Some things truly don't ever change. Take server staff training, for instance: while making it as a bartender demands ever-increasing levels of knowledge regarding spirits and skills in mixing myriad drinks, sometimes it seems that all a server needs to do is show up with a clean outfit.
The average consumer these days is considered far more knowledgeable about beer, wine and spirits than ever. Unfortunately, it seems like the servers at many operations aren't keeping up with those they're serving. Put bluntly, many are fairly clueless about beer and food pairings, wine flavor profiles, or why an añejo tequila is different from a blanco.
But is it actually their fault? Any time a server can’t answer the most basic question about what’s being offered in their own bar or restaurant, the blame goes right up the chain of command to the manager, general manager, and owner. If you feature dozens of whiskies and your server can’t explain the difference between rye and bourbon, you haven’t done your job and your front line of contact with your customers is broken.
This is not insignificant. If you walked into a veterinarian's office and the receptionist thought your cat was a hamster, you’d think twice about going back. The same holds true for customers at your operation; if they don’t get the feeling that they can trust their first (and perhaps only) contact point with an establishment, they are less likely to look on the experience favorably, and therefore unlikely to return. No bar or restaurant, with very few exceptions, can survive without robust repeat business, and well-trained and knowledgeable staff are the main route to making that essential informational bond between customer and operation.
Don’t know how well your staff knows your beverages or food? Nothing wrong with surprising them with that bane of all high school students, the pop quiz. Make it short and fill it with the sorts of questions one might hear from a curious customer:
- “What is Cognac made from and where does it come from?”
- “Do you know the difference between beer and ale?”
- “What does this Argentinian Malbec taste like: Is it like a California Cabernet?”
- “Why do you use agave syrup in your Margaritas?”
- “My friend says a real Old Fashioned has to have one of those red cherries. Is that true?”
These are the sorts of questions your server needs to be able to breeze through, depending on the type of operation you run. If nothing else, there’s no time for them to run back and forth to ask the bartender these questions, and customers hate that anyway; they asked a person they expected to know the answer. And if they don’t do very well, it’s on you to introduce some sort of training program. If nothing else, get the help of your distributors, who today routinely employ staff members who provide education on wine, beer, spirits and cocktails. Some beer suppliers with a full range of styles are happy to help. Many free guides are available online through supplier companies as well, especially those with many brands of all kinds.
Getting and keeping a bar or restaurant open and running is a big task, but sometimes the final details – like making sure the people who are the faces, eyes, ears and voices of your operation – can represent you smartly, are oddly neglected. Warm bodies working the floor may relieve short-staffing anxieties, but when they don’t know Scotch from shinola, you’re losing sales and harming your reputation.