Building Wine Sales in Your Hotel Restaurant

By Juan Carlos Flores Executive Sommelier, Pueblo Bonito Hotels Resorts & Spas | October 28, 2008

You can't sell wine when the atmosphere in your restaurant puts all its emphasis on cocktails. Often we find owners, managers and professionals in the art of the table who think that wine is just one more option on the restaurant menu and that it is as simple to sell as a coke or an iced tea. We all know that selling wine in a restaurant is an important income producer if it is done in the correct way.

We must also understand that wine is not just another liquid product: It is a moment. It is culture, history, sensuality and opulence that people share while they are drinking wine. We need to respect this moment, and we do so by paying attention to the details that honor it: with correct glassware, correct temperature, correct quantity and with skill and professional attention from the people who are serving it. You can't sell wine if you and the ambiance of your location do not offer your clients the small but significant details that they normally don't have at home.

Sometimes those of us in the food and beverage business reach a point where we think we have mastered all we need to know. This can occur at the beginning of our professional lives, or when we join a new company, or have perhaps run short of new ideas after years of working with the same team. We forget to go back to the basic questions: Who are my clients? What do they want? What is their perception of my restaurant, lounge or bar? And am I really fulfilling their expectations?

During the time that I worked as a wine distributor and wine advisor for restaurants and hotels, I had the opportunity to be in contact with many different general managers, food and beverage managers and owners of restaurant-all of whom had totally different ideas of what products to sell and how to sell them. It was both fascinating and frustrating to see. Some of them wanted to sell what was in vogue, even if their atmosphere was not conducive to it. Others chose to sell only the products they knew and liked, even if their clients didn't. Some had beautiful and elegant places of business, but the service and details didn't measure up. Others wanted to serve very casual food with fancy drinks, and some had a little bit of everything to cover any request, but without style or personality. And of course none of them had the expected success. All of them worked hard to have new menus, expensive new furnishings, new servers, many hours of motivational training, new "creative" (I would say desperate) promotions. But even if the chef and manager were fired, nothing changed.

How could all this happen when next door you would find a little bar stealing all those unsatisfied clients with nothing more than good hot wings, good beer and a baseball or football game in a TV wall? Simple. Because the clients in that place got exactly what they expected. There was no confusion, no mixed signals. As elementary as it sounds, our challenge is to create the related elements that make people feel comfortable enough to stay for a prolonged period of time and consume what we are offering. The importance of understanding our clients and their wishes applies for any business. Those of us dealing with wine must be even more attentive because of the uniqueness of wine and the experience of drinking it.

For example, when a bar has great ambiance people usually expect little more from a cranberry vodka than simply to taste a flavor close to how they remember a cranberry vodka tasted the last time they tried it. If they are well-educated drinkers, at most they will try to discern whether the taste of the vodka seems to be the brand they ordered. Further information about the product is not important to them because they feel good in that ambiance. Beers, being fermented, are in a way more similar to wine. But though many of them have their own style and personality, on the American Continent people in general don't give as much importance to information about them, such as their history, the place of origin, the house that produced them, the different flavors, the proper glassware to use, and what is appropriate to eat with each of them as they do with wine. Successful selling of good wine is much more complex.

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