In Vino Veritas XCII: don’t forget your waitstaff

Many hotel restaurants do not have a sommelier. Or, if they do, there may be shifts where that position is not filled – midday lunches, for example. Throughout this regular column on how to increase your beverage sales and use wine to elevate the dining experience for your guests, we’ve woven in some tips and tricks for your servers but never discussed them directly.

So, what do you do with your waitstaff? What is the best approach to motivating your team to develop a passion for wine to maximize revenues?

Particularly in a labor crunch, your team is likely harried, working overtime and possibly burnt out. You have to make their lives easier so that they aren’t rushed or distracted when tableside. Put yourself in their shoes. What can you do to help them so that the passion shines through?

Start with the wine list. If you don’t have a sommelier to answer complex questions nor the time to train your team, you should aim to keep it simple. Cover the main grape types and key regions; you don’t have to cover the world. Focus on the big, well-worked countries like France, Italy and the United States. Then add basic descriptions to each listing that novice wine drinkers can comprehend like light, full-bodied or semi-sweet.

Part of simplicity also means limiting selection; it makes no sense to have multiple variations of the same varietal or vintage. By the glass or ‘buck an ounce’ options are great, too. Keep the price points clustered, eliminating the subconscious primer for a decision to be made off of a significant price spread in lieu of adequate substantiation for the more expensive choice. Wine recommendations for main courses printed onto the menu also work to reduce the burden on your team to do the selling.

Next, when it comes to your waitstaff, training is inescapable for wine. Show them how to properly use a corkscrew and what the key elements of wine tasting are. Explain what wines go best with certain dishes and some basic problem solving to address basic questions asked by patrons.

Most wholesalers will offer and lead wine education sessions on their wines. Arrange these as they are not only good for learning and sales, but they are also fun team gatherings to boost morale. Just be sure to repeat the training on a regular basis – perhaps quarterly – to reinforce the knowledge and particularly when your wine menu changes. To this end, keep cheat sheets in the kitchen or behind the bar with tasting notes on every popular wine sold. When in doubt, let a server defer to a bartender who is likely to have a bit more wherewithal about the beverages sold versus just the food.

The third broad suggestion is to be creative. For instance, develop an insert sheet for your menu that shows the wine label and some descriptive information so that people can look it up on their phones or defer to a wine-specific app like Vivino. For this, it’s all about taking the load off of your increasingly busy team and adding a bit of interactivity to nudge the purchase.

You may even consider a team tasting event amongst your waitstaff, letting them taste the difference between various wines sold then rewarding the winners with bottles. Again, it’s all about motivation and keeping spirits high to prevent churn. Such simple adjustments can and do go a long way.