If there’s one thing that can make or break a tasting room experience, it’s (no, not the wine) the service you receive. I can’t tell you how many bottles of average wine I’ve purchased just because the service was stellar. Or how many tasting rooms I’ve left shaking my head in disbelief at the downright horrible service I received.
I get the sense that you are nodding your head empathetically. And we probably agree that this shouldn’t be such a widely shared experience in our industry. But how do we change that with a cadre of great tasting room staff?
Experts agree: hire “nice” and teach wine.
Southern Oregonians in the wine industry will be familiar with the name Ava DeRosier. She’s the former long-time director of food and beverage for the Neuman Hotel Group. Throughout her hospitality career, Ava’s probably hired 1,000+ servers and interviewed five times that. In her current role as a consultant, she has been working with winery owners to help open new tasting rooms and to retool existing operations, including staff training and candidate searches.
Regarding the “hire nice” concept, I caught up with Ava and discovered what she looks for in a wine ambassador or manager candidate. She said that over time she has learned to look at qualities and potential more than qualifications.
“I used to be more rigid about qualifications when looking at applicants, and now I focus more on qualities—such as integrity, honesty, having a joyful spirit, being self-motivated, and knowing how to care for one’s self,” she says, noting that “working in the service industry can make self-care and living a quality life tricky with its long and often late hours.”
“The path to having great employees is in developing and investing in them,” Ava explains. “The onboarding process is critical, as is identifying strengths and opportunities. As a leader, I want the best for the team. I do my best to show up for them and give them feedback to help them grow. I see each employee as a seed that I can water. I don’t want them to be good, I want them to shine—to be great.”
Ava continues, “I feel that being in service to others is the greatest gift in life—there’s such a simple joy that comes from this. The spirit of hospitality cannot be taught, but wine and other knowledge can be. I look for the service heart—the joy—the integrity—and develop the rest.”
In addition to “hire nice and teach wine,” another tactic is to “hire staff from a variety of generations as people relate better to and like to buy from those who look like them.”
This sage advice comes from industry stalwart Donniella Winchell. Donniella has led the Ohio Wine Producers Association for 41 years and has served on the boards of the Winegrape Growers of America and the WineAmerica State Advisory Panel, among others. She puts out a weekly e-newsletter called “Tuesday Tidbits,” and last week’s talked about this concept.