The economy is in the toilet.
Not exactly a news flash, right?
So why does it seem to be such a revelation to wine bars, restaurants, an wine tasting rooms that they are in a battle for their very survival in this economic crisis? I say revelation because so few of the ones that I run into seem to get it, in terms of understanding that raising the bar on their service might be an important survival tactic in today’s economy.
Poor wine-related service has been the focus of a few recent posts in the blog-o-world (e.g., see Wine Diver Girl’s “Hospitality Fail”), and I myself had a recent misadventure at a local wine bar / restaurant (which shall remain nameless but not anonymous) whose wine service has been on the skids since the departure of their wine director some months ago.
Certainly these days if you are in the wine service industry, then you are in a battle of survival for the fittest. And what’s the evolutionary genetic mutation that will give you superiority to weather this economic storm over your rivals?
In a word: Better Service.
Crap. That’s two words.
Anyway, that’s the message that I took away from the excellent February issue of Sommelier Journal, which should absolutely be your field guide for any journey deep into the wine geek forest. Not about “better service” being two words (I didn’t need the magazine to tellme that one), but about raising the bar on service being the equivalent to holding the high position on the ebenemy in this war for the ever-shrinking dollars of customers’ disposable incomes. Ah, you know what I mean…
The February issue of SJ is dedicated entirely to the topic of bettering wine-related service – and not a moment too soon. There are a number of standout articles offered up in February’s release, but the items that resonated the most with me were penned by former Roy’s wine director (and now consultant) Randy Caparoso:
“The old approach of accumulating the biggest, most all-encompassing wine list possible has grown, well, old, and, in times like these, is about as useful as burning money… The battle for survival in 2009 may well hinge on improving the experience of our guests.”
Sage advice. It’s not rocket science, but it needs to be said loud and clear because it’s never been more true than in the economic downturn of 2009.
Randy should know – he’s been in the service business for, well, for about forever:
“When I started at 18, 19 years old, I was working with 40-, 50-, sometimes 60-year-old people who had been doing it since before I was born. That doesn’t exist any more, so in this day and age, service has to be well defined.”
Bingo. This is NOT difficult to do – it’s only difficult to do consistently. But your establishment’s life just might depend on it.
Getting a leg up on your competition might be as simple as offering better and more friendly service than your competition, even if you change nothing else about how you do business. And it costs essentially nothing to get that started.
Back to Randy:
“In a recession, improving service is the most cost-efficient path to success. You can kill ’em day and night on the floor, but service begins long before the guests walk in; in terms of a wine program, it means a list that not only enhances the cuisine, but is also readable and friendly. If you’re too lazy to offer descriptions of your best selections, or so naive as to think the majority of your guests actually enjoy wading through page after page of phone-book-like listings, you have only yourself to blame if you succumb to this battle that’s rattling our windows.”
Having a staff that’s not only friendly, they’re also knowledgeable about the wines on the menu and how they pair with your restaurant’s cuisine? Sweet! If I were in the service biz, I wouldn’t be considering that a luxury.
I’m well aware that these ideas are conceptually simple but sometimes difficult to deliver consistently well in practice.
Sure, it takes time and effort to train the staff, and to keep them educated, but your guests are now expecting this level of service – and if you don’t deliver it, your competition just might.
And then, well… you’re S.O.L.
Survival of the fittest.
Anyone in the wine service industry would do well to check out that February edition of Sommelier Journal. Just don’t say you weren’t warned.
(images: sommelierjournal.com, jaunted.com, sfist.com)