Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hey All You Yelpers - Really?

It might be best if you were going to rate a winery you should ask questions, consider circumstances, and understand the history and mission of the winery.  Blasting you personal feelings on Yelp is not the way to get the attention of management of what they're doing, or in some cases, not doing.  Most wineries have an email account called, making it very easy to communicate your sentiment to them.  An even better method is to pick up the phone and call.  Now there's something to Yelp about!

Wine is a very personal experience.  When posting about wine - talk about the types of wines you like (not the winery) and why you like them.  Don't say, "there wasn't a single one I liked."  That doesn't give much information to the reader.  Instead say, "I like Sauvignon Blanc, but nothing came close to it."  It would help to know what characteristics of the wine you didn't like.  Saying they sucked doesn't mean anything to the reader, just to the writer.   Remember wines change every year.  I think this is what I enjoy most about the industry.

Take a look around the room.... are the servers (they are not waiters or hostesses) busy with a counter full of customers?  Wine wasn't made in 24 hours, so give your server some room by letting them serve the customers at the counter and giving you the same undivided attention.  Be patient.

As far as pricing... that varies from winery to winery.  Ask why the high price.  If the server doesn't know, maybe they can find out.  There is a lot of pressure in the industry to keep the prices fairly the same.  New barrels are very expensive, as is a new building, full staff, so look at the costs associated with that particular winery's crafting.  I'm sure it is justified.

So as you head out this Spring, take good notes and report back, follow the rules and ask lots of questions.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Busy" Season in Wine Country

That's what we call it in the wine industry.  After the lull of the winter, patrons find their way to the tasting rooms to alleviate their cabin fever.  You'll find that you may not have enough staff or in the previous weeks, you've had too much staff.  REAL wine tasters don't mind the wait, they're not in a hurry.  No one can predict the flow of tasting room traffic.  Keep good records, check and see what else is happening around you and make note of it.

So how are you prepared for the "busy" season?  Did you remodel?  Are you offering new wines, new programs or new items in your retail store?  What's changed?  How are you conveying the news to your customers?  In other words, how are you going to get them in the tasting room?  Email blast, paper (bleh) newsletter... try Facebook.  If you haven't used it before, it is very empowering to be able to deliver information and have it shared.  Continue with you email service, there are still many people that are not using Facebook.

Take a little time to do some dusting in those hard to reach places.  Check the plumbing, touch up the paint and put out a new welcome mat and freshen the gardens.... customers EXPECT it.

Take a look at your menu - can they read it.  The majority of wine tasters are over 40 and they have over 40 eyes, which means font needs to be 12, preferably 14.  You want them as comfortable as possible and that includes their eyes.

Happy Spring

Monday, February 7, 2011

Stealth Tastings

Yesterday we went "stealth tasting" to four Virginia wineries.  Two wineries were new and two were well-established.  Our goal was to review the customer service side and not so much of the wine side. So if you're looking for wine reviews, you'll need to check out other Virginia wine blogs.  Criteria was simply for the tasting room property evaluation.  Comfort, cleanliness and knowledge.  

Anyone can greet a customer, but if there is no interaction after the greeting there is an unwelcome feeling, almost to the point of interrupting some one. All four wineries greeted us, but only two continued to engaged with us while they were serving others to make us feel welcome.  The two that did  not engage were newer wineries.  

It's important for the server to ask questions so they know what type of wine to focus on and encourage purchase.  Only two of the four wineries asked questions of us, something I try to initiate by saying something like, "I don't know if I like the Chardonnay or the Viognier".  When I get no response from the server, they're preoccupied, don't want to be there, and are not committed to the winery.  Again the two passing the test were the well established wineries.

Also have your servers take their time.  Even people waiting want to be served in a friendly manner.  Rushing customers even on busy days, is not good customer service.  Treat the customer in front of you like they are the only one there.  That being said, don't IGNORE other customers.  

All four wineries offered other retail items.  Your guests might not notice they are available.  Be sure to point the retail items out or place a note on the tasting sheet.  One of the wineries displayed a large amount of non-wine related items in the retail section.  Selling non-wine related items in a tasting room cheapens the experience.  

Tasting sheets - here's my biggest pet peeve in tasting rooms.  Who is your market?  If you didn't answer everyone you need to start back at GO and do not collect the $200.  If fonts are fancy or are too small, you are only targeting the audience with good vision. Make sure your font is not smaller that 12pt and printed on white paper. Be practical when creating your tasting sheet.  Your tasting notes at a minimum, should name the wine and the year and include a brief description of the color, aroma and flavor.  Don't forget to include the price.  If customers have to ask, then they more apt not to purchase. If it's going to take you more time to print and cut into strips, you might consider using an entire sheet of paper and include valuable information about the winery, menu items or upcoming events. Your winery name and contact information should be on the tasting sheet along with hours of operation and most importantly, the tasting fee.

Three of the wineries passed the cleanliness test.  The first place I stop is the restroom.  It MUST be clean.  I can understand on busy days this is often hard to maintain.  To better serve your customers, have your employees check the facilities for soap and paper products when they head to their break. Beyond the clean of the restroom, counters and floors need to be swept.  No wine related items should be in the customers view.  One tasting room has a very large amount of dirt on the floor and it was obvious.  Take a moment between pours and quickly sweep up the larger amounts of dirt. Customers understand if your on a dirt drive with a dirt parking lot. And speaking of...

If you cannot maintain your drive to your business on your own property, be prepared for some liability.  Flat tires, twisted ankles, yes, you are responsible.  

Most folks go wine tasting for the experience.  Teach your staff to multi-task.  Make sure your tasting room is serving A+ customer service.  Please contact me, if you would like me to evaluate your tasting room.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Dollar Stops at the Door

I just reviewed my notes from my September trip to the Charlottesville, Virginia area.  I was so looking forward to the "oooohs" and "aaaaahs" that so many others had said to experience.  I purchased about a case of wine on my journey, and what puzzles me is that there was only one winery that was memorable enough to visit again.  Remember I am a customer too.  I expected a smile, "hello" or "welcome" and most of the time I was greeted by no one.  We did get a little off the path and I have to tell you that Gadino Cellars, in Washington, VA and Marterella Winery in Warrenton were not on our planned trails.  We were so thankful that we stopped at both.  They both get A+ in customer service.  I definitely would go back to both.  Friendly folks behind the counter and greetings by the owners made my visit memorable.  

On our weekend trail were a total of 8 wineries.  Only one made the A+ list and that was Keswick. The customer service was the BEST I've ever received in the wine industry in Virginia.  Their wines were good and I felt comfortable in my surroundings.  That comfort is what tasting rooms should strive to achive.  

What customers want is the "oooh" and "aaaah" - that special nuance that distinguishes your tasting room from all the others.  Anyone can have tasting room with pictures of wine bottles on the venetian plaster walls.  Be creative - be unique - what is your other passion?  Your tasting room talks to your customers and says "this is YOU".  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What's in Your Tasting Room

The purpose of my blog to provide general information to help tasting rooms improve their customer service.   I am active in a tasting room so I hear it all from the customers on what they like, but loud and clear what and who they don't like.   I want to turn that around and make the tasting room experience memorable for everyone through an evaluation of your tasting room and customer service practices.  I thought it be more appropriate to create a blog where those of you that are in the wine business can ask questions of me, a seasoned and sometimes spicy tasting room professional.    

So where do you start?  If you're new to the wine business, hopefully, you have your paperwork submitted and approved at the local, state and Federal levels.  Having just finished the paperwork myself for our winery in Virginia, I am very familiar with the approval process should you need consulting assistance to get your winery going.  Beyond the paperwork it's choosing the recording keeping system, types of wine glasses, color and layout of tasting room, design of tasting menu, hiring of staff and signature event planning. 

If you're seasoned in the tasting room let's say for the last 6 years, and you're getting the same results, chances are it's your customer service.  You need to rev up your style and get customers excited about the new tasting room.  Small changes can make a big impact.  I have some great ideas that make customers into repeat customers.

If you're not using social media to promote your tasting room, you are missing lots of opportunities to connect.  I can help with that too.   

The life of wine begins with terrior.  The life of the tasting rooms begins with excellent customer service.   Shake that up with some good wine and fun events, and customers will make that winery their frequent destination.