November 8, 2012
By offering privileged, insider information to customers, you are sharing unique knowledge. Examples include: ways to avoid long lines at Disney World, routes to circumvent construction delays on I-25, how to nab theater tickets for half-price, a nearby jogging trail offering spectacular views, or the independent Italian restaurant preferred by locals.
Eldon Larson, owner of Wine Experience Café in Aurora, Colorado, offers insider information that demystifies the wine ordering experience, enabling servers to confidently offer wine suggestions to their guests.
According to Larson,
“It’s not uncommon for servers who are new to fine dining to have limited experience with wine and to be intimidated by the many varietals and guidelines for offering food and wine pairing suggestions. Being that the varietals’ origins are in France, I use a map of the country to introduce less-experienced staff to the regions that produce these wines. From there, I make connections to other countries that produce wine using similar grapes. And by offering tastes of varietals from different countries, servers can note these distinctions in their tasting notes.”
He then goes on to propose a map-based system to support less-experienced staff in assisting their guests with wine selections while providing unique knowledge about wine varietals. Regardless of whether you are the waiter taking the order or the guest placing it, you can benefit from Larson’s approach:
“We always start with white wines and move to red wines. Beginning with the Loire Valley region that produces Sauvignon Blanc then moving to the Alsace region that produces Riesling and Pinot Gris. From there, we progress to the Burgundy region and explore Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Next is the Bordeaux region where servers-in-training are exposed to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec, before concluding with Rhone Valley Grenache and Syrah grapes.
Since guests are interested in wines from all over the world, it’s important to expand from the map of France to include different countries. We do this by associating the French varietals with wines produced elsewhere. For instance, Sauvignon Blanc (originating in the Loire Valley region) is also produced in the United States and New Zealand. And Chardonnay (originating in the Burgundy region) is also made in the United States, Australia, and South Africa.”
Throughout their exposure to the wines, trainees are encouraged to put into words what they are nosing and tasting. This will help them to articulate to restaurant guests the difference between a dry French Riesling and a sweet German Riesling or an airy French Pinot Noir and a darker, richer Oregon Pinot Noir.
Once servers are comfortable with the French origins of the varietals, have knowledge of other countries producing wine using similar grapes, and can articulate their nosing and tasting sensations with varietals from different parts of the world, Larson expands servers’ wine knowledge by introducing basic food and wine pairings and terroir, a French term that translates to earth, or soil. Servers’ knowledge of terroir enables them to recognize subtle distinctions between wines of the same varietal based on the soil, climate, and weather that produced the grapes used to make the wine. This adds another layer of unique knowledge to their arsenals.
Although Larson’s formal wine training takes about 90 days for servers to complete, by using a simple map of France depicting each of its wine regions, from the start they are equipped to make informed wine recommendations that aid in getting wine on the table. And sharing the map-based system with restaurant guests as a “peek behind the curtain” is much more memorable than parroting the tired mnemonic, “red wine with red meat, white wine with fish and chicken.”
While customers appreciate nice employees, they value knowledgeable employees. And the more unique knowledge employees possess, the more value they add to the customer experience.
Illustration: Aaron McKissen