What is a Sullivan Nod? 4 Facts You Need To Know

Although you may not be readily swayed, waiters have been employing a basic sales tactic to upsell customers for decades. There are not many credible studies on the technique, but many servers swear by it anyway.

The Sullivan Nod consists of simply and quietly nodding your head 15 degrees when you come to the item on a list that you want the buyer to purchase.

When attempting to upsell, it is also utilized as a subliminal suggestion. It supposedly works best with five-item lists.

What is a Sullivan Nod?

The Sullivan Nod is a sales strategy that use the power of subliminal suggestion to urge the purchase of a certain product. It is utilized most frequently in the food business, however it also appears in other industries, from boutiques to car lots.

What is a Sullivan Nod?

A well-executed Sullivan Nod is so subtle that the customer is oblivious to it, making it difficult to spot.

Origin Of The Sullivan Nod

Consultant in the restaurant industry Tom Sullivan created this method. Sullivan devised the approach to enhance sales of appetizers, cocktails, and other products that may quickly increase the total amount of a restaurant’s bill.

This makes the Sullivan Nod popular among waiters and waitresses who wish to increase their prices in exchange for larger tips, as well as bartenders, who often earn incentives for selling more expensive alcoholic beverages.

What is a Sullivan Nod?

How Does a Sullivan Nod Work

The Sullivan Nod mechanism is quite straightforward. When a highly desirable item is reached in a recitation of a list, the speaker nods 10-15 degrees. The nod should be unobtrusive, yet nevertheless apparent to the consumer.

According to Sullivan, buyers respond to a nod around 65% of the time, regardless of price, by purchasing the item suggested.

Studies on the Sullivan Nod indicate that it is most effective with lists including little more than five items. A bartender could ask, “Would you want brand X, Y, M, or Z?” in response to a request for scotch.

What is a Sullivan Nod?

If Brand M was the desired brand, he or she would nod slightly when approaching it, and if the consumer was suggestible, the response would be “why, Brand M, of course!”

Special Point

Sullivan asserts that his sales strategy works even over the phone for room service orders, implying that tone of voice may also play a role in subconsACcious suggestion. Try the Sullivan Nod if you work in service or sales.

If you want to be scientific about it, try if you can recruit other waiters or bartenders to participate in a controlled research, in which some of you use the Sullivan Nod on different shifts while others do not, and then compare your findings after a month or two.


The Sullivan Nod is most effective in instances where the price difference is small and the salesman is viewed as a guide, such as in a fine dining establishment.

What is a Sullivan Nod?

To implement the Sullivan Nod, you must wait until the consumer has opted to purchase a product with several options.

Give them an option between five items: “Would you prefer the Merlot, Chianti, (nod) Riesling, White Zinfandel, or Cabernet?” Supposedly, you have just persuaded your consumer to buy the Chianti. Now you inquire, “Would you prefer a bottle or a glass?”


The Sullivan nod can be used by waiters to encourage the purchase of more expensive items. The Sullivan Nod is a sales technique which is designed to encourage people to purchase a particular item with the power of subconscious suggestion.
Jim Sullivan
Invented by restaurant consultant, Jim Sullivan, the Sullivan nod involves reciting a list of options but just inclining your head slightly when you reach the choice you’d like the buyer to make. The nod has to be subtle, but perceptible and works best in lists of no more than five items.

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