Before my husband left for a 5 week business trip to India, someone kindly gave us a gift card for a steak dinner. Not ones to turn down a steak, we went. We’re not huge eaters. We simply wanted a basic steak dinner. My husband ordered a drink. I ordered water, not to be cheap but because I felt like water.

“Bottled or seltzer?”, our pleasant server asks.

“Just tap water is fine, thanks.”

“For an appetizer?”

“I think the classic dinner would be plenty, thanks.”

“Would you like a side caesar salad with that? An extra helping of vegetables?”

“No, thanks.”

“Could we please just have two classic steak dinners, medium rare?”

“Would you like to ‘Keg Size’ your steaks?”

At this point it’s getting ridiculous. I want to say, “Look lady. I’m not trying to be cheap. We don’t eat that much food. What we ordered is more than enough.”

I take a deep breath. This woman after all will be left alone with my food at some point. I don’t want to tick her off.

“No thank-you. Eight ounces is plenty.”

I couldn’t even finish my whole meal. When the server arrived to clear our plates, she said, “I’ll bring you the dessert menu. Will you have coffee with your dessert?”

I know it’s her job to upsell. I imagine it works for a lot of people, especially once they’ve had a few drinks and their inhibitions are down.

It seems everywhere I go these days, I’m being sold on something else. Recently I needed a new watch battery. It was $10 installed. The salesperson offered to sell me an extended warranty for $3. A warranty on a watch battery!

Upselling works on assumption. They assume I want something I had no intention of buying. The server was well trained. She didn’t ask if I wanted to pay for my water. She assumed I did and needed to clarify whether I wanted to pay for bottled or seltzer. She assumed we’d want drinks and appetizers, a side salad and dessert. In contradicting her assumptions, I was put in the position of correcting her which made me feel uncomfortable and put me on the defensive. I imagine it works for a lot of people, especially people who are more open to the powers of suggestion than I happen to be.

I don’t want the extended warranty, the supersize, the waterproof spray, the deluxe version or fries with that. I am the customer and I’d like to tell them what I want rather than having someone else tell me what they think I should have.

It’s why I like my favourite Thai restaurant so much. They practically ignore us. We can stay for hours and they keep bringing us pots of green tea at no extra charge. When our defenses are down and there isn’t pressure to spend, strangely enough, we order more and keep going back.

If you are trying to live within your means or cut back on extras beware of the upsell. Make your mind up before you arrive what you plan to order. They are professionals who know what they’re doing. It is their job to persuade you to buy more than you planned.

I can’t help but wonder if there is a way I can communicate exactly what I want without being sold on more.

Kathryn has been a staff writer for MDJ since January 2009. During the day she works in an office. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.

56 Comments

  1. Shannon on February 5, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    My sister went through the drive through at Sonic and ordered a drink. The person through the box asked her if she wanted cheese with that. She repeated her order thinking she hadn’t been heard. Again the person asked her if she wanted cheese with it. My sister said, “I only ordered a drink”. The person said in a very exasperated tone “it’s called upselling and we’re required to do it”. I would have taken it further for the fun of it but my sister didn’t, she just told her she didn’t want cheese. I would have said yes on the cheese and then watched to see what would happen. :)

  2. zud on February 5, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    What is it called when you’re shopping at a store that sells multiple brands and the clerk insists on showing you or pushing you towards a certain brand? that’s not an upsell more like sell-you-what-i-want-to-sell-you.

    I assume there may be some kind of kick back or incentive for the store to push that brand. I get this alot at Sephora, they are really pushing MUFE whereas i really want to try a NARS product and was basically shot down.

    I lose trust in the salespeople because of their bias.

    anyways good article kathryn, i admit to feeling quite guilty when not ordering a drink

  3. Future Money-Bags on February 6, 2010 at 9:22 am

    I drink enough free pop at work, no way I am going to pay for it. As for always ordering water, I love water. It makes the food taste better. And I usually just ask for a pitcher if applicable; as I will end up drinking 3-4 glasses.

    If you have a sweet beverage with meal, meal doesn’t taste as good.
    As for alcohol.. Well I would rather buy by alcohol and drink at home, than spend $6-7 for 1 single drink..

    Good input from everyone. A good article doesn’t necessarily have to have 1000 fun-filled-and-useful facts, but its the discussion that it starts after, that makes it excellent.

    Kudos.

  4. CLOSER on February 10, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    I got a battery (CR 2032) at the source for $5.99 and got the extended warranty for $1.49. This allows me two replacements in a three year span. This is my second battery I bought this year. Even if I got this battery at the second least expensive store, its $7.99 for one battery (the generic kind). Realistically I got three batteries for the price of one. Thats a good deal! Im glad that they educated me on this, but with all things: choose your battles!

    Cheers :D

  5. Rachel on November 25, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Your best option is to turn it into as much of a tedious chore for them as it is for you, by turning their question into a question. e.g., :

    “A black coffee please.”, “Do you want milk with that?”, “Wouldn’t that be a *white* coffee?”

    “Do you want fries with that?”, “Did you hear me ask for fries?”.

    “Do you want this special spray to make your shoes waterproof?”, “Are you telling me these shoes are no good for wet weather?”

    etc.

    On no account, ever, just say “no” to any attempt to upsell. That is what they expect you to do, because it’s what saves them the most time. Instead, ask them a stupid, open-ended, discomfitting question back in return. You’ve plenty of time to think of one whilst they waste the time of the person in front of you. It won’t stop you experiencing upselling, but it will hack the brains of those inflicting their anti-social upselling skills that they learned in a training session the week before. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll get to ruin their day a tiny little bit, put them off their stride for the next unlucky customer, and encourage them to go and get a job that actually adds some value to society.

  6. Jerry Kelso on June 10, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Just be aware that poeple have a job to do and we don’t do this because we want to but because we have to as part of our jobs.

    A simple no without being a jerk is the proper response.

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