June 1, 2017 |

10 Ways to Boost Check Averages

By Daniel P. Smith

increase check averages, restaurants

Every four weeks, managers from the 46 Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria locations scattered across the Chicago area gather together –– leaders of carryout units in one room and managers of the chain’s full-service restaurants in another.

The managers look each other in the eyes, share data and swap ideas and best practices around operations, staffing and the like. Amid the flurry of conversation, one particular metric makes a consistent appearance: check average. The managers compare their individual tallies and discuss strategies to elevate the average ticket, well aware that higher sales translate into higher profits.

“What gets measured gets addressed,” reminds Lou Malnati’s Senior Director of Marketing Mindy Kaplan.

Such discussions have certainly helped propel Lou Malnati’s growth since its 1971 founding, sparking additional restaurant openings, loyal fans and steady success in Chicago’s ultra-competitive pizza marketplace. While check averages certainly aren’t the only metric dissected, Kaplan says, it remains an important data point company leadership monitors to ensure Lou Malnati’s continues its reliable pace.

No doubt successful restaurant operations across the country would agree. Check averages represent a measure of health and, often times, a symbol of opportunity.

Pushing check averages upward, though, well, that takes coordinated efforts and thoughtful strategies.


Ten strategies to boost check averages

No. 1: Establish — and monitor — standard upselling practices.

During each Lou Malnati’s phone order, staff are charged to ask if the customer would like a salad, appetizer or dessert, a soft sell designed to

increase the ticket. While some customers pass, others don’t and the pizzeria scores a higher ticket as a result. The company, meanwhile, monitors this end-of-the-order upsell through a mystery diners program to ensure the protocol is followed.

No. 2: Staff trained to upsell.

Eight-unit, Washington-based chain Farrelli’s Pizza supplies its staff with ongoing education and coaching to deliver the ideal guest experience, including a sequence on upselling that helps staff cater to guest needs.

When staff members are trained to sell and know their operation’s menu –– what beer or wines pair well with specific dishes, for instance –– they are then better prepared to make recommendations with confidence, says Synergy Restaurant Consultants Managing Partner Danny Bendas.

“The key is to show staff that these recommendations are not intrusive, but rather help guests have a more complete, enjoyable experience,” Bendas says. “It needs to come from a place of genuine energy, not something robotic.”

No. 3: Incentivize staff.

A little carrot can go a long way, Bendas reminds. He contends that incentives for selling particular products or reaching certain sales thresholds on particular items can energize staff and inspire results.

“Incentives can focus staff on upselling,” Bendas says.

No. 4: Know thy customer.

Many order takers cringe at being “salesy,” so Bendas encourages operators to provide staff tools to make subtler, easygoing sells. For instance, allowing order takers to access a customer’s prior order history helps them recommend items to the customer that they included in past purchases.

“It’s a more direct upsell and a more comfortable way for staff to make the offer,” Bendas says.

No. 5: Unleash online ordering.

Numerous studies have shown that guests tend to order more through a digital ordering platform compared to the phone, largely because suggestive selling is inherent in online ordering. To wit: Lou Malnati’s online orders are about $2.50 higher than phone orders, which tend to be a faster, more transactional experience.

“People have an opportunity to really review the menu and see what we offer beyond pizza,” Kaplan says.

No. 6: Review the menu.

Twice each year, Farrelli’s leadership analyzes the menus of competitors, reviews guest feedback and investigates pricing. Thereafter, the company re-engineers its menu accordingly.

“It may be that we’ve got some tired items or that we are hiding some of our best performers in a spot on our menu that is not highlighted well enough,” says Farrelli’s Director of Marketing and Communications Clayton Krueger.

No. 7: Provide additional offerings.

Bendas considers a diverse menu central to increasing check averages, including strategically created options such as salads, wings or signature cocktails.

“Give people a reason to get more than pizza,” Bendas says.

Then, shine a spotlight on these items. At Lou Malnati’s carryout locations, for instance, salads sit in a lobby display case accessible to customers while staff will also share samples of non-pizza products to entice orders.

No. 8: Create package deals.

Pulling a page from quick-service behemoths like McDonald’s and Burger King, package deals can drive a larger purchase. Creating a family pack, for instance, that includes pizza, wings and a dessert can heighten the ticket and the value perception — a key metric for today’s consumers.

No. 9: Develop limited-time offers (LTOs).

Compelling LTOs, particularly more premium options with a higher cost, can drive revenue. Through table tents and server suggestions, Lou Malnati’s has promoted LTOs such as bowtie pasta with a spicy vodka sauce and Italian sausage, as well as a buffalo chicken salad with watermelon and Gorgonzola cheese, two former LTOs now on the pizzeria’s regular menu given their resonance.

No. 10: A list of libations

Beverages not only boost check averages, but also increase profit margin, which makes appealing beverage options that much more important.

Capitalizing on rising interest in signature cocktails, Lou Malnati’s developed an assortment of Chicago-themed specialty drinks. The chain has also expanded its beer menu beyond its longstanding relationship with Miller, weaving in options from popular Chicago-based breweries, such as Goose Island and Revolution Brewing.

Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith  has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers and magazines.