Monday, April 29, 2013

"It's Showtime, Folks!" You're a Tasting Room Attendant!

Spring Release is just around the corner. It's a time that many of us look forward to and by the end of the weekend, sometimes can hardly wait until it's over, especially if you are a tasting room attendant and been on your feet all day.  It is a learning experience for the visitors as they have tasted new wines and learned new things about the valley. It should also be a time where the wineries, from the winemaker to the tasting room attendant, has learned something new about the Spring Release experience, as well. 

I don't want to rehash the same old advice that I have for years about tasting room etiquette and how to make the most of your visit, in a tasting room. It's pretty much the basics of  Robert Fulghum’s, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten:
Share everything, play fair, don’t hit people, say you are sorry when you hurt people, wash your hands before you eat, flush, hold hands and stick together, cookies and milk are good for you
Okay, so you can trade out the cookies and milk for cheese, crackers and red wine. A few more things to remember: Turn off your damn phone. You're not that important and if you are, your Secret Service folks will answer the phone for you. Go outside to chat with the baby sitter on the phone as nobody in the tasting room wants to hear about baby's poo-poo. Also, give your palate a break. Don't try to pack in 13 wineries and all of their wines in one day. Spread it out, slow down, pace yourself, and enjoy as there will be no shortage of wine anytime soon. You can come back to visit us again, right?

So now it's time to give a little friendly advice to tasting room attendants. I have been on both sides of the bar, as I have worked tasting rooms for over seven years and been a visitor to tasting rooms for many years. People often think that working as a tasting room attendant is a glamorous job. You schlep numerous 45 lb cases of wine, pour out nasty dump buckets, stand on your feet all day, put up with obnoxious people, you wash racks of glasses, and get wine stains on your clothes and hands, to name a few of the "glamorous" duties.  

I like to compare the tasting room attendant position to the bank teller. You are the representative of the winery (bank) and often the first and only person the public sees, you get to hear winery (bank) customers complaints, and you are also the lowest paid person at the winery (bank). 

However, you better act like you are the highest paid person at the winery (bank) and loving every minute of it. You may have had a lousy morning, but you better learn to be an actor, look
in the mirror and put on a happy face when you enter the tasting room. "It's showtime, folks!"

There were only two times, especially in the last five years where I was treated like "persona non grata." That's Latin, by the way, for being treated like "shit."

The first time happened in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. We were on vacation and chose to leave our wine-related business cards at home. We didn't want to talk wine-speak in public. We just wanted to sip, enjoy, and learn something new. The offending winery had two women behind the bar and no doubt it was time for both to retire from the business. There were about six people already tasting and we later joined in - - or at least tried. It wasn't a private party, either. 

Both attendants stared at us and not once asked us if we wanted to taste. Like duh! We were standing at the bar, so we asked if we could have a couple of glasses. It almost seemed as if they were purposely ignoring us, as they would pour for the other guests and always over look us. With each pour, we had to ask if we could try the wine. It reached a point of being uncomfortable when the guests also started looking at us the same way the tasting room attendants were - - like we didn't belong. What?  We weren't wearing our underwear on our head and the underwear we were wearing correctly were clean. Our hair was combed and there were no boogers in our noses. We were treated as if we were two lost homeless people looking for a rest room and a hand-out. However, even two lost homeless people looking for a restroom and a hand-out should have been treated better. Frankly, it was a humiliating experience. 

The most recent time of being treated like persona non grata was just last fall. I went out of town on a wine business related adventure and thought I would check into a winery I had visited a few years before, as I was taken, not only with their selection of white wines, but curious as how their new winery was progressing. 

We stepped into the tasting room and there were two attendants, a man and woman. Once again we chose to remain wine tourists. The young woman attendant was friendly and busy with a customer who was taking too much of the attendant's time while yammering about his selection of square dance tunes on his iPod. (Note to visitors: don't hog the tasting room attendant and keep them from doing their job. Step aside and share the space.)

The woman attendant smiled at us several times as an acknowledgment that we were there. In the mean time, the male attendant was busy flirting with two young women and ignoring everyone else. We waited our turn to be noticed and served. The male attendant finally acknowledged us after the young women left, and but not near as enthusiastic, while the poor woman attendant was trying to get out of listening to the boorish and rude customer yammer on about his iPod music. 

The male attendant poured us our first sample, his cell phone rang, and he took off to answer it - - and left us there all by ourselves, while the young woman attendant was still trying to break from the iPod idiot. We stood there with empty glasses, twiddled our thumbs, and could see the male tasting room attendant still yapping on his phone in the back room. If we could see him, no doubt he could see us, but we seemed invisible to him. 

In the mean time, the young woman attendant finally broke free from the iPod idiot and approached us with apologies and completed our tasting while the other attendant remained on his phone ... or at least he remained on the phone until the owner/winemaker recognized me and came out of another room to greet me, gave us a tour and picked my brain about social media.  I took a glance at Mr. I-Am-On-the-Phone tasting room attendant's face as it looked a little white, then pink, and then red, as he saw his boss reach out to me.

The lesson here is do not assume anything about your customers. Treat them all like wine critics and as if they have a million dollars in their pocket.  Here is a little more advice so you can give your guests the best tasting room experience ever: 
  • Greet your customers as soon as you see them. Be friendly, hospitable, and most of all knowledgeable about your wines. 
  • Keep your ears and mind open and learn. Although you may have command of the tasting room, you are going to eventually meet someone who has a lot more wine experience than you have. That's the beauty about wine - - there is always something to learn.
  • Keep your dump buckets emptied as much as possible. Oh and by the way to you tasting rooms, I have a pet peeve. Don't ever use a pitcher as your dump bucket. It confuses the guests when they go into a tasting room who uses a water pitcher for exactly what the pitcher was designed for - - water.  Use another type of vessel for dumping - not a pitcher. 
  • Keep some hard copies of tasting notes around so customers can write their personal tasting notes on them, and best of all they will take a little bit of that advertising home with them.  
So here is my mantra about this whole world of wine that I would recommend to anybody who works in the wine industry or enjoys collecting and learning about wine: We do not need wine. However, wine is here to enhance our lives. 

Let it enhance your life by having fun, relax, share what you know and always be willing to learn more. 

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