A super simple restaurant wine training hack

The upended labor market due to the pandemic is making for stressful times to be a restaurant owner.

Trying to find qualified labor, good and communicative people to work the front of the house, is more difficult than ever. This leads to hiring people that might not have been hired before, with less knowledge and experience than pre-pandemic hires.

And this is especially true for the (lack of) wine knowledge they may possess. 

How to train the new young employee about Pinot Noir vs. Barbera? About New Zealand vs. Loire? About how to pronounce Viognier?

You could go one-on-one, spending a few hours popping corks and hoping for the best. (Rarely works.)

You could get your sales reps involved and hope you don’t burn out the relationship by asking too many favors. (Hint: this will bite you in the end … a sales rep’s job is not to train your new hires every week. Their time is far more valuable selling wine to their accounts.)

You could hand the new hire a copy of “Wine For Dummies” (which is a great book BTW) and tell them to read it. (A good idea no matter what, and worthwhile to add into the hiring package on day one.)

Or you can use a simple wine training hack.

Here’s what you do: shift the weekly inventory count of wine from a manager’s role to two other people: one of your best wine people or bartenders, and the new hire.

The new hire is in charge of calling out the name of the wine being counted.

The knowledgeable employee is in charge of telling them a little bit about some of the bottles as they go along.

This builds a relationship. This makes the handling of the wine physical (as the new hire grabs bottles to call out). This brings a heightened role to a long-time server or bartender (which should be compensated as such … a free bottle of wine every week is a start). It also opens up time for a manager to focus more on what she needs to.

Instantly the new hire will learn more. And the next time they help with inventory they will learn more still. And one or two years from now, maybe they will be leading the inventory with a new hire.

I’ve seen this literally pay off in one day. Watching a new hire learn about a Paso Robles zinfandel in the morning during inventory, then confidently sell the bottle to a table that afternoon, with some neat stories and information they got from their experienced co-worker. It was beautiful.