Depending on the type of establishment you operate, a restaurant’s wine list can range from encyclopedic to rudimentary, but it is an effective tool for the generation of high margin revenue. Getting your staff to utilize it effectively to drive sales can be a difficult task. Because our industry attracts a diverse workforce, we cannot expect a universal level of wine knowledge from our employees. With so many wine training programs – what approach is best?
Because the world of wine is so broad and can be intimidating for many, wine training works best as a continuing process, broken down into small, easily digestible bites. A “boot camp” approach, that is a lengthy and intense training session, may work for new hires already conversant in wine, but will be overwhelming for a novice, and probably soon forgotten. It also does nothing to reinforce the knowledge of long time employees.
By incorporating ongoing training into the weekly routine, information is more easily retained by the staff. A great time to do this is during pre-shift meetings. By focusing on specific subjects, and doing controlled, limited tastings (small pours and spit cups required!), your staff will remember concrete talking points that they can relay to the guest and can use to sell your list.
These sessions should vary, so as not to become dull, and can include a variety of approaches. Discuss a single wine and some clever facts about the producer (why is a French winemaker working in Chile? why is there Braille on the label?), doing a compare and contrast of Old World and New World wines (Chablis vs. California Chardonnay, Shiraz vs. Syrah) or focus on a particular region (Chateauneuf-du-What?). The possibilities are multitudinous, but should focus on short, concrete pieces of knowledge your staff can easily remember and communicate to the guest. And don’t forget to see if your vendor can host a session on upcoming wines!
We often lose track of the fact that our service staff is also our sales staff. Confident and informative servers will always sell more than those who just point to the most expensive items. By arming our staff with knowledge, we can put the guest at ease. And a server who can communicate confidently and provide details about a wine will result in a guest comfortable and pleased with their selection.