Wine industry experts offer 10 tips for boosting sales.
By Allison Perlik, Senior Editor
Sommeliers are storytellers and teachers, seeking to share their love and knowledge of wine with customers. Simply selling a bottle of wine is not enough; the idea is to sell the entire experience.
For these reasons, it is not terms such as volume and profits but rather comfort and interaction that stand out among the following tips, where six industry experts share their ideas on how to make the most of wine sales.
1. Power Play
Enable staff to really sell. Provide training to help servers speak knowledgeably about wine lists, and involve them in areas such as planning wine dinners and devising menu pairings to provoke interest and excitement.
Enlighten every single employee, regardless of how ignorant about wine they may seem at first. Thats how they learn, says Doug Frost, a Kansas City, Mo.-based wine writer, lecturer and restaurant consultant. If you dont get all your people involved, you wont get everyone selling wine.
2. Hands On
Invite customers to become involved with wine programs. Let them create their own tastings or help put together a wine event.
At Oceana in New York City, wine director Doug Bernthal leads wine-tasting dinners that allow customers to make their own selections from the seafood restaurants extensive list. Doug Strickland, wine director at ENO in Atlanta, invites the public to tastings with distributors each month in the Mediterranean restaurant and wine bars New Wines to Market program. The restaurant also offers customized wine flights.
3. Show and Tell
Be creative in educational offerings, moving beyond traditional wine tastings and dinners.
We take advantage of every opportunity to teach people how to become more familiar not only with drinking but also working with wine, says Brian Duncan, wine director and partner at Bin 36 in Chicago and Lincolnshire, Ill.
The restaurant/wine bar/market offers demonstrations that show customers how to open wine bottles and how and why to decant wine. Duncan also teaches guests to recognize wine that is corked.
4. Wax Poetic
Use the wine list as a sales tool by writing evocative descriptions to which customers can relate.
I give descriptions using terminology people can understand, and then I try to personify the wine or create a situation that animates the wine, Duncan says. For example, I have a pinot noir I describe as the perfect wine for a first date, with aromas of rose petals and red currants, dusted in chocolate. How can you resist?
Andrew Bradbury, wine director at Aureole in Las Vegas, accomplishes this with eWine book, a wireless, Internet-based wine list developed by the restaurant. Diners can use the handheld high-tech tool like a traditional list or dig deeper for more information. Bradbury also spurs sales by spotlighting one wine in each section, including pictures of the winery and a story about the varietal.
We make our guests feel comfortable about wine, he says. Technology offered a way to give them information to make better decisions, to make things fun.
5. Keep It Simple
Find ways to make customers more comfortable when ordering something new.
At ENO, Strickland includes bin numbers to which customers can refer instead of the wines name. Bin 36 includes pronunciation keys for obscure varietals.
6. Take a Tour
Spotlight varietals indigenous to specific wine-growing regions to educate staff and customers and introduce them to new tastes.
Molyvos, an upscale Greek concept in New York City, regularly reserves one page of its wine list to profile Mediterranean varietals. Wine director John Pardalis, who recently highlighted Slovenia and Macedonia, says the program educates waitstaffwho receive intense, hands-on training for each targeted regionand also appeals to customers. A lot of the wines develop a cult following within the dining room, he says.
7. Off the Shelf
For concepts with a dedicated wine focus, retail wine markets can yield another venue for sales.
Duncan of Bin 36 notes that guests often ask servers to write down names of certain wines so they can purchase them later. The restaurants on-premise wine markets bring the experience full circle.
When customers order wine, I encourage staff to ask if there are favorites. Then the server goes to the market and gets descriptive tags [from those selections] so customers make the connection that the wine is available to them at retail, he says.
8. Play Matchmaker
Keep wine on diners minds by pairing menu items with wine recommendations.
Frost notes that while such a strategy can promote sales, it may add to the intimidation factor if customers believe the recommended wine is the only right choice. Restaurants should make clear that any selection is appropriate.
I suggest one red and one white for every course, Frost says. That sends a message that it doesnt matter, that there are a million ways you can go.
9. Join the Club
Encourage customer involvement and return visits by forming a wine club.
Members of ENOs Barrelman Club receive discounts in the retail shop as well as advance notice of tastings and other events. The restaurant hosts special Barrelman wine dinners, also at a reduced cost for members.
At mk north in Northfield, Ill., benefits of Chef-owner Michael Kornicks wine club include discounts from 20% to 50% on main-list bottles, 40% off retail wine purchases, priority reservations for wine events and wine-of-the-month tastings.
10. Give and Take
Motivate servers to sell by offering something in return.
At Angeli Caff in Los Angeles, wine buyer John Allee recently launched a monthly incentive program in which employees compete to reach goals such as highest average sales per shift or the most sales of a particular bottle. Winners receive wine credits of $50 or $100.
Oceanas Bernthal employs a similar tactic, presenting waitstaff with a bottle of wine if they sell three of a particular variety in a night.