A Server's Perspective:
Don't let your pride get in the way
By Jorge Eduardo Castillo
How many times have you gone to a restaurant, asked about a bottle of wine, and received an answer that showed only that the server or bartender had no idea what he was talking about or was simply using empty, attractive adjectives to get you to buy?
This probably happens more often than you would like. Let's talk today about restaurant service, encouraging restaurant employees to consult their sommelier or the restaurant's wine expert if they get a question that they can't surely answer.
Think about it: If you were a car salesman, would you make up something about a car to a customer rather than check your facts first? Okay, maybe car salesman is a bad example due to their reputed propensity to "bend" the truth, but you see where I'm going with this. The ultimate goal is the same for every restaurant server: Happy customers and big tips.
Well, why would you jeopardize this because you seem unknowledgeable or even worse, untrustworthy? Don't you think your customers would rather have accurate answers than a server who they think knows everything? I learned this lesson many years ago when I waited on a gentleman who asked whether a particular Riesling was sweet or dry. Not wanting to be seen as incompetent, I answered that it was "a little sweet." Well, let me tell you that this bottle was the dictionary definition of bone-dry, and the gentleman let me know what he thought of my information, and the gratuity he left demonstrated his frustration as well.
It would have taken me only 30 seconds to go up to our sommelier and ask a simple question, but instead I chose to create an answer off the top of my head that ended up being dead wrong. To this day, I refuse to offer guesses or information that I am not 100% sure about, and it has made my life a lot easier.
For those of you out there alone, without a trained sommelier or resident wine expert at your disposal, the bottom line here is don't bluff it. You are going to have to become an expert on your selections and list if you want your customers to take you seriously as a salesperson and wine aficionado.
You have to do your homework here, but the good news is that there is wealth of resources at your fingertips. You are already at WineLoversPage.com, so like me, you use the Internet to learn about wine. Extend that to wineries, producers, vintages, varietals and use the Web as your own personal sommelier.
It may take a little more time, but I promise it will pay off tableside. For those of you who get wine periodicals and magazines, view them as your Consumer Reports of wine. What should you be drinking now, cellaring and avoiding? Learn this information and use it tableside. Again, I am confident your knowledge will yield higher check averages, higher gratuities and perhaps most importantly, repeat guests.
Just remember, there is nothing wrong with saying to your tables, "Let me go consult with the sommelier." Many customers will love you for it because they appreciate a server who is willing to put the needs of the guest at the top of the priority list.
Similarly, it is also perfectly acceptable, as a customer, to request that the server send over a sommelier or wine expert if you feel the information you are receiving may be inaccurate or you are looking for a more in-depth explanation. It is, after all, your money and you have every right to get all the information you want before making a purchase.
As wine enthusiasts, we all recognize the importance and value of selecting the right bottle for the right occasion, meal or price point. Let us then also recognize we may need help to get this done- whether its from our sommelier, wine expert or the Internet. Your customers will thank you for ALL of the help and resources you can provide.
Jorge Eduardo Castillo is a representative of Vino 101, which provides on-line server wine training. Visit www.vino101.com for more details.