EXECUTING A SUCCESSFUL BEVERAGE PROGRAM DEMANDS FANCY FOOTWORK AND POWERFUL FOLLOW-THROUGH
It takes a lot of work to develop and implement a winning beverage program. From market research to drink development and beverage mix, menu design to glassware selection, you have your hands full readying the bar for its patrons.
But even then, you’re not quite there. At the point you’ve set all the pins, it’s up to your front-line staff — your servers and bartenders — to knock ’em down. In other words, there’s a big difference between implementation and execution.
Optimum success requires a one-two punch. First is product-knowledge training. Without it, your wait staff will get stuck in order-taking mode, unable to make recommendations or field questions with any confidence or expertise. The second component is sales training, which encompasses not only technique, but also requisite skills in the proper service of guests.
How you go about teaching product knowledge and salesmanship is up to you. Perhaps you could call on your bar manager, veteran servers and bartenders or even your liquor purveyors to impart wisdom to the ranks. It’s also important to formalize a training regimen, using a combination of role-playing, shadow shifts and well-designed training materials to shape the sales and service behavior you want in action on the dining-room floor. My own company, Pencom International, has been a leading provider of foodservice training solutions for more than a decade. Whatever you decide to do, the key is to do it.
IS IT WORTH ALL THE TROUBLE?
Turnover, the plague of the industry, has prompted many operations to curtail their training efforts. After all, with employees coming and going at an alarming rate, it’s tempting to question the time and money spent on gearing up the soon-departed.
Don’t throw in the towel just yet. Stan Novack, vp of concept development, HMS Host, quoted some interesting research in a recent presentation in Las Vegas: 60% of customers decide what to drink after their arrival, and only 44% of men and 25% of women specify brands when ordering a cocktail.
These statistics highlight the tremendous revenue potential out there if servers and bartenders are trained to execute within the beverage program you’ve implemented. If, for example, 60% of your own arriving guests don’t know at first what they want to drink, your wait staff will have ample opportunity to employ product knowledge and pinpoint salesmanship to promote your most popular and profitable beverages.
Consider, too, the flip side of brand preferences among the sexes. Apparently, there’s a probability of interesting 56% of men and 75% of women in premium brands instead of lower-shelf offerings.
And why not? Better product makes for better drinks, enhancing the dining and drinking experience and improves your waitstaff’s tips. In the process, guests may even develop an appreciation for a particular brand and specify it in the future.
OKAY, NOW WHAT?
Keep your beverage training as simple as possible, taking into account the characteristics and associated demands of your operation. Ask yourself: What information is “need to know” and what is “nice to know?” Focus your initial training on “need” and save “nice” for your ongoing training.
For instance, the average server working in a casual-dining restaurant may need to know only a couple of premium brands in each liquor category. Upscale operations that carry a lot of super-premiums, on the other hand, may have to insist on a broader mastery of the back-bar, including flavor profiles, places of origin and other specifics of interest to discriminating guests.
The more training required to establish command of product knowledge, the more formats you should incorporate into your regimen. Try periodic beer, wine and spirits tastings, targeted instruction during daily pre-shift meetings and more elaborate training at monthly or quarterly sales meetings.
Get your staff directly involved in the learning process. To that end, role-playing is the best method to go live with sales and service behaviors without the pressure of real guests looking on. You can orchestrate full-blown simulations at your sales meetings, directing servers and bartenders to take turns waiting on other staff pretending to be guests. This is a comfortable environment to practice product knowledge and desired wait-staff skills.
At pre-shift meetings, you can play a few rounds of “I Say, You Say.” Simply create a scenario that forces a server to describe how they would react in real life. It could go like this: “Tom, I’m a customer and I say, ‘I’ll have a gin and tonic.’ What would you say?” Tom’s reply should be something like: “Would you like Tanqueray or Beefeater?”
It’s that simple. You can use this exercise to support beverage or food promotions, or as a general exercise on suggestive selling.
If you opt to use sales reps to provide samples and conduct tastings, be sure to define what you expect out of the training session, what you want them to do and how you want them to do it. Don’t settle for only a tasting. The goal is to set up your reps to succeed. Otherwise, you’re wasting time and training dollars.
Last but not least, don’t forget recognition and rewards to motivate top performances. Use daily pre-shift meetings to praise the best salesmanship from the previous day and update the standings of any sales contests you may be running. Use regular sales meetings to recognize and reward top performers and contest winners.
Remember, too, that a pat on the back for a job well done can often be appreciated as much as incentives.
Bill Asbury, President and CEO of Pencom International, welcomes your questions and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Pencom’s products and services, call 800-247-8514 or visit www.pencominternational.com.
WHAT’S TOO MUCH?
The balancing act between how much you can teach and how much an employee can effectively learn in a given amount of time is key to the success of your tra ining regimen. To find the balance, establish a minimum level of acceptable performance for each job as a benchmark. As you list specific tasks of each job and the training needed to support them, it’s vital to determine relative importance.
Ask yourself: “Is this task truly important to making the new hire competent?” Consider the task in terms of associated costs, including the cost of scaring away new hires after overloading them with too much information. Pare down the tasks to the essentials.
Knowing how much to teach early can be just as important as what to teach. If your training ends up encouraging turnover, you’ll lose twice: when your training dollars slip out the door with the departing employees and when management dollars follow suit as you sit down at the recruiting table, scheduling interviews, finding replacements and starting the process all over again.
Protect yourself. Train for the need-to-know situations first. You can take care of the nice-to-know in due time.