Sales Training for Your Café or Restaurant Staff

Blog > Coffee Shop & Restaurant Operations > Training, Staff Management

Every customer interaction is nuanced. If you can master those nuances with a little sales training for your staff, you’ll build connections and earn repeat customers. 

The right kind of sales skills will help you and your staff sell more coffee drinks, cocktails and meals—and build a base of customers. These skills can also help attract investors to your business or get a business loan.

The good news: You don’t have to be extroverted to do well at sales. In fact, having loads of confidence and small-talk skills can sometimes work against you. Whether you’ve got the gift of gab or are more of an introvert, you have an equal chance of success if you follow a few basic principles.


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Build rapport.     

Learning about your customers—including but also beyond their passion for coffee, cocktails or food—will make them feel special. It can be as simple as noticing their nail polish or their love for the local baseball team.

When you ask a question about said nail polish or baseball team, and share something about yourself based on the customer’s answer, you start to build a connection, i.e., rapport. People don’t forget when you notice something about them and connect with it.

Focus on value, not volume (and you’ll create volume).

Your goal should be to sell only what’s useful or enjoyable to your customers. Don’t ever push things on them in the mere interest of time or money. If they can’t decide what they want to drink, for instance, ask them if they’re into salty, sweet, tart, or other flavors. Then you can recommend or customize a drink for them, or recommend the perfect pastry.

These little interactions show that you’re looking out for the customer, and not focusing solely on maximizing sales. 

Challenge preconceived notions—gently.

A Sprudge post from a few years back discussed the fallacy of assuming third-wave coffee has become ubiquitous: “A lot of people assume that the … eccentricities and whims of specialty coffee’s upper echelon will be duly embraced and tolerated by the guy off the street. This simply isn’t true, because if it were, such a mindset would naturally have to touch across all forms of consumption, and we’d already be living in some kind of Alice Waters utopia.”

Of course, Sprudge advises that if a customer is “irritated by baristas who tend to get excited about the coffees they’re serving… [they] might feel more at home at a cafe with less of a focus on the coffee itself,” but your job is to deal with every stripe of coffee lover that ventures into your shop with a healthy dose of patience and tolerance.

You might be offering the perfect cappuccino and the sexiest single-estate, medium-roast cold brew in town, and thus choose to let your staff’s enthusiasm and coffee know-how sit front and center as part of the aesthetic of your shop. Just be careful not to preach the gospel of specialty coffee—unbridled enthusiasm can be off putting.

Instead, consider embracing each person for wherever they’re at in their coffee-loving trajectory. Offer a bit of coffee trivia here and there if they seem interested, but more or less give them what they want, how they want it—even if you’re dying inside when they ask for a macchiato with extra milk is really a cappuccino.

Be honest, and humble.

Most customers can tell when you’re being honest with them. That feeling of trust will make them more likely to return. Try not to oversell the greatness of your drinks or food. If you’re offering a good product it will speak for itself. If someone asks about ingredients or how you make a certain drink or dish, that’s your cue to share what’s special about your menu items. Don’t force it.

There is also a time when it’s best to say: “I don’t think we have what you’re looking for. Let me recommend another [café/restaurant].” This shows people that you’re listening to them and that you have their best interests in mind. They may recommend you or come back later, instead of staying for an experience that’s currently outside their expectations.

Go the extra mile.

Selling is like anything else—persistence pays off. Avoid being pushy, but show customers that you want to make their experience as pleasurable as possible. While there’s a lot of nuance and no hard-and-fast formula, a personal touch will go a long way. That’s why it works. When you see each person as unique, your sales can soar.