Teach wait staff only what they need to know to sell wine

When it comes to training restaurant staff, it is imperative to teach them only what they can use at the table, and keep it simple!


Here are tips for conducting a successful, effective wait staff training:



Be prepared


·        Do you have a copy of wine list?

·        Do you have a copy of their food menu?

·        Do you need samples?

·        Do you have some sort of outline (keep in mind that if they write things down, they’ll remember those things)       


Don’t teach over their heads


…or you are SURE to lose them!


Don’t dwell on stuff they don’t need to know


Since a customer is VERY unlikely to ask, “Can you tell me at what brix this Chardonnay was picked?” don’t bother mentioning it! What a customer WILL likely ask is something like, “What is going to go well with my steak?”


Be entertaining!


In training, as in all education, is 20% knowledge and 80% floor show!


Have a ready answer for THE most-frequently-asked question


That question is: “My customers ask me what our driest Chardonnay is. Which one should I pick for them?”


Best answer: “Pick one”, then explain that the majority of customers haven’t a CLUE what “dry” is. In fact, ALL Chardonnays on any wine list are dry, insomuch as they are drier than Coke or milk. Additionally, individual perception of sweet and dry varies from person to person, so your server’s opinion of dry won’t necessarily coincide with a customer’s opinion of dry, anyway.


So, when a customer asks that question, instruct the server to just pick a Chardonnay on a whim, and say, “You’ll love this one…” (Be sure it’s one of ours!)


Follow this rule of thumb


KISS: Keep it simple, stupid! Wine is a difficult-enough and intimidating topic to understand. The simpler you make it, the better they’ll understand it!



Flatter the staff


Tell them they know more about food and wine pairing than most Americans – it happens to be true! Then challenge them: Pick two wines (one red, one white) and sell ONLY those two wines on a shift. Then, on the next shift, pick two others. And, so on … until everyone gets comfortable with the whole list!


Proposed wine list for staff training


Universal wines (wines go with just about everything):


·        Sparkling wine (Ruffino Prosecco)

·        Riesling (Blufeld)


Great wine varieties to taste and pair:


·        Pinot Grigio (Ruffino Lumina, Estancia)

·        Pinot Noir (Wild Horse, Clos du Bois)

·        Syrah/Zinfandel (Ravenswood)

·        Dessert wine (Inniskillin, Jackson Triggs)


Tim Hirota is a veteran sales professional at Southern Wine & Spirits of Southern California. Wait staff training is currently among his primary responsibilities.

Comment on this blog: Do you agree with Tim that selecting any Chardonnay will do, when a customer requests a “dry” one?



Comments (2) -

Ronald  Estrada
United States Ronald Estrada

When a customer ask for a dry chardonnay not any will do because you can taste if its stanless steel or oak most coastal chardonnys taste lots of fruit napa sonoma with oak taste a lot different so be careful.

United States timhirotawinegeek

Thanks for your comments, Ronald. You are, of course, correct, but keep in mind that 'dry' to you isn't the same as 'dry' to me. Delving into the subtleties of this very complex topic, when teaching a wait staff (unless they are already deeply knowledgeable on wine) will result in one thing: loss of interest.

Remember: If you confuse them, you will lose them.


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