Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Uncork your waitstaff -- teach 'em to drink!

Alder Yarrow at Vinography, who recently won a "best drinks blog" award, registers a strong if artful complaint about how terrible waiters are with wine:
I continually run across waitstaff who are seriously clueless about wine ... I mean so clueless that, when the Pinot Noir poured by the glass is sold out, they suggest a Zinfandel because "it's similar." I mean so clueless as to not know how to pour wine into a decanter (hint: turning the bottle upside down vertically and sticking it into the neck of the decanter is NOT the right way). I mean so clueless that they've never even tasted any of the wines on the by-the-glass list.
Alder says that you, restaurateur, should get your waitstaff drunk -- or, "train" them, whatever -- because the more they know, the more money they can make you.

He points to a Cornell study that found a restaurant grew wine sales 39 percent over its nearby chain-sibling by recommending to customers five specific wines.

This reminded me of my recent coverage of Bay Area-based Bacchus Restaurant Group (free link), which runs Village Pub in Woodside and Pizza Antica in Santana Row, Lafayette and Mill Valley, and which is opening two new restaurants in SF.

The company invests heavily in training staff in wine:

He requires managers at all four Bacchus-operated restaurants to obtain a first-level certification from the British Court of Master Sommeliers, and pays for waiters to do the same. The costs run to close to $2,000 per employee, but the expertise translates into lower staff turnover and higher wine sales.

For example, roughly 40 percent of wine sales at Bacchus' three Pizza Antica restaurants come in the form of bottles rather than glasses, versus perhaps 1 percent at most pizza parlors, Stannard estimates.

Bottom line is you have to be willing to make an investment in staff to get the payoff in wine sales, according to this thinking. So if Bacchus is anything to go by, Alder is on to something.

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