The survey from wine service education programme Veraison found that 53 per cent of diners felt that staff in restaurants and bars often did not know enough about the wines on their wine lists, although 42 per cent of those asked said that they would be much more likely to buy a bottle of wine if a staff member suggested it.
The poll also found that well over half of respondents (57 per cent) would be more adventurous with their wine choice if a waiter or waitress were to confidently recommend it.
People generally go with what they know, the poll showed, with 45 per cent choosing a bottle of wine due to it being a recognisable brand, grape or region. One in five (22 per cent) said they would be most influenced by the food they have chosen when it comes to selecting a bottle.
Clara Rubin of Veraison commented: “With 64 per cent of diners choosing wine over any other beverage to accompany their meal, it’s worrying how prevalent the lack of knowledge is amongst front of house staff.”
She added that staff should be given the “relevant, empowering knowledge” that would allow them to “’own’ their list” to further the business’ objectives.
Clement Robert, group head sommelier and buyer at the three-site London wine bar and restaurant group 28-50, believes that staff can have a considerable impact on wine sales, and that regular training is key.
Speaking to BigHospitality, he said: “We do regular tastings, and training nearly every day. I do expect staff to know the wine, and be able to explain them in no more than one sentence. If a guest asks, ‘What is Sancerre?’, they can say, ‘Sancerre is a crisp white wine from the Loire Valley made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes’, and in one sentence, that’s all the basic information that the guest needs without a long explanation.
“We don’t expect our waiters to know everything about the terroir or the vineyards; if the guest wants to know more, then that is where the sommelier comes in. We at 28-50 obviously want to have a sommelier in every restaurant, but staff on their own can make a big difference in smaller businesses or bars, as long as they’re well-trained and knowledgeable.”
CLEMENT ROBERT’S TOP TIPS FOR STAFF SELLING WINE
- Do tastings often with all staff. Train them to understand the wine and know what they are talking about with customers. Periodic training alongside the menu and dishes will allow staff to appreciate what they are selling.
- Train your staff to summarise each wine or fact in one sentence. This way, if a customer asks, the staff can answer briefly, without getting side tracked into a long explanation. One good sentence can be enough for the customer to decide.
- Don’t advise staff to always upsell wine where it’s not going to work. Keep an eye on what the customer has ordered. If they are asking about a less expensive, less prestigious wine, it’s important not to discourage them by blowing their budget. You always want occasional guests to become regulars so don’t put them off. If someone has ordered a more refined dish, then try to upsell, if they seem interested.
- If you're able, try to have a sommelier on hand for more complicated questions. This will fill in the gaps of the staff knowledge and allow guests to learn more. Staff will likely not know as much as a sommelier, but they can work together to offer good wine advice for all customers.
- You don’t necessarily need a sommelier all the time, but make sure you have a good consultant if not. As long as you have good training in place, staff can make a big difference themselves. A sommelier is necessary for places that want to become very well-known for their wine, but smaller restaurants or businesses are likely to get away with a consultant, as long as they can tailor their advice.