Is your team ready for the great indoors? 4 top tips to help…
Restrictions are easing for the hospitality industry but as customers return to the great indoors, one restriction remains: table service. It will be many weeks, if not months, before guests can merrily approach the bar and place an order for themselves. As a result, your teams’ interaction with guests is more crucial than ever! During the coming weeks, it’s pivotal that your servers are keeping customers happy whilst, at the same time, maximising profits. This can be achieved by selling wines more effectively. Beyond having a great wine list, your team needs to be educated and engaged with what the venue is promoting. Yes, most servers should feel comfortable around their wine list, but we’ve come up with a few tips to help get the entire service team on board.
A wine list, with its many options, may be intimidating for a few servers and without confidence, this is likely to result in lower wine sales overall. To avoid any unwanted decline, you may consider spending some time tailoring the ins and outs of selling wine as a server; find a way that works best for your team and implement your selling points across the board. Even if you’re in a fortunate position and have a sommelier, it’s still just as important to maintain the entire engagement of the team.
With just a couple of new wine selling techniques, not only will you boost the knowledge of your servers, but increase those wine sales, too.
1. Host staff wine tastings
Imagine trying to describe a flavour you have not yet tasted – seems like a direct setup for failure, doesn’t it? There really isn’t any substitute for actual taste-testing when it involves learning about wine. Team gatherings should be a part of new hire training and an ongoing learning opportunity for all staff members. This may appear to be a huge task at first, but make the most of the opportunity and approach it from a neater and fun angle. Instead of panicking your servers by expecting them to know each and every bottle of wine on the menu, train them in broader wine categories and knowledge, highlighting key items on the wine list (at a minimum).
One effective technique is to line out three glasses, each filled with samples of an equivalent sort of wine. For example, three varying wines made with Sauvignon Blanc, such as a premium one, an oak-aged one, and then maybe an entry-level Sauvignon Blanc. Tasters will really understand what the differences are when tasted side by side and learn the characteristics of the grape. Consider doing this with other major grape varieties like Chardonnay, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, etc. for a basic understanding of the difference in the wine.
Encourage the team to speak about what they’re smelling and tasting. Active participation during a small group will not only enhance the staff’s overall experience, but serve as an educational tool as well.
2. Develop wine ninjas
There are endless grapes getting used to form wine around the world, and more and more of these geographical regions are exporting their wines internationally. Instead of overwhelming servers with textbook lessons, offer basic knowledge on grape varieties and regions. Counting on your wine list, you’ll want to supply some more detailed insight where appropriate. For instance, if you’ve got a huge selection of French wines, it’ll be helpful to let servers know information like Sancerre being made up of Sauvignon Blanc grapes, but it’s not well worth the brain space to understand which vintages in Sancerre are better than others.
Depending on the dimensions of your wine list, it might be impossible for servers to memorise the detailed descriptions of every single wine. Rather than overwhelming them, train your staff about the broader categories of wine. Come up with descriptions like ‘bold & fruity’ or ‘bright & crisp’ and train them on the bottles that fall under your category examples. This enables your staff to ask a customer if they like their whites crisp or their reds fruity, thus empowering them the opportunity to point guests in the right direction and sell them an honest bottle.
The average diner wants to understand something about a few bottles of wine, but they don’t necessarily get to know detailed tasting notes. If someone wants that sort of detail, it’s perfectly acceptable to summon your most knowledgeable staffer over for a more in-depth discussion. However, everyone in the team needs to understand what is on offer. When learning the way to sell wine as a server, confirm that each member of staff knows a particular detail of the wine’s story that they will share, albeit it’s not something super specific. Informative phrases such as “This winery is found on the coast of France”, or, “This bottle is from Patagonia, the southernmost wine growing region in South America” would perfectly suffice. Letting your team become ‘wine ninjas’ means they have these perfectly practiced small sentences about the wine, encouraging them to feel more confident, resulting in a more natural rapport with customers.
3. Broad food pairings
While it’s an honest idea to have some specific pairings in mind for popular dishes, staff mustn’t get too overwhelmed. Instead, when it involves wine knowledge for servers, keep it broad. Give them suggestions such as crisp white works well with fried foods or charred meats work well with an earthy red. Having that tiny, little bit of knowledge will go a long way in helping servers to feel confident that they’re pointing diners in the right direction.
4. The table service performance
Easy to overlook but important to remember in this new style of indoor dining is the prominence your servers must now regard their table service. While this is not new and something we are accustomed to in the world of hospitality, staff may find themselves slightly out of practice and could benefit from a refreshing set of guidelines in the face of new dining measures. Historically, approaching the bar to eye up their glass – or bottle! – of choice played a fundamental role in the customer’s overall experience; it’s engaging, it’s fun, it’s informative…it allowed them to make a personal decision based on the atmosphere of their surroundings as well as the aesthetics of your bar – what drink or bottle looks like a bit of me? Now, however, servers must parallel the same excitement and energy directly at the table.
Apart from offering recommendations based on their understanding of flavours and pairings, staff should be reminded that the visual, tangible aspects are still, very much, at play. Presenting and opening a bottle of wine should be regarded as ritualistic; your patrons like to know what the bottle looks like, see how it pours, how it tastes, how it compares to other wines they know or are interested in. Even minor details, such as hearing and seeing the ‘pop’ of a champagne bottle is enough to ruffle feathers and entice your guests to make a selection. With regards to presentation, your staff should be encouraged to make a scene and command attention – the allure is at the heart of this song-and-dance, guaranteed to make your guests feel special and return to your establishment on account of an amazing experience. Better yet, pulling out the red-carpet demonstrations make for excellent social media posts, reaching a wider audience on the likes of Instagram, giving customers a virtual platform on which they can rave about your stunning table service, as well as bragging rights when they snap a picture of the perfect ‘bottle shot’ at your venue.
Remember: practice makes perfect. Inspire your team to prepare and rehearse these presentation skills amongst themselves, allowing the real demonstrations to feel natural and something they can deliver with utmost conviction. Setting aside time and efforts to fine tune these details can only benefit you, your staff, and attendance rates in the long run.
Integrating these tips into your establishment will allow your wine and table service to absolutely sing, therefore increasing your profits, building team morale, and crucially giving your team the confidence boost needed to sell and discuss wine with customers when they soon return to indoor dining.
Interested in hearing more about the wonderful world of wine and all it can offer? Contact us to hear more about our passions and discuss how we can help you revolutionise your wine service. Don’t just take our word for it though, read what our clients have to say about our services and systems here.