Deliver Great Wines with These 3 Questions in your Restaurant

Your customers know that wines can be scary, but do you know how to soothe their wine woes? At Uncorkd, we know how stressful it can be to order an unknown bottle of wine in a restaurant. In fact, that’s why Uncorkd was started—because purchasing a bottle of wine at a restaurant used to be a somewhat daunting scenario. Truthfully though, with the right pitch and the right questions, you can inspire your customers to order those higher priced items off your wine menu. Here are the three questions your servers must always ask every customer as they peruse your wine list. 

1. “Are you a professional sommelier?” 

This question, in its light and bantering tone, allows your guests to admit that they don’t know so much about wine—without sounding like idiots. You know and I know that one can ever really understand everything about the wine world (unless you’re a master somm), but when you ask your guests if they’re professional sommeliers, or some variation of, they have the freedom to save face by saying something like “No, I certainly don’t know that much about wines.” (Subtext: “No, but I’m going to sniff the cork as if that means something. Beware!”).

Chances are that when you ask this, your diners may also say something like “Huh?” (Subtext: “Recommend that I try a Muscato or a Riesling, please.”) No matter your guests’ answers, your servers will get a lot more information from this question than it would seem… and if your guest actually is a professional somm, your servers can back out of those important wine decisions gracefully.

Tip: If you train your servers to follow up this question with a confession about a wine gaffe that they made in the past, it will set even your least knowledgeable guests at ease. Remember, your customers think that wine drinking is an insider’s club, and they’ll be nervous to let on that they don’t know enough to be in the club. If your wine “expert” admits to a lack of knowledge, everyone at the table will feel better. 

2. “What wine did you have recently that you liked?” 

Once your servers know your guests’ level of wine knowledge, it’s important for them to establish what they should recommend. The answers that your guests offer in response to this question can also be very telling. If a table says “I really liked this sangria I had last week. It was called, um, Carlo Rossi or something?” your servers will know that they should recommend a really sweet wine (which are all the rage right now).

If a table says they figured they should have a white “because they’re eating chicken,” your server will know to make some surprising wine pairing recommendations.

On the other hand, if a table starts verifying the vintage and talking about grape growing conditions in Lodi for that year… well, your server knows they should just deliver the wine to the table and open it carefully.

Tip: To put your guests at ease, make sure that your server casually mentions that everyone has specific tastes about wine, just like with food. This will open the doors for your less knowledgeable patrons to admit that they don’t like reds (or whatever), which will help your server make the right recommendation. 

3. “Are you celebrating a special occasion?” 

This tells your server the price range that they should consider when they’re making their recommendations, and it also informs them about the proper sales pitch to make. When people are celebrating something special, they are more than happy to share that information, and special occasions call for a special treat of higher-priced wine. If your guests are celebrating, instruct your server to follow up their announcement with a special gift from the restaurant: a shot of Amaretto, a free dessert, a taster appetizer, etc.

Tip: To sell a higher priced bottle for a special event, train your servers to offer reasonable discounts to your guests. If your guests are celebrating their seventh wedding anniversary, you can tell your server to take $7.00 off the bottle price, or to offer a 7% discount on two glasses. Personalized recognition from your staff will increase the likelihood that those customers will become regulars, and then everyone wins. 

It all comes down to your approach

No matter what knowledge or comfort level your customers arrive with, the amount of wine that you sell depends on how you approach each and every customer. If your servers make sure to ask about your guests’ knowledge levels, their preferences, and if they’re celebrating something special, you can be assured that every table will receive a personalized recommendation—and that will make them more likely to return to your restaurant again and again.