Let’s say you’ve just listed a new wine, which you got at a nice price and with a promise of some exclusivity (so it’s not going on every list for ten square blocks or miles). And even better, you’re getting a pouring discount to promote it by the glass. All is well, except the wine’s not well known. Your customers are going to ask questions, and how you staff answer them will determine whether it’s going to sell gangbusters or not at all. So you figure you’d better give them some tasting notes. Think again. It will be a waste of time.
We were recently involved with a high-end restaurant that listed Dveri Pax. A Slovenian pinot gris. It’s a complex wine and tasting notes could have gone into all manner of complex details on flavor, profile, texture and mouthfeel that’s typically associated with this style of wine.
Instead, we recommended that the staff describe the wine (absolutely accurately) as “midway between a traditional Alsatian gris and Italian grigio.” Most likely, customers will respond well, whether they knew those styles or not because they feel they’re getting the best of both worlds. “Midway” reassures them the wine’s not right out there on the taste fringes. As a result, sales go through the roof, by the glass and the bottle. Customer goodwill is also up, with the added bonus of word of mouth hype about the restaurant’s “exotic” wine selection that’s “so well priced.”
Tasting notes don’t work.
Ok, they might work for you, because you can carry it off, and you know enough to read between the lines of this reviewer’s biases, or that company’s exaggerated claims. But as for your staff, no one, especially not a novice, feels comfortable using terms they’d battle to explain. And when they use tasting notes, it typically comes across as stilted and unconvincing. Your staff should never have to pretend to know more than they do.
Informative sound bites, or “wine bites,” if you like, are the answer for your floor staff. They allow even the most inexperienced to sell wine like experts. Let’s say you list a Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Instead of describing this as Sicily’s only DOCG, and a blend of Nero D’Avola and Frappato, have your staff tell customers it’s “a Sicilian treat for a Burgundy lover” and see what happens.
You’ve got a range of pinots? Let your staff know which is the “meaty” pinot, the “elegant” pinot, the “pretty” pinot, which one has “new world fruit with old world savory flavors.” Pinot customers know what they want, and this gives them all they need to know.
“Wine bites” are just a start, but they’re an easy start and instantly profitable.
Once your people feel confident in this technique, there’s a lot more you can do, like extending the wine bites approach to other high margin beverages—aperitifs, cocktails, liqueurs and fine spirits. A confident service team can quickly respond when customers are more responsive to beverage suggestions and food and wine pairings. These actions don’t require expertise, just an easily learned technique. And they make customers feel up-serviced rather than up-sold, which leads to higher table spend and greater loyalty.
Wine bites work.
Evan Mitchell and Brian Mitchell are specialist consumer products consultants. They have written two books on wine — the latest a hardcover publication The Psychology of Wine. Their current projects include a book on dining, and an eBook for floor staff and sommeliers, titled: You don’t need to be a wine expert — to sell wine expertly. They can be reached at: [email protected]