through bolding, italicizing, and putting borders around some of them. Just remember that you shouldn’t highlight more than 2-3 dishes, or this technique will not be effective. 

You can read more about highlighting the right items on the menu in my post about creating a menu design for boosted wine sales.

Include small plates

Your menu should include a good number of small plates as those usually yield high margins. That is why tapas-style restaurants are so popular – they make money!

A range of smaller appetizers and sides can boost your revenue by a few percentage points. The prices should mirror the sizes because customers are likely to order more appetizers if they seem to be cheap. For example, instead of two appetizers for $15 each, they will get three for $11 each, which generates an additional $3 for your restaurant. It might not seem like much, but when you consider the volume, it can be a substantial boost.

Add a premium item as a decoy 

Another tactic is to add one high-priced item in order to push diners toward the other items. By comparing the other dishes to the relatively expensive one, they will feel like they landed a good deal. 

What is more, this technique creates a psychological effect called price anchoring. Offering premium products at a much higher price than most of your menu increases the perceived value of the mid- and lower-priced items. It means that you can slightly increase the prices of those mid- and lower-priced dishes.

Limit the number of dishes

It might seem a little counterintuitive, but our brains don’t like to have too many options. The paradox of choice says that when we face too many choices, we get anxious and struggle to make any decision, which can result in making no decision at all.

Therefore, if you have a lot of items on the menu, your guests might find it difficult to process all their choices and finally order less. That’s why limiting the number of dishes on the menu is important.

Show add-on options

Show your customers what they can add to their meal. If they order a salad, they might want to add a protein such as chicken or shrimp. It’s much better to give this option in advance rather than making the guest ask for it each time. 

You should also include modifiers in the POS system in order to make it easy for your team to add things that are not on the menu. This will give your staff a better understanding of what can be added and how much everything costs. Otherwise, they might waste time trying to figure those things out instead of doing more important tasks.

Highlight popular cross-selling pairings

If your customers often order some items together, it is worth highlighting that in your menu. However, you want to do it strategically, so that you actually make money on it.

First, you should analyze the POS system to see which items are often ordered together. Second, identify which of these items have a high profit margin. Last, design a menu that exhibits those popular and profitable pairings. For example, you can place a specific bottle of wine in bold next to the ribeye or include a side of green beans next to the salmon entrée.

how to increase check average - optimizing menu design

Marketing guidelines on how to increase check average

Create loyalty programs

Loyalty programs are popular because they work. They provide an incentive for diners to come back to a restaurant again and again and spend more money there. 

Some POS systems like Lightspeed, Toast, and Upserve include loyalty programs in their offering. The customer can opt in to earn loyalty points when they visit your restaurant. Of course, you don’t have to use those systems and can create your own loyalty program infrastructure, which is a particularly good idea if you have or plan on creating your own app.

Regardless of how you run your loyalty program, you should follow some guidelines. First, the program should be easy for customers to participate in. Nobody is going to waste time trying to figure out how it works. Second, the rewards should be exciting enough for people to spend money. Third, you should promote it on your marketing channels: social media, email newsletters, and, of course, your website.

Showcase bundled offers

Bundled offers and combo deals are not a great idea for fine dining restaurants but work great for casual joints. A 2-apps-for-$15 deal or a free beer with a burger sounds like a steal. That’s why diners usually feel like they’re saving money on those offers when, in reality, they spend more than they would otherwise.

Before creating bundle offers, remember to consider the profit margins on each item featured, not just the price. For instance, burger and beer combos are popular because both of these items usually have high or very high profit margins.

Advertise to go orders

It might seem like your marketing efforts should focus on the regular service and treat delivery as a necessary evil. However, that is not really the case. Studies have shown that customers pay over 20% more online than while ordering at a restaurant. 

What is more, you can create special family-size packages to go. You can include two appetizers, four entrées, and a dessert in a package for four people. Moreover, if you add a kids’ menu option and a bottle of wine for a special price, your customers will love the idea even more.

Promote high-profit items online

Through online marketing, you have a great power to make people excited about your dishes before they even visit your restaurant, so you should use it wisely. Instead of posting random photos of your dishes and drinks, you can make a plan to highlight the ones that you actually want to sell.

If you run an email newsletter, you can send an email that tells a story of how your special fall salad was created, who and how came up with the idea, where you source the vegetables, and, of course, what it tastes like. Marketing is about creating stories, and your dishes can probably tell some amazing ones!

Additionally, you can focus your social media efforts on posting about some great, and profitable, wine and food pairings that you would want your customers to try. Maybe you also have a new bundle offer – let your followers know about it! The possibilities of digital marketing are endless, but it’s crucial to be strategic about it and only show the content that is worth it.

Service guidelines to increase your check average

Teach your team about the menu

Your team needs to know what they are selling in order to generate high sales. Therefore, you should teach them about all the menu items and their ingredients, which can be modified, and what the most popular dishes are. The same goes for drinks: cocktails, beers, wines, soft drinks, spirits, and whatever else you carry.

Furthermore, the waitstaff should know which items complement one another and which dishes have the highest profit margin in order to make good and profitable recommendations. 

Don’t just tell your servers about the dishes and the drinks – you should let your staff taste everything on the menu. You can do tastings once a week for the whole team or have one item made for a family meal a few days in a row. Your servers will be able to describe the dishes much better after trying them.

Next, you should test the staff’s knowledge. It can be done in a fun way; for instance, you can organize role-playing games and quizzes. Gamification, the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts, makes even dull tasks more desirable and exciting. 

You can check out my post about wine training for more inspiration regarding staff education. If you don’t have time to conduct wine workshops yourself, check out my wine education services.

Master upselling and cross-selling

Upselling and cross-selling are two main techniques used by hospitality professionals to increase the check average. I have touched on these topics in the section about menu design, but now I’ll dive deeper into them.

Upselling is about recommending dishes that are a little more expensive or have a higher earning potential. For example, when the guest wants to order a beer and picks the cheap option, the server can recommend a newly added craft beer of a higher quality and a higher price tag. 

Cross-selling is about an extension of orders by selling additional items. The waiter can recommend a side of fries or a glass of wine with the entrées, or an extra topping on a pizza. 

Reward the highest performers

Yes, your waiters and bartenders make more in tips as the sales increase. However, that is rarely enough of an incentive for them to be excited about increasing the check average. The truth is that in a busy setting, it is difficult to implement the appropriate sales techniques at every table. Furthermore, the gratification in a form of higher pay is delayed, which decreases people’s motivation. 

Hence, you can boost your team’s performance by implementing an additional incentive. Like I mentioned in the post about Instagram Stories, everyone loves rivalry. You can use that to your advantage and create friendly contests for your team. The winner could get a free bottle of wine, a gift card, or even cash. 

Another reason to reward great performance comes from reinforcement theory which suggests that you can achieve the desired behavior by either penalizing (negative reinforcement) or rewarding employees (positive reinforcement). With positive reinforcement, individuals are more inclined to repeat specific behavior if they associate it with a positive outcome.

Therefore, you can offer various incentives to encourage upselling and cross-selling. Instead of a competition, you can give something to every staff member who meets the criteria. Just remember that the rewards have to be achievable. If your employees feel like it’s impossible to win the prize, they will not make the extra effort.

Use powerful, affirmative language

The waitstaff should learn to use powerful phrases to increase their sales. Questions like “Anything else?” or “Something to drink?” usually don’t sell. Instead, your employees should use more suggestive sentences such as:

  • “Would you like some beer or wine with your entrée?” to give the guest two options.
  • “The shrimp is extremely popular” or “I had the mac and cheese last week and loved it!” to give a more personal example.
  • Offer specific items such as “We just started serving a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley by the glass. Would you like to try it?”.

You can create templates and scenarios for your waitstaff to use when they talk to customers. The conversation should be natural, not scripted, but a few ideas will help the servers get used to the new way of talking.

Know when to approach guests

Timing is everything in a restaurant. The server should approach the guests to tell them about the specials and ask for the drink order within a couple of minutes after they sit down. Later on, once the drinks are almost finished, the server should offer another round. It’s important to not make the guests wait, but also not approach them too often so that they don’t feel bothered.

Recommend splitting things

Your customers may not want to get their own appetizers or dessert. In that case, it is a good practice for the server to suggest splitting one or two items for the table. The diners won’t feel pressured to get a lot of food but are likely to order something.

Suggest dessert to go

Sometimes, your guests are simply too full for dessert. In that case, you can suggest a dessert to go. Diners may not have thought about it before, but those with a sweet tooth will be over the moon to order a sweet snack for later.

Don’t be annoying

Last but not least, don’t be pushy or annoying. Customers know when you’re trying to sell them something they don’t want. For example, when a guest asks about the chicken and the server recommends a ribeye instead. This kind of service has nothing to do with hospitality.

Upselling and cross-selling should be done sincerely and fit your guests’ needs and desires.
how to increase check average - waitstaff training


I hope by now you have a good idea of how to increase the check average at your restaurant. To sum up, you should focus on three major areas and apply new techniques to each of them.

1. Menu design:

  • Identify items with the highest profit margin
  • Highlight the high-margin items
  • Include small plates
  • Add a premium item as a decoy
  • Limit the number of dishes
  • Show add-on options
  • Highlight popular cross-selling pairings

2. Marketing:

  • Create loyalty programs
  • Showcase bundled offers
  • Advertise to-go ordering
  • Promote profitable items online

3. Service:

  • Teach your team about the menu
  • Master upselling and cross-selling
  • Reward the highest performers
  • Use powerful, affirmative language
  • Know when to approach guests
  • Recommend splitting
  • Suggest dessert to go
  • Don’t be annoying

Certainly, you don’t have to implement all of these strategies. Consider what is likely to work for your restaurant, staff, and customers and focus on that. 

The most important tactics have been bolded. As you can see, most of them pertain to the service area of your business. That is because your waitstaff has the most impact on what and how much your guests order. Thus, you should really commit to maximizing your team’s performance.

Blog, Restaurant Marketing