5 Tips for Helping Your Average Server Sell More Wine

According to a study done by Technomic, Inc. who surveyed over 150 customers who order wine in restaurants, “Only 40% of customers surveyed reported that their server, sommelier, or bartender made recommendations, but almost all of them took the recommendation into consideration; with most thinking the person doing the recommending was helpful.”

Regions from all over the world are making and exporting wine, making it an exciting time to be curating wine lists. Factor in that diners are also more open to trying and discovering new wine and you have a perfect opportunity to make more money on wine sales. Investing in your staff always yields a high return, and with profit margins higher in alcohol sales, it’s critical to your bottom line. Simply put, the more your staff knows about the wine list, the better they can sell it. Thankfully, learning about the wine list is a lot of fun.

Here are 5 tips for helping your average server sell more wine:

Host Tastings

Hands down, the best way to teach someone about wine is to have them taste it and talk about it. A tasting of wine from the wine list should be part of the new hire orientation training, and also an ongoing activity for all employees. Do tastings in small groups and encourage everyone to talk about what they’re seeing, smelling, and tasting. Rather than overwhelm their palates, do frequent, focused tastings, such as Sauvignon Blanc on one day, and Chardonnay on another. Keep these fun and interactive, no two palates are the same, and your servers will learn a lot from each other.

Focus on the Basics

Learning about wine can be overwhelming, and sometimes feel like a geography class. Wines are being produced around the world, from all different kinds of grapes. Rather than creating anxiety about having to know everything about everywhere, let your wine list dictate the learning. Focus on the most popular varietals and what they are broadly known as around the world. For example, your servers don’t need to know the details about each different producer or vintage of Chablis, but they should know that Chablis is made from Chardonnay.  

Think Broadly

Unless you have a very small wine list, it’s unrealistic to expect your servers to memorize tasting notes on every bottle. Instead, train them on larger categories. Work with your wine director to come up with categories that cover your whole wine list, such as Bold & Fruity, Bright & Crisp, and Rich & Earthy and pour examples of wine with these characteristics. Also, work backwards and pour tastes and ask your staff which category they belong to. This is especially helpful in keeping up with a wine list that may change frequently.  

Pairing Suggestions

When serving wine in a restaurant, the role of the wine is to compliment the meal. Your menu should be the guide when curating your wine list, and servers should have a suggestion for each dish. Working with the broad categories you’ve trained them on, guide your staff on suggestions for types of dishes, such as a Bright & Crisp white would work well with seafood, or a Rich & Earthy red would pair with charred meats. They can use this knowledge, along with the preferences of the guest, to help them suggest an appropriate bottle for that person.

Sell the Story

Each bottle of wine is its own unique character. Somewhere in the world, vineyards are planted in a very particular spot of earth and cared for by real people. Passionate winemakers are working to bottle wines meant to be enjoyed with family and friends. Wine can be romanticized and your diners crave that connection. Don’t just recite detailed tasting notes, know the story of the wine and use that to sell the bottle. If you know this single vineyard wine was named after the winemaker’s daughter, include that detail when making the suggestion.  

Thankfully, gone are the days when wine drinking was considered snobbish and exclusive. As more wine has been imported into the US, wine consumption has gone up and affordable options have too. Your restaurant can’t afford to miss out on this new enthusiasm. Cheers!

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Writer Bio: Kristin Crane is a writer and designer living in Providence, Rhode Island. She works with small businesses to help them promote themselves in various industries including food, wine, and the arts. She also contributes as Travel Editor to The Lady Project blog.