One of the greatest things about going out to your favourite (or new) restaurant is the absolute excitement, and minimal effort required in getting a superb meal being served to you and cooked by professionals with extreme passion for the end product. And generally getting to share it with the people you love or like… There really is nothing quite like it!
You start browsing the food menu, then onto the wines – oh the decisions… Sometimes the wine choice can be hardest element of the adventure, but should we be looking at this differently? With extreme pressure on staffing levels across our industry, we need to try and make things as fun and easy for guests as possible, and help guide them to a wine that is going to elevate their whole experience. Let’s be honest, most people are incredibly nervous when it comes to ordering wine. It is the “face off” of not wanting to look silly in front of your server and mates…”Just go for the wine you can pronounce”, your head says.
This is where I think operators can have some fun. I am certainly not saying we need to reinvent the wheel, and a huge number of operators do this already, but having some fun with your guest is where we can make that lasting experience for them. By simply recommending glasses of wine on your food menu that might otherwise be overlooked, or by having a ‘by the glass’ selection that challenges the ‘norm’ and not being afraid to change these regularly, the customer experience can be greatly enhanced.
I’m not suggesting a complete overhaul of the wine list as I do think having a core wine list and ‘by the glass’ offering is crucial, but a little bit of stardust to make things fun is where it is at for me. It can also make things more interesting when matching wines to your food dishes and can push your customers to be that little more adventurous and out of their comfort zone.
We are very lucky in the UK to have such a huge variety of wines to choose from. Literally, every wine producing corner of the world is accessible to us here in the UK and they are making some insane wines. We should be celebrating this, but also understand how utterly daunting this is for someone not in the wine trade. For a little perspective, I was not scared to omit Sauvignon Blanc and Malbec from a restaurant’s ‘By the glass’ selection. These wines have this unique gravitational pull that guests would automatically select without fully engaging with all that is on offer. This then helps free up a couple of slots by the glass and allows the operator to have some fun by selecting more esoteric wines!
I do appreciate that some might think that the food and wine matching scene is quite tricky, however it is very ambiguous and subjective. Yes, that Sauvignon Blanc will go perfectly with that Goats Cheese but the Assyrtiko from Lebanon will be much more fun and do the exact same job. Rib-Eye steak and Malbec you say? Why not go Tannat instead…
I’m not saying that we have to go completely rogue here as there as there are producers in the well-known regions of both the Old World and the New World doing some really cool stuff as well, but all I can emphasise is giving your guest that little X-Factor experience when dining with you.
I always used to liken a service in the restaurant as a show, of sorts that people have come to experience. So surely, doing something different to what they might have been to on their last outing is more attractive whether that’s on the food or wine side of things? Serving sizes is also key to me. By recommending 100ml or 125ml glasses of wine gives people the option to try and have a couple of different glasses throughout their meal.
For me, I always enjoyed the part of my previous roles within the restaurant trade where I had the opportunity to guide customers out of their comfort zone. It created conversations with guests, and also gives you the chance to share some of your expertise and wine discoveries. Of course, staff training (especially wine specific training) is crucial to this working well. I think every operator should invest more time in this aspect as it builds the foundations for our industry as well as creating confidence in your guests and team. Also, it makes the whole experience more engaging and fun for your team which will ultimately rub off on your guests. After all, we all started not knowing a lot at some point in any career path you choose.
So, have some fun and make it easy for your guests to choose something that they might not necessarily have chosen without you!