Monday, March 19, 2012

Wine and You - The Restaurant

Carrying on with a series of ideas on how we interpret the commodity of wine, we have wine and the restaurant. As I said in the consumer-based post, there are a much higher percentage of people that are open to trying something new. Because most people treat dining out as a ‘new experience’ they become more open to the inspirations and suggestions of their fellow diners and service staff.  This gives us the ability to discuss, segue and over all generate conversation over a bottle, or glass, of wine and is an often-utilized tactic with people that you may not know or like. How do I know? Because I’ve used it.

For a restaurant there are many things to consider for their wine service, from staff knowledge and incentive to sell, wine makers dinners and tastings, the actually wine list and wine availability and how it goes together with their menu and atmosphere.

A restaurants service staff is like its front lines. They immediately reflect how much time and care the establishment has put into their wine. You want them trained, in how to serve wine, not just properly but with style, you want them knowledgeable and most importantly you want them to SELL. And I say that with no shame. Wine is a commodity, just as cars, paintings and toilet paper is. So you just gotta sell it.

So how do restaurants sell it? First and foremost you want your staff to know about the wines that you carry. From my personal experience in this side of the industry I know that most of the restaurants that pride themselves on their wine list will do tastings with their staff on all their wines by the glass. They can have different companies, some retailers and some importers, that will come in and train them on wines that they do by the bottle.  I LOVED these events, and quite honestly it’s where I started. I feel that providing staff training is not only good for sales but also very much drives staff moral. ‘Cause who wouldn’t want a glass of wine after work once a week? During these tastings we can also address staff incentive – “ if you sell the most glasses of XYZ wine then you get a free bottle to take home”. Uhhh Score! This is even more motivation for the staff to get out there, get educated and sell it to the patrons.

But how does the specific selling work? Way back when I was a server *insert flash back sequences here* I would often start out by trying to get to know my customer, seeing what they were in the mood for, even if they didn’t know the what they were ordering to eat yet. From there I would make a few suggestions and tell them why.  This is where a lot of food pairing knowledge came in handy. But more often than not it didn’t matter what they were having as long as I knew about the wine. For example (and I don’t mean to step on any toes here) the wines produced by Blasted Church in BC, were super easy to sell because they blew up a church; hence the name. Of course, my selling it was much more then “it got blowed up” but it made for a nifty story. And stories lead to conversation, conversations lead to memorable experiences and now suddenly you have a restaurant that has become a part of an experience. What greater publicity can you ask for?

Now, depending on the restaurant, there may be the possibility of wine makers dinners. This is where a wine maker, or producer actually comes in to the restaurant and host a dinner for 10 – 25 people. Typically the menu is crafted to specifically match the wines that the host represents.  They are an immense amount of fun and incredibly informative. If you ever get the chance to go to one of these – JUMP ON IT. You won’t regret it, I promise.  Typically tickets to these events are all inclusive. As in, they include dinner, drinks and typically as well gratuity.

The most essential item that a restaurant has in selling wine, aside from their staff, is their wine list. Just in case you don’t know what a wine list is lets go to wiki for a definition.

“A wine list is a menu of wine selections for purchase, typically in a restaurant setting. A restaurant may include a list of available wines on its main menu, but usually provides a separate menu just for wines. Wine lists in the form of tasting menus and wines for purchase are also offered by wineries and wine stores.”

Typically a wine list is built by the restaurants’ sommelier but there are some companies that offer this services to places that don’t employ sommeliers. Over all, an effective wine list covers all counties and appellations - within reason - and it accents, highlights and in some cases, compensates for their food menu. For example, if there is a lot of red meat on the menu, then you wont see a lot of white wine on the list. If there is a lot of spicy food, then you’re going to see a higher proportion of sweet wines on the list.
The retailer(s) the restaurants buy their wine from and also the availability to get the wines in the province (or state) can limit a wine list. However, a good wine list will have enough selection to compensate in the event of a shortage, or it should be updated to include wines that they can get. Over all a wine list is can be viewed like the restaurants resume of wines.

In general for what a wine is to a restaurant is still a commodity, but just like a painting it needs to fit with is surrounds and accent the decorum. A lot of time and preparation goes into the training of the people who sell and serve it, its availability to be sold and the way it interacts with the other components of the diners’ experience. Finely picked and cared for it can truly make a great restaurant exceptional.


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