By now you have seen many of the national chain restaurants advertising “all you can eat,” “bottomless” or “endless” dishes. Yes, this can be a slippery slope for restaurants, but it can also help drive sales if you have the right plan in place. Consider the following points before you invite customers in for an endless meal.

Can I do this profitably?

It can be hard to gauge, but here’s a starting point. Figure out the cost for each initial serving, including protein, vegetable, starch, garnish, etc., and the wrap-around cost. Then add in what each “reorder” dish will cost you. The “reorder” dish is often a smaller portion of the main course without all the sides, so the cost is different. If you factor on the high side that each guest who chooses this entrée will get two reorders—this way if they only order 1 reorder, or none, you come out ahead—this will give you an approximation of what your breakeven point is so you can be profitable.

When and where should I offer the promotion?

You don’t have to offer all you can eat all the time. Look at your numbers and choose a night when you want to attract a larger clientele. Or, offer your special during an event when you want more people to come and stay at your restaurant (bottomless fries during game night, anyone?). You can also offer this type of promotion in one part of the restaurant, for example at the bar, so your regular diners will still be able to enjoy the atmosphere they are used to.

Is this the demographic I want to draw?

Many times the all you can eat demographic is conditioned for “pay one price” advertising, and that may be all they come in for. If you are betting on them ordering appetizers, desserts, cocktails, etc., that may not happen. It’s not the worst thing in the world, especially if you plan your promotion for a night when you’re slow, but just be prepared for this.

Can my servers upsell?

If you have a thoroughly trained service staff that can sell other guests at the table a non-all-you-can-eat entrée, you will fare much better in terms of profits. If you decide to run one of these promotions, make sure your staff knows this is a marketing tool to drive traffic, but that selling additional items will increase their tips. If they know it’s important for them to upsell the guests on your more profitable, signature items, odds are they will. Need upselling tips? Here are some for selling more steak and wine.

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