Pinot What?

Your restaurant might not call for a sommelier but even if it carries a modest wine selection, you may consider giving your servers a crash course in Vino.

Olive Garden, for instance, has gotten a bump in their revenue thanks to their strategically crafted “Steps of Service”.  Every server has to fulfill these steps throughout the entire service process and it includes informing diners, when first approaching their table, about the house wine availability and characteristics.  During this step they provide a brief description of the wines and offer the guests a sample tasting.  Using this tactic, they’ve been able to significantly increase wine sales and improve guest satisfaction scores.

Usually training sessions don’t involve teaching the wine basics to servers.  This oftentimes results in them falling within a comfort zone where they get used to recommending what we like to call “foolproof wine”; the one most clients would drink without sending it away.  But your restaurant probably has much more to offer.  Why not share this information with your staff?  Bring them up to speed as to what’s in the cellar and you might be surprised with the outcome.

What they need to know:

  • Start with the basics: Teach them what goes with what.  Make their lives easier by pairing your wines with elements in your menu.  It is as easy as explaining why fish goes with white wine and beef goes with red.  There is no need to give them a 70-hour seminar.
  • What’s in a name?  You’re in the restaurant business so you probably know the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, but who’s to say they do?  Explain how the grape and region define the name.  And a correct pronunciation of the wine never hurt anyone.
  • Give them selling points.  When a customer asks ‘what do you recommend?’ it’s nice to be able to throw in a few “nice-to-knows” to the answer.  Maybe they produced a small amount of cases of certain wine or it was a celebrity’s favorite selection.  Google your wine list to discover interesting bits to share.
  • Make it fun.  Just as with a classroom setting, involve your staff in their education process.  Ask them to do a little research on the wine list and have them bring a different fact each week to review and post in a designated area.  It can be as simple as explaining the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine.
  • Learn from successful tactics.  If Olive Garden is offering a wine tasting and has gotten favorable results, why not join in this clever trend?

Over time your servers will feel more confident with their jobs and even learn a thing or two along the way.  Even if you only have house wine available they can tell the customers what makes it so special and make a huge difference in their dining experience.


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