10 Selling Tips For Savvy DSRs

What do bad breath, yellow waxy buildup, and bathtub scum have in common? Simple: They’re problems we never knew we had until the marketers of packaged products told us we did.

Marketing, you see, is nothing more complicated than solving someone’s problem for them. Trouble is, often you have to put a lot of effort (read: dollars) into creating awareness of the problem before the real solving (read: selling) can begin. Not so with today’s restaurant operator, who hardly knows where to turn in the face of consumer price resistance, unit saturation, and government interference. Now here’s someone who’s got a lot of problems and knows it.

Did a light bulb just go off in your head? It should have, especially if you stopped to consider that many operators depend on DSRs for much of their marketplace information. Add it all up and you’ve got one beautiful selling…er, make that “problem-solving” situation.

Now you’ve got a problem. What can you tell these trusting souls that will genuinely help them?

Following is a list of 10 items that will help you become that good Samaritan, and possibly hone your own sales pitch as well. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, mind you, just a helpful one. To make it easy to use, it’s divided into five business tips and five food or menu-related tips. Here goes:

* 1. Watch for ideas that help your customers get full or premium price for their goods. Sounds hard to do when more than one-fifth of all restaurant transactions are related to some kind of a deal–a coupon or discounted price. Regardless, there is room to come up with that one extra service, decor, or menu item that will differentiate a restaurant so much from the competition that people will be willing to pay full price, if not a premium one.

This is being done, even by the discounters themselves. Wendy’s, one of the early leaders in value meals, is able to command a price point of $2.99 to $3.49 for its Chicken Cordon Bleu sandwich, in large part because of the inclusion of a premium-brand mustard. The excitement surrounding a limited-time promotion supports the price point as well.

At Salty’s in Seattle, owner Gerry Kingen is pushing the notion of super-premium service a la Nordstrom’s department stores by training waitstaff to think of themselves as personal sales reps who maintain a client list, including logs of customer frequency and preferences, and who write thank-you notes to patrons following visits.

* 2. Help operators increase productivity. Restaurateurs are so used to measuring sales by seat or square foot that they often overlook the sales-to-employee ratio. Maybe it’s on purpose, since the average employee accounts for a paltry $31,000 in annual sales.

Selling customers high-quality, value-added product is one obvious solution. Others include recommending labor-saving smallwares, or adopting a whole-plate sell based on assembly procedures rather than recipe cooking.

* 3. Influence government. Recent and pending legislation is not the sexiest-sounding issue out there for operators–only one of the most nettlesome. And the industry has just now begun to realize the influence it commands as the second-largest employer in the country. Get involved, or at least familiarize yourself with the major issues, such as the FICA/FUTA tax, worker’s comp, blood-alcohol content, and ingredient labeling. Or do you relish the impact on your account’s sales of President Clinton’s proposed 50-percent business-meal deduction?

* 4. Focus on the needs of the line managers. They may or may not make direct purchasing decisions, but restaurant companies are beginning to emphasize the role unit and line managers play in enhancing profit. And for good reason.

With layers of middle management being stripped away, there’s nothing like a competent line manager to impact profits with the decisions he or she makes. If you call on a multiunit company, spend some time picking the brains of unit managers; similarly, chat up the steward, night chef, or dining-room manager at your independent accounts to find out what’s bugging them. You just might have a product that would make their lives easier.

* 5. Sell safety. In the wake of the tragic Jack-In-The-Box poisonings, the benefits of basic sanitation couldn’t be clearer to operators. But, as the memory of this event fades, operators will need reminding. Warewashing and cleaning products should be an important part of your sell now and down the road. It’s time to reread all those boring manuals on proper sanitation. Generate a sanitation audit, a checklist that line managers can use at the beginning or end of each shift, with appropriate recommendations of product.

* 6. Work with operators to lower their food cost. For the past five years, your customers’ customers have decreed that menu prices will rise more slowly than the overall inflation rate. That means that operators have to find food that doesn’t cost as much to sell. Translated to ballpark numbers, that means that operators are more likely to shoot for a 25-percent food cost than the traditional 33 percent.

Fortunately for operators, today’s restaurant guests are hungry for all kinds of inexpensive food, such as baked goods, pasta, salads, grains, root vegetables, and legumes. As a DSR, you can fight the move to lower-cost items or you can realize that it’s a strategy that will help your accounts to keep paying their bills. Give them ideas on how to use these products, and at the same time, try to sell them some of your higher-margin items that they’ll need to jazz up these plainer foods–spices and condiments, for example.

* 7. Sell ethnic by region, not country. Now that Americans consume more salsa than ketchup, it’s safe to say that broad ethnic categories such as “Mexican” have gone mainstream. If you want to help operators capture the same intriguing sense of a culinary world tour that these broad categories used to engender, you can show them how to menu Sonoran dishes instead (or Catalonian or Tuscan).

* 8. Expand your customer’s menu without making it bigger. Say what? Here’s the rub: Patrons who perceive an operator’s menu as not varied enough will veto that restaurant as a place to spend their money. However, larger menus cost money for additional inventory, staff training, and possibly equipment. Instead, think of revolving specials or limited-time promotions that work off of an operator’s existing inventory and equipment.

* 9. Think one pile, not three. The old saw about plating separate piles of protein, starch, and vegetable has fallen. All three are fully integrated in stirfries and paella, or stacked in distinct layers, as in lasagna. In either case, the most expensive stuff–the protein–is an ingredient rather than the star.

* 10. Sell brown food. Close your eyes for a minute and think of all your favorite foods. Chances are that if you’re like most people, many of the foods will be–well, brown. French fries. Crusty bread. Sizzling roasts. Your whole-plate strategy should look for opportunities such as adding a dough element to a chicken dish, or upgrading a bread basket. Patrons are past the point of expecting “performance food” in a rainbow of colors.

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