Understand Your Clients' Preferences Before Selecting Your Wine List

By Juan Carlos Flores Executive Sommelier, Pueblo Bonito Hotels Resorts & Spas | May 06, 2010

It is not always necessary to have an extremely large selection of wines to have a successful business and happy clients. Do you recall how many wines were on the last wine list you read? Did you read them all? As a wine client, was it really important to you to sort through an enormously lengthy wine list before selecting the one you would order?

For most people, it is not. In the last five years I have lost many dinner partners because of my passion for reading and asking about everything on the menus and wine lists. Sometimes menus-and especially the wine selections-are so extensive that they can be painful for our dinner companions. Certainly, those of us in the food & beverage business are fascinated with seeing creative new ideas and new information, but it can be exhausting for the layman who just wants to enjoy a good meal, complemented by a nice bottle of wine, without spending thirty minutes on the selection.

Most of us have heard of restaurants that offer a selection of 1,500 or more different wines. Imagine the time and attention needed to read such a list-and then to remember what was read, even among just the first fifty wines on the list! Only a wine expert would consider that fun. For me, a sommelier with a passion for all aspects of wine, it is fun. But for someone who loves drinking wine but has no desire to actually study it, it's more likely to seem complicated, boring or scary.

I recall how impressed I was when I began visiting restaurants with large wine lists, and especially the first time I visited a really serious wine cellar. It was the Soci'et'e des Bains de Mer (SBM)wine cellar, which supplies four of the best luxury hotels in Monaco and has more than 400, 000 bottles, all separated by regions-of course most of them from France. I was not a sommelier then, and I knew that they must have someone in the restaurant to explain all that wine. Actually, they average three to four sommeliers in each restaurant, some even at mid-day for lunch service, and therein lies one of the problems in selling a large number of different wines. You must have well-qualified people to explain the wines and guide the clients; it's not easy to find such people, and it is expensive to pay them.

I was so excited by this experience inside that humid, softly lit place, smelling the history and the wet earth that I decided to study wine and become one of those men in a black suit with a "taste vin" hanging around his neck. When I received my sommelier's diploma, I wanted to work in the best places with the best and largest wine lists that I could find. I had the opportunity to do so with No"el Bajor, Chef Sommelier at Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, and David Biraud, Chef Sommelier at L'Hotel de Crillon in Paris. I was crazy about the wine lists and the prestige they added to the restaurant.

Three years later, after these rather elegant experiences in Europe, I had the opportunity to visit Las Vegas and discover a completely different concept that doesn't require four sommeliers-just one and a very nice notebook pad that serves as a wine list and gives you as much guidance as you need. You simply touch the screen, selecting country or origin and the type of wine, and it even gives recommendations for food pairing. It is very effective and so much fun that you forget dinner. To top it off, once you select the bottle you want to drink, a beautiful young lady is pulled up by a cable along a forty-two foot tower where all the 9,865 bottles are stored and she brings down your bottle. This was very different from the Europeans' conservative service but very impressive in a different way.

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Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.