The Trinacria is a symbol of Sicily, but it also looks like a tasting room attendant on a busy day.
Every time I go on a little wine tasting jaunt I notice details. And not just in the wine. I notice when a tasting room attendant makes handling a busy room look as effortless as ballet. I also notice when tasting room attendants drop the ball, fumble and foul like a doomed football game.
Here are some random bits of advice from my forthcoming book, Managing Your Tasting Room.
Smile and greet everyone as they walk in the door. Make eye contact. Always have glasses and tasting lists ready.
If it becomes difficult to keep track of tasters, orders, and requests--just work clockwise. Always start with the person on your left and move to the right. You'll still have to multi-task, but if people have wine in their glass, and they can see that you are moving from guest to guest in an orderly fashion, they're more inclined to be patient. You can also do the "fade out/fade in". Continue answering questions from one couple as you edge gently to the right to pour for the next couple and smile at them.
If someone is really pinning you down with questions, say something like, "That's a really good question. Let me just pour some wine for our other guests and I'll be right back." Finish your circle, and you'll be back to him in no time.
Amazingly, many wineries are not accurately tracking the samples-to-sales ratio. Some have sample ratios as high as 10%, which means they are pouring one bottle for every five sold. A good target ratio is 5-8% ~ one bottle poured for every twenty sold. On slow days, or before a closing day, try to eliminate opening new bottles late in the day. Do NOT try to over-extend the life of an open bottle, even with nitrogen. It shows.
Keep pours large!
I know, it's counter-intuitive. But try to keep pours generous--at least up to the legal limit. That allows customers to accurately evaluate the color, aroma and flavor of your wine. Particularly when switching from one wine to the next, miserly pours just pick up the attributes of the previous wine. Swishing the glass with water between pours will probably hinder more than help, because the surface tension of the water causes it to cling to the glass--which waters down the next pour. If you need to prune your samples-to-sales ratio, that's an issue for management and staff to handle behind the scenes. Don't penalize your customers (and your sales)!
Wholesale Visitors and Requests
Sometimes a visitor will inquire about getting the wine at wholesale pricing. Granted, they may be hoping to do an end-run around a distributor, which is uncool, but it could also be an honest and potentially lucrative inquiry. Unfortunately, if your tasting room staff is uninformed, they may blow off the inquiry as "not my job". Or they may unwittingly sell wine at deep discounts to scam artists and unprincipled retailers. Train your tasting room staff to respect all wholesale requests, to get the necessary information, and how to direct those requests to the appropriate person.
Provide your staff with a list of your main retail and restaurant accounts, and highlight your best accounts. Make it clear that if waitstaff or sales staff from those accounts drop in to visit, they will be accorded an extra level of gracious hospitality.
Walk-in Donation Requests
Wineries are pummeled by requests for donations. Even a small winery can receive hundreds of requests per year. You can start to get a handle on it by politely refusing walkins. Train your staff to instruct fundraisers to send a formal, written request--on the charity's stationery--directly to you.
To take it a step further, keep requests in a 3-ring binder and go over them monthly or quarterly. Aside from the large charity venues that may be beneficial for your winery, and one or two personal choices, how many can you really afford to support?
As a winery owner or tasting manager it is up to YOU to give your staff the information, training and materials they need to do their job smoothly. Even the best, brightest, and most charming employees can only do so much on their own.
Be alert and informed about your tasting room dynamics. Work in the tasting room on busy days. Pay attention to efficiency and flow behind the bar, and also pay attention to the customer experience. What do your customers see/hear/experience when they walk in? Visit other tasting rooms and learn from the best.
At the same time, don't donkey-burden your staff with unnecessary details. Do you really need every visitor's zip code? Are you forcing staff to recite a script instead of teaching them about your wines?
When your tasting room is busy, let your staff focus on hospitality and efficiency!