Even if you are one of the small percentage of restaurants / retail / wineries that hold regulars staff trainings, you have to ask yourself if the trainings are effective, or a farce. Does your staff surreptitiously refer to your tastings as "wine wastings?" Do they promptly forget everything they were taught? Do your sales reflect the uptick in the wines featured?
Staff comes and goes, but managers tend to stick around, and wine training starts with the trainers. Have your managers been trained to train? Have they discovered the importance of being earnest, or is it all just a touch above being recreational? I will give some tips, and some insight, but ultimately the responsibility is on those who have the most to gain.
The Rule of Three
Since the time of the ancient Greeks we have known that people respond to things best when they are presented in threes. Comedic timing is based around this principal, and so is your phone number. This is why I recommend 9 wines in three flights of three. Have your staff taste (and teach them to spit) the first three wines. Making a note of their favorite. Do the same with the next two flights. Finally have them take their personal three favorites, and taste them against each other.
From this they will not only glean their favorite of the final three wines, but they will have a much better chance of remembering all three. That is three out of nine wines that they now have ingrained in their personal data base of favorites. This compares quite favorably with the usual outcome in which the staff walks away not remembering any of the wines beyond a few minutes.
Food Pairings to Sell Wine
It goes without saying that restaurants should ensure their staff tastes wines with menu selection and specials. What is less common, but just as critical is that retailers and wineries do the same. Snack foods and carry out from nearby restaurants make the perfect accompaniment to any tasting. Few wines are consumed without food, and customer's request for suggestions as to "what food do I serve it with?" needs to be met with more than blank stares, or rote answers.
There is another, more psychological reason to make sure that appropriate food is served with your wine tasting. People remember things by association. By presenting a food and wine combination, the much easier to remember food item will reinforce the memory of the wine.
So now your staff has their own individual favorite wines from this week's tasting, but what if it is not the wine you are trying to push? By tying incentives to the wines from the outset you can influence favorites (how ever unfair that may seem). Told that they could win a prize for selling the most bottles of X, you can be sure that wine X is the one they will pay the most attention to.
Prizes can be bottles of wine. The wine in question, or their favorite, within cost considerations. Wine is a great prize, but not the only one, and not necessarily the strongest incentive. Sure cash is great, but perception is the key, and a prize perceived as greater than the cash value is a powerful motivator.
Restaurants, you can give away a meal for two, but it is much more powerful if the certificate is transferable. Few people are comfortable eating where they work, but having family or friends come in for a free meal is not only great incentive, it builds pride and loyalty in the workplace.
Retailers and wineries can make deals with local restaurants for dining certificates. Explain to the restaurant the power of your staff's recommendations. Having a retail store or a winery point out where the customer can try a bottle of the wine, is advantageous for all involved.
Mix it Up
Wineries have a finite number of wines to taste, restaurants have a larger but still relatively small selection. Even retail stores can not carry everything. Presenting wines in a tasting that you do not sell can help your staff understand the choices that have gone into what you do sell.
This is a good time to work on the skill of swaying opinion. By carefully orchestrating which wines you taste, and the order they are presented, you have the opportunity to drive home the point you are hoping to make. There is no reason to be "fair." You are in the business of selling the wines you have. The outlier wine you bring in should reinforce the wines you have, not make the staff pine for a wine you don't offer.
Regular tastings are a must. Once a week is often enough, but three times a week should be your max. Keep track of past favorites, and include them in the follow up tasting. Every time a wine "wins" the hearts and minds of your staff, it reinforces the name and taste of that wine in their minds.
One of the best and most important ways to reinforce a wine in your staff's mind, is to have the take notes. They never really have to look back at the notes, or share them with the group. The very act of taking notes forces the taster to pay more attention. Wrestling with the wine, trying to identify tastes and aromas, will greatly improve their ability to recall what they tasted.
Test the Testers
Staff trainings are important, but management training is critical. Management should taste blind and often. Even if it is with managers from different companies or your competition. The most important tool of any type of sales is understanding your product. You can not impart wisdom you do not have.
When your managers are confident in their wine skills, they impart confidence to the staff, and that confidence makes it more likely that your customers will be confident with sales suggestions. Confidence breeds confidence.
The Importance of Being Ernest
In the play, Oscar Wilde makes light of sanctity. Sanctity of marriage, position and mores. In wine it is just as important to keep it light, to keep it fun. Your wine tastings should be on the earnest side of the scale, with "wine wastings" on the other, but they should eschew pomp and ceremony except when necessary.
Above all, never make your staff wrong about their preferences or comfort level in tasting wine. It is all too easy to reinforce the myth that wine is a product that requires proprietary knowledge, and the fear that comes with it. Any and everyone can enjoy wine. Every single person's opinion and taste is exactly as valid as anyone else's. It is important your staff feels that way, so they can be sure your customers feel that way.
Make wine fun to learn about for your staff, and they will make wine fun your customers. Wine is after all, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People.