Surviving a Slow Night: How to Upsell and Increase Tips During Slow Times

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flickr photo shared by Free Photo Revolution under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license


It’s Monday evening. The bar is slow, boasting only a handful of loyal regulars and a few first-timers sipping away at their half-priced, happy hour drinks. The weekend crowd has long since retired, and it’s going to be a drawn-out shift if something doesn’t change quickly.

You start wiping down liquor bottles wondering why you didn’t call out sick today.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all felt the creeping anxiety that comes along with an under-attended bar during a slow weekday shift because we think we are wasting our time and not going to make money.

Take a moment and ask yourself, “What is my main responsibility?”

Is it to serve drinks? That’s part of it.

Is it to craft cocktails? Sure.

Above all, your job is to SELL.

Think of yourself as a freelance worker running your own business. You are in charge of your income, even during slow times.

People literally walk through the doors of your venue everyday intending to spend money. The amount they spend is entirely up to you. You are their guide.


Here are some tips to make more tips:

Get to know your customers

When a customer walks through the door, immediately qualify him or her. Ask for specific preferences in liquor, beer and/or wine. A few good qualifying questions are, “What is your favorite liquor?” followed by, “Do you prefer sweet, semi-sweet or not sweet?” (Note: if the customer wants beer or wine, adapt your questions to those preferences).

By asking these questions (or something similar), you are able to understand more about each customer’s palate and preferences. Equipped with this knowledge you can begin making suggestions and selling specialty cocktails rather than half-priced, happy hour drinks.


Humanize the experience

It is called hospitality for a reason— customers expect to feel comfortable and welcomed when they walk through the door. A smile goes a long way, as does a sincere opening line such as, “Hello, how are you?”

Initiate a conversation and develop a rapport with all of your guests. Conversation is key if you want your customers to stay past their first round and continue ordering drinks. I’ve had many customers say to me, “I don’t usually stay this long! I was only planning on having one drink!” during our conversations—meaning that, if I had not engaged them, they would have tabbed out and left after one drink. Create an environment that is inviting— one that you would want to be in if you were not on the clock.


Invest in your customers

For example, if you have a customer who is a tourist, create a list of “off the beaten path” places/activities he or she can visit/experience. Invest in your customers by offering them your time, expertise and ears they will invest in you. Ask questions. Let them learn about you. Find common ground- this will further humanize the experience, and your customers will view you as a person rather than just a bartender doing your job. If you take the time to learn about who your customers are I promise you will reap considerable benefits such as increased tips, new regulars, good friends and/or important connections.




Use slow times to your advantage. Get creative and experiment on your customers. Craft a new cocktail, and offer your customers a sample. Not only is experimenting a fun, learning experience for your it also makes your customers feel special and who knows, they may even order your new concoction when they need a re-fill.




For example, if one of your customers wants a martini, ask if they prefer gin or vodka. Once you know what spirit that customer wants, give him/her some recommendations. Always start by recommending premium spirits first and then work your way down based on quality. Customers are more likely to choose a high-end, more expensive brand when you give them their options from high to low—if your delivery is confident and you demonstrate your knowledge by explaining why certain brands are superior to others. Upselling liquor will increase the average spend per guest which means your tips will increase too.



Have an attitude of gratitude

Recognize you are privileged to be in a position to meet so many new, interesting and different people everyday. Each customer provides a fresh opportunity to learn, experience life through someone else’s vantage point and make money. Be grateful each time you walk through the door of your venue and clock in. If you have a happy, positive attitude people will respond favorably to you.



PI - Upselling
flickr photo shared by Free Photo Revolution under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

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Filed Under: Better Bartending, Business of the Bar

About the Author:

Antasha Durbin

Antasha is seasoned bartender with more than seven years of bartending and hospitality experience. She is also a mama to a beautiful little boy named Elijah, a graduate student, freelance writer and spiritualist. You can find her creating craft cocktails on the weekends in NYC or spending time with her son.

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  • Ali

    Very nice artical this would help a lot of people who are new in the industry .. And even reminding the ones who are in the I fndustry for along time ..

    • Adurbin

      Ali- thank you for taking the time to read the article and comment! 🙂

  • Ali Akturk

    Just read this article and being in the same industry for many many years i feel you hit all your tips right on the money. Pardon the pun.
    Excellent article

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