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A Quick, Simple Question

January 28th, 2009

The other day I went into a fast food restaurant that will remain nameless just because some people will probably take this article the wrong way and I don’t want a good business to suffer because of it.

I ordered a simple combo-meal that included a drink and fries. The clerk, who happened to be a manager named Julienne asked me “Medium or Large?” It was such a quick and innocent sounding question that I almost answered before thinking.

“No, a small will be fine, thank you”. She completed my order and as she handed me my receipt and tray of food I asked her a question that she clearly didn’t feel comfortable answering.

I asked her how many of the people accepted one of her two options and went with either medium or large. She said she didn’t know. I pushed until she admitted that it was at least 85-90%.

This simple upsell adds either 59 or 99 cents to each meal ordered. As each combo normally runs about $5-6 that’s a 10-20% markup on EACH meal sold. The best part is that it costs the restaurant almost NOTHING to fulfill delivery. A slightly larger soda costs them a penny or two in syrup and fractions of a cent for a larger cup. The difference between a small and medium sized fries is non-existent. Only the cardboard box changes size. Basically the same amount of product fits in each size box. The large holds a little more than the small but even then, you’re talking about potatoes: just about the cheapest food product on the planet.

So for virtually no cost at all they are able to increase their revenue by 10-20% just by asking one single, very simple and almost automatic question. The secret is to ask the question systematically, to EVERYONE who orders a combo meal and to ask it EVERY single time.

I’m still trying to work out exactly how this principle can be applied in my business. There is something about the assumptive quality of the question and something also about the two-options format. But basically it is a simple question.

Do you do birthday parties? Are you willing to do Goodie bags? (I do the former, but not the latter). Maybe you could add a simple question like “Do you want us to handle the goodie bags for everyone or are you going to put all those together yourself?”

Not as clean as “Medium or Large?” but it gets that conversation started. I’ll bet that’s got to be worth a few thousand dollars a year for the right performers.

Or, if you do awards banquets you might ask “Do you want to include enough magic tricks for every seat at each table or just one trick per table and let everyone kind of share it?” Most event planners might not have even thought about the idea of including magic tricks for the guests, and when they find out that you can provide quality, PRE-SELECTED tricks for less than $2 per person you might just be able to bump up your revenue for the night by a pretty significant amount.

I welcome your thoughts on this. Remember, I’m not just talking about ways to increase revenue. There are countless thousands of ways to do that. I’m talking about doing it with a question. A single, very simple, question that is asked near the end of each transaction.

What is YOUR question for 2009?


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