- Posted by Danielle Gillespie
In talking with various friends, of both the on-line and real-life variety, I have been having a recurring conversation about the process of ordering or purchasing wine. Why do some people break out in cold sweats when issued the job of buying wine and specifically, what do people dislike most about the selection process? Overwhelmingly the answer is: there is not enough information!
Here is a direct quote from an on-line wine friend; “I’m often disappointed when servers fake their knowledge of a specific wine. Many times I’ve talked to waiters who have no clue what the wine I’m asking about is really like. They wander into some vague and often incorrect “wine speak” description of the flavor profile. Much like understanding what specifically is in a dish, don’t lie or make it up. If you don’t know, say so, and ask someone at the restaurant who does know. I’d much rather have a server tell me they don’t know than make a blind recommendation about a wine they know nothing about.”
This response is a common theme among all consumers ranging from novice to connoisseur. As a wine enthusiast, I can determine almost immediately if the server knows what he or she is talking about when selling me a bottle of wine. The most revealing tell, and the response that bristles me most, is the accusatory point at a bottle on the menu accompanied by the answer, “that one is popular”. Oh…well…by all means, sign me up for that one then! Hardly. That kind of response is not at all empowering to any consumer.
Once I discover a faker, I quickly ask for the wine manager, sommelier, or anyone who knows anything about the wine list. The problem is that I then feel guilty; as if it is my responsibility to let all the other, less knowledgeable, diners know what I have discovered. I imagine that I should lean over, in a conspiratorial way and say, “psst, hey, this server knows nothing about wine. If you want to order wine you might not be thrilled with your selection.”
Surprisingly, I have been in more than one situation where the server refuses to bring a more knowledgeable staff member to my table. Perhaps this is an ego move or possibly, there is nobody on premise that knows about the wines but, frankly, I would rather have a server tell me that there is no help available than try to fake their way through the sale. Without any information about the wines on the list I usually skip the wine (or buy a conservative bottle), I often do not return to the restaurant and I never recommend the restaurant to my friends or in on-line forums. None of these outcomes are good for a restaurant’s bottom line.
Interestingly, the latest Wine Market Council’s report for 2013 finds that 70% of high-end wine buyers say reviews are very important for purchase decisions. High-end wine drinkers are consumers who are willing to pay more than $20 for a bottle of wine and are responsible for a staggering 90% of all wine purchases over $20. The Wine Market Council concluded that the wine industry should focus on this group of wine drinkers in 2014; and, conditions for increasing sales are favorable because the number of people who drink wine several times per week (or daily) is on the rise.
So, it would appear that when more information about a wine is provided, customers tend to up-sell themselves. How can you take advantage of this information? There are a few options.
- You can spend more time training your servers on the information about each and every wine on your list. This can be challenging with staff turnover and the success of this strategy relies on each of your server’s ability to absorb and remember the appropriate information about your wines.
- Another option is to maintain a hard-copy notebook of descriptions about wines that a server can consult when required. Unfortunately this can be inefficient during high traffic times because the server must take time away from other guests to consult the notebook, find the wine details (which may be difficult to search if the pages are not ordered) and deliver the information back to the guest. If there is a second round of questions, the server’s time will again be required to scare up more information about the wine. When the wine details are not readily available, the effect on your operations will be evident.
- The optimal solution: find a digital interactive wine menu to use at your restaurant or retail store. An iPad-based wine menu app is a perfect way to include reviews and tasting notes that would be impractical to include on a paper menu. Customers can search for wines quickly and have detailed information about each wine on your list. The server can guide the search in a meaningful way that is relevant to the customer’s taste.
By building a wine list that your customer trusts and is rich with detail, you will encourage your guests to try a wider variety of wines. But, more importantly, you will be establishing a long term and loyal relationship with your guests leading to repeat customers and word-of-mouth referrals.