In running a restaurant, profitability is a major goal. Increasing your check average, or the amount the average customer spends in your business, is a major way to increase your profitability. In this article, we will break down how to increase check average with actionable tips so that your guests leave with a full experience while you are earning the most out of those who visit your business.
Want to know how to gauge if your restaurant is doing well? Use our guide on the key restaurant metrics to see how your business is doing.
1. Train Your Staff
Trained staff is the No. 1 way to ensure customers buy more of your food on a regular basis. Ensure that kitchen staff are cooking your product to your standards. If the appetizers guests order are not good or prepared incorrectly, then the chances of them biting on a dessert item later in the meal are low.
For the serving staff, ensure that they know the menu items and ingredients. The more knowledge your staff has of your menu, the easier it is to suggest sides, appetizers, desserts, drinks, and any other items you may have on the menu. Conduct regular tastings of new dishes so staff members serving your food have the necessary knowledge to sell more of it.
2. Develop a Focused Menu
A well-focused menu shows that you put care into your food and instills confidence that you’ll deliver a good product. Make it easy for your customers to understand your food and order from your menu. Keep your menu focused on a specific cuisine type. Having focused sections with a capped amount of items entices your customers to explore the menu and can lead to them trying multiple things. Instead of searching for a diamond in the rough for a solid dish, they will want to experiment with your available dishes, likely increasing their average checks.
3. Showcase Premium Dishes
How you lay out your menu influences how customers will order food from you. You can follow the Golden Triangle rule, which dictates that our eyes start in the middle of the page, then dart to the top right, and then the top left of the menu. Placing your best-tasting dishes—or those that are most profitable for you—in this area will yield your customers to purchase more of these dishes, allowing you to engineer the menu in a way that leads to a higher overall check average. Another rule to know is that customers are often drawn to the first two and last two spots in a menu list. Place dishes here that yield you the most profit or the best chances of a better check average.
4. Be Descriptive
One of the issues many food operators fall victim to is not being descriptive enough when building out their menus. You may have a hard time getting a customer to add items to their meal if they are not familiar with the food you are offering. Describe dishes in a concise way that lets customers know what flavors they can expect when ordering. Clear and attractive descriptors can make an unfamiliar dish a must-have for every customer.
5. Create Mouthwatering Specials
Many times a restaurant special is just an amalgamation of leftover ingredients that a chef will throw together to turn a profit before they spoil. But dish specials should be used to highlight a special ingredient, a new cooking technique, or a dish interesting enough to warrant an addition to your other menu offerings.
Creating quality, intentional, and appetizing food specials will make your customers excited to try something new. This is great for repeat customers, as it shakes up their dining experience and makes coming to your restaurant exciting. A new salad, seasonal appetizer, or handcrafted main course may be all it takes for a customer to order an extra dish for their meal.
6. Tell a Story With Thoughtful Ingredients
One of the best ways to increase your check average is to bring in unique ingredients during different seasons and use them in a variety of ways on the menu. Say, you get some amazing mushrooms from a local forager or growing facility. You can implement them across different menu items in order to highlight their flavor, the local producer, and the overall great quality they provide to your cooking.
Customers love items that are local, rare, and tell a story, with 38% of adults saying they’re more likely to choose a restaurant offering locally sourced foods over one that doesn’t. Be creative and thoughtful with the food you get locally and the ingredients you may get that are special. Another great example would be a whiskey maker that you brought in that you may not always be able to get. That bottle is special to your business and may make guests want to try it in cocktails, thus increasing the amount they spend on their meals.
7. Utilize Prix Fixe Menus
Another great way to ensure a higher average check is to work within a set price on a prix fixe (pronounced pree-fix) menus. Check average is easier to control with a prix fixe because you know every guest who orders this menu will be paying a set amount. So now you have the task of working backward to make a menu that is both exciting for guests and maximizes your profit.
Prix fixe menus can also be engineered to include add-ons for premium ingredients. For example, during truffle season, it is very common for a set price to include freshly shaved truffles as a supplemental add-on in many of the courses. Wine pairings, cocktail pairings, and even nonalcoholic cocktail pairings are also excellent choices to increase customer spend alongside a prix fixe menu.
8. Don’t Use Rounded Numbers
It is a known trick in the restaurant industry that a number such as $19.99 is a lot easier on customers’ eyes than $20.00. Use this basic pricing trick on your menu items to make it easier for your customers to spend more money. This very simple display in price is used not only in food but in retail and practically all industries that involve selling a customer a product.
The only time you should disregard this advice is on a tasting or prix fixe menu. Tasting menus are concise experiences, so listing a price that is a whole, rounded number is ideal.
One of the oldest tricks in the restaurant book is upselling or suggestive selling. This involves incorporating otherwise neglected menu items into pitches to customers to enhance their overall experience—for example, suggesting a premium modifier to an existing item or a side dish to pair with an entree. The best service staff know how to upsell to make menu items irresistible and is one of the best ways to get your average check higher.
10. Offer Dedicated Beverage Pairings
Offering dedicated beverage pairings to your dishes is another great way to increase check averages. Especially on alcoholic drinks where you can charge more, suggesting dedicated drink options that complement your food adds a layer to the guest experience (and another item to your customers’ checks). With the popularity of nonalcoholic beverages skyrocketing, you can even suggest alcoholic and non-alcohol pairings for main courses. The opportunities are there if you are smart about how you pair a drink with food.
11. Make Add-ons Easy to Find
Another great way to increase a check average for your guests is to have a sides or add-on section to your menu. This simple menu usually lives at the bottom of a menu and lets your guests know which options they can add to their meal for an additional charge. You can put items such as fries, salads, and other popular sides on this menu. Having these items stand out will let your customers know their options. You can even put small, creative sides here in order to get your customers to try and order more.
12. Ensure Your Reservations Fit Your Tables
How you set up your dining room and where you assign your guests is crucial to maximizing your best check averages. For example, if you sit two guests at a six-top table, you are missing out on four extra diners who could spend money in those seats. If you do not have an efficient way of assigning guests to tables in your dining room, you are missing out on the maximum amount of money you could make from that space.
There are many great reservation systems available to restaurant operators in 2023. You can use our guide to the best reservation systems to find the best fit for you.
13. Include Thoughtful Menu Modifier POS Options
The ability to upsell and have thoughtful add-ons to your menu is only as good as your servers’ ability to add them to the check itself. Ensure that your point-of-sale (POS) system is fluid and easy to navigate and has user-friendly buttons to add on extra ingredients and dedicated options for add-on dishes. You do not want any friction for your staff when they communicate guest requests. The easier it is to ring in orders, the more likely your staff is to upsell.
14. Incentivize Staff to Sell More
Incentivizing your staff can be a great way to encourage them to sell more of a certain item. Maybe you have some bottles of wine that need to be moved or a new special with great profit margins that you want on many tables. You can easily track the sales of an item through modern POS systems, so incentivizing staff on occasion to sell more of a certain item can work wonders.
The reward could be their own sit-down meal at the restaurant, bringing a friend along. It can also be an item such as a gift card to a local coffee shop. Tracking how servers are selling key items or how they are improving check averages is a great way to reward them for their hard work.
15. Conduct Consistent Table Touches
A “table touch” in the restaurant industry refers to the number of times waitstaff check in on their guests throughout a dining experience. This is one of the single best ways to ensure your guests order more, as you will interact with them and fulfill any needs they may have during service.
Your guest, for example, may order their main course and get a craving for a particular side of that main course. If you are not checking in on them, you will not have the ability to capture this and sell more products to them. Training your waitstaff to be present but not overbearing is key in any restaurant.
16. Use Your Register Space as Food Marketing
This especially works if you are a cafe or a counter-service food business. The idea behind this is basically that you have a lot of real estate from which your customer orders their food. This space should be focused on upselling products such as pastries, candies, or any other food items that are quick to grab and easy to add to an order. If you are counter-based when it comes to customer ordering, this is the best way to sell or upsell goods in order to get a higher check average.
17. Cater to Online & Pickup Orders
Some of the best ways to capture a higher dollar amount on your check averages is to utilize your online platform for delivery or pickup options. To see how these systems work, check out our roundup of the best delivery POS systems for restaurants.
These systems support tools like menu item pairing suggestions and also allow you to choose which items will be shown first when a customer orders food through your site. Get familiar with the available tools so you can maximize the amount of items your customers buy from you online.
18. Create Detailed Customer Profiles
You can pretty quickly get to a point where you have regulars coming to dine often at your restaurant. If you are able to, log information like birthdays and special occasions, as well as what they like to eat and drink. On future visits, you can cater to their tastes and offer items tailored to them. If a guest often drinks merlot, for example, maybe make a suggestion for a particular food pairing that works well with merlot. These personalized suggestions build trust over time, and you will get to a point where you can make recommendations that your regular customers will trust.
19. Utilize Loyalty Programs
Loyalty programs can be a significant way to increase not only check average, but also the return of frequent customers—helping them build a relationship with your brand. One example of a loyalty program is when a coffee shop gives a customer a simple punch-out card. Every time the customer comes in, they receive a punch in the card. When they hit five punches, they receive a free coffee. This incentivizes the customer to keep returning and giving you business, with a very small expense associated.
20. Pay Attention To Customer Reviews
The last bit of advice we would give to increase check averages is to focus on what your customers are saying after dining at your restaurant. A customer may write on Yelp, “Great meal, but I wish they had a solid vegetarian side to add to my main!.” It is comments like these that are gold, and ones that let you fill in any gaps of customer needs you may have on your menu. While receiving customer feedback can be tough, there is a lot in the feedback that allows you to build better dining experiences and subsequently offer more items that, in turn, will increase your check averages over time.
Getting customers to spend more money at your restaurant is one of the greatest challenges any operator in the food space will face. When margins are thin, and you have a whole staff to provide for, the one or two extra items sold to customers over time can make a huge difference. You now have 20 ways to not only increase your check averages but also delight your guests in a way that will make them come back to you for more great food experiences. When using these tips, keep the guest in mind and focus in on making great additions to their experience.