We talk to dozens of restaurants every day and they often tell us one of their top challenges is training their wait staff. And training staff on the wine list and beverage program can be extra difficult because there can be a lot of items, many details to know and it changes all the time. There’s a few core things you want your wait staff to know about your beverage program:
- What’s actually on the menu or what you have in stock
- What drinks pair with dishes on your menu
- How to talk intelligently about the beverages with your customers
- How to serve drinks to customers
Given the challenges with keeping staff well informed, here’s a list of ways to consider training your wait staff to increase their wine and beverage knowledge.
- Wine Tastings
Holding regular tastings with your staff is a great way to increase their wine knowledge while allowing them to taste what’s actually on your menu. Make sure you cover the profile of the wine as well as what it pairs with on your menu. Consider having each staff member fill out a tasting sheet while tasting the wine. Want someone to lead your staff tastings, ask your distributor or supplier rep if they want to lead a tasting on some of their products.
- Required Reading
There are some great wine books and resources out there that may help your staff more than you may ever be able to. Consider assigning some reading. We recommend Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course.
- Food and Wine Pairings
One of the most important skills your servers need to be armed with is pairing wine or other drinks with dishes on your menu. It will lead to a more enjoyable experience if your staff can assist staff with the perfect drink. Consider holding wine and food pairing training sessions just for staff. Explain not only what pairs with each dish, but why.
- Study Tasting Notes
Having descriptions or tasting notes available for wines, beers and spirits on your menu can make it easy for staff (or customers) to learn more and choose the perfect drink for the occasion. If not on the menu, make them available for staff to read on their down time. This is especially helpful for getting staff up to speed on new menu items.
- Review New Menu Items
At many restaurants, new beverage items are rotated on the menu frequently, whether new beer drafts, changing wine vintages or seasonal cocktails. Make sure your staff is not only aware of the changes, but knowledgeable on the new selections. Cover new menu items consistently in pre-shift meetings and reiterate at your regular staff meetings, whether they’re held weekly, bi-weekly or monthly.
- Get Assistance from Suppliers
One place you can turn for assistance is your distributors and the suppliers. They want to promote their products and would often be happy to help train your staff and get more time in the restaurant. Consider inviting them in to do tastings with your staff or to provide additional knowledge on their specialties. For example, if there’s a French wine importer, have them come in to discuss French wine for 20 minutes at your next meeting.
- Quiz Your Staff
Training has to be consistent and your staff has to understand the menu and be ready to answer any questions. Do some role playing and be sure to quiz your wait staff on your menu, food pairings, general knowledge and service standards. Practicing and reviewing the material is key.
Having a world-class wait staff in your restaurant takes time and a lot of effort. And when you think you finally have it down, your menu your change and your staff will turn over. The best way to keep high standards and consistency is to make training activities a regular activity, not a random event. Instill beverage training into your regular meetings your staff will be better armed to delight your guests and make more money.
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