If there’s one thing that can make or break a tasting room experience, it’s not the wine, it’s the service you receive. I can’t tell you how many bottles of average wine I’ve purchased just because the service was stellar. Or how many tasting rooms I’ve left shaking my head in disbelief at the downright horrible service I received.
I get the sense that you are nodding your head empathetically. And we probably agree that this shouldn’t be such a widely shared experience in our industry. But how do we change that with a cadre of great tasting room staff?
Experts agree: hire “nice” and teach wine.
Last October, I published a blog called “Hire Nice, and Teach Wine,” at our sister site, Capiche.wine, and last month, I saw this principle work beautifully in action. In a time when every single guest to your tasting room is critical to your success, it’s even more important to hire nice, teach wine—AND teach hospitality! Keep reading if you want some tips on using the tasting room experience to fuel your winery’s success.
In the past, we’ve had three levers to pull to increase profits:
- Average order price
- Conversion rate
With tasting room traffic severely impacted by COVID restrictions since March and little sign of recovery soon, we have to focus on two of these levers—increasing average orders and upping the conversion rates. Let’s hear from an expert . . .
Southern Oregonians in the wine industry will be familiar with the name Ava DeRosier. She’s the former long-time director of food and beverage for the Neuman Hotel Group. Throughout her hospitality career, Ava’s probably hired 1,000+ servers and interviewed five times that for wine-related jobs. In her current role as a consultant, she has been working with winery owners to help open new tasting rooms and to retool existing operations, including staff training and candidate searches.
Regarding the “hire nice” concept, I caught up with Ava and discovered what she looks for in a wine ambassador or manager candidate. She said that over time she has learned to look at qualities and potential more than qualifications.
“I used to be more rigid about qualifications when looking at applicants, and now I focus more on qualities—such as integrity, honesty, having a joyful spirit, being self-motivated, and knowing how to care for one’s self,” she says, noting that “working in the service industry can make self-care and living a quality life tricky with its long and often late hours.”
“The path to having great employees is in developing and investing in them,” Ava explains. “The onboarding process is critical, as is identifying strengths and opportunities. As a leader, I want the best for the team. I do my best to show up for them and give them feedback to help them grow. I see each employee as a seed that I can water. I don’t want them to be good, I want them to shine—to be great.”
Ava continues, “I feel that being in service to others is the greatest gift in life—there’s such a simple joy that comes from this. The spirit of hospitality cannot be taught, but wine and other knowledge can be. I look for the service heart—the joy—the integrity—and develop the rest.”
In addition to “hire nice and teach wine,” another tactic is to “hire staff from a variety of generations as people relate better to and like to buy from those who look like them.”
This sage advice comes from industry stalwart Donniella Winchell. Donniella has led the Ohio Wine Producers Association for 41 years and has served on the boards of the Winegrape Growers of America and the WineAmerica State Advisory Panel, among others. She puts out a weekly e-newsletter called “Tuesday Tidbits,” and she recently talked about this concept.
While many of us use retired boomers interested in wine, stay-at-home moms during the school day and teachers during their summer breaks, we may not be thinking of those of-age college kids at a nearby university. The advantages are many:
- They will attract the very desirable X and Z demos to your tasting room
- They can work around a 3- to 4-day class schedule—and likely on weekends
- They are in a learn-as-you-go mode so they will be quick studies
- They will LOVE the bragging rights among their peers: “I work at a WINERY!”
- They are active on social media and will help spread your stories
- They are tech-savvy
- After a few months, you can identify a potential future full-time employee [or not!]
- AND … if you are doing festivals, they can form a core cadre of workers who can lug and tug all of the “stuff” needed for outdoor events.