At one nice steakhouse, I met with a highly motivated general manager, Carl. He was really interested in helping the servers understand wine and had a pretty good wine knowledge himself. He was a chef and knew that “knowledge is power.”
I asked him what he was currently doing to help his staff sell wine. He went into the kitchen and brought out his extremely gorgeous, pristine, three-ring notebook filled with info sheets on each of the wines on his list.
“Wow,” I said, “this took a lot of time. How do the servers use this?”
“I keep it right inside the manager’s office in the recipe book shelves,” he said. “Easy to find and always available.”
“How old is this,” I asked.
He looked up at the ceiling, “About ten months, let’s see, yes, ten months because I had been here about a month,” he recalled. “And I update the sheets when we get new wines.” There wasn’t one spatter of food on the notebook and the paper looked perfect.
Sadly for him and the amount of work he’d put into this notebook, I wondered if any of his servers had ever touched it.
You have to make wine a priority, figuring out a way to incorporate continuous server education into the normal, day-to-day operation of the business. Wine has to be discussed regularly for your staff to feel comfortable about it. Sticking a notebook in the restaurant office as a learning tool is wishful thinking and doesn’t work to help your staff.
And furthermore, the sad fact is that most of the sales sheets on wines have little “sellable” information, like stories about the winery or winemaker, or special history that brings the wine to life.
An alternative to a notebook, single info sheets can work to help your servers, IF they are posted in an area where they are easily readable, and IF someone has presented the wine to them in person. The info sheets are a great tool for back up, but not good as the primary means of teaching.
As a primary, ongoing education program, create a program like “$20 Tuesday” or “$50 Friday” depending on the type of restaurant you own. Ask for a volunteer server each week and hand over an info sheet on one of your restaurant’s wines. The server has a week to find out interesting facts about it. What are great stories about the wine? What is the most unusual fact the server found? What does the wine go with on the menu and why? Then on the following Tuesday or Friday, the server comes prepared to talk about the wine. After highlighting the wine at the pre-shift meeting, if he or she has done a good job, you personally hand a $20 or $50 bill to him or her in front of the team. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your staff will become engaged after seeing that exchange. (See “Wine Storytime” form at www.CulinaryWineInstitute.com/storytime.)