I was conducting a staff training with a group of servers, and I asked them to join in a roll-playing exercise where a manger pretended to be a guest who was looking for help in making a choice of which wine to order.
The "guest" asked the server to make a recommendation on wine pairing for the dish he was panning to order - he wanted something "classic" to have with his selection, and he had the wine list open in front of him. The server thought for a second, leaned over the guest, ran her finger down the page of the wine list and stopped at a certain wine. She then declared that "she-anty" would be a great choice to have with his meal.
What is the problem here? Well. to begin with, this was a server that had worked at that restaurant for nearly 10 years, and over the course of those 10 years, she had not learned the wine list. Had not learned the format of the list, the pricing schemes, and more importantly the selections on the list. There was also a lack of knowledge when it came to wine basics - in this case how to say Chianti, correctly - but also of main grapes, regions, and food and wine basics.
Some of this is of course on the restaurant and their lack of focus on training efforts, but the server had also never really taken any time to learn what was on the menu; there had been a lack of commitment on her part to be fully invested in the job. This had probably worked for her and because regular guests often simply order their regular food and drinks, and she didn't have to do much other than take orders, for the most part.
This only gets you so far, though, and when pressed she had no idea how to make a suggestion that made sense. The guest can read the list can probably read the list as well as she can - and certainly doesn't need a server leaning over them to read the list. And the fact that she could not pronounce a wine's name from the list shows her lack of professionalism.
Here are a few quick Survival Tips to Service for understanding and mastering the wine list in your location:
This may seem like a lot, and there are certainly some service personnel that will not get this involved, but in my experience the best service staff take the time to learn the menus and understand what their restaurant has to offer. Knowing the full spectrum of options to guide a guest decision will go a long way to enhancing your ability to bring a top-level guest experience, which will translate to better gratuities.
ABOUT THE Author
Brian Mitchell runs The New England Wine Academy, and is responsible for the content of this blog. With over 25 years of drinks industry experience, Brian has learned a few things, but everyday he is learning more. This blog helps to bring that knowledge to you.