Wine service can be intimidating for customers and staff. But proper staff training can instill confidence so that servers can put guests at ease and help them select a wine to enhance their dining experience. We caught up with consultant Laurie Forster, a.k.a. The Wine Coach, during the Sun Winefest at the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, CT, for some advice on wine training.
For starters, you should aim to make wine education fun and approachable. Unlike many Europeans who grow up with wine as part of everyday life and culture, “people in the U.S. often feel a little insecure about wine,” Forster says.
Conventional training doesn’t help when it either makes wine overly complicated or dumbs it down too much, she notes. It’s important to “turn the attitude off.”
Begin with the basics and provide a foundation that you can build on, Forster advises, and use analogies to illustrate concepts. For instance, when discussing the body or viscosity of wines, try comparing them to skim milk vs. whole milk vs. half and half, and use citrus fruit flavors to describe levels of acidity, and so on.
“Tasting is super important” in training, Forster says. If you want staffers to be able to sell the wines, make sure they’ve had the opportunity to taste them and understand the nuances. You can ask your distributor for some sample bottles for staff tastings; the vendor might even lead a tasting or educational session for you.
Provide basic pairing guidelines, such as matching the weight of the dish to the weight of the wine. Staffers should understand that how a dish is prepared—especially chicken and fish—makes a big difference in the wine pairing, Forster says.
Finally, be consistent and reinforce the wine training with regular reviews, quizzes and contest. Interactive exercises such as role-playing—with another server acting as the customer—are great for teaching and building confidence, Forster says.
Such exercises enable servers to practice opening and pouring wine, Forster notes. Role-playing with a coworker helps prepare staff for what to do in different scenarios, from broken corks to dealing with a guest who doesn’t like the wine.
For more on wine training, see 7 Tips to Teach Your Staff About Wine.