I’m thinking of a common misconception in the hospitality business. This misconception is subtle, but it is debilitating. Everywhere I go, I can tell within a minute of being on-property whether management subscribes to this misguided notion. I see it in the way your hostess behaves, in the way your server speaks to me, in the way your bartender mixes my drink.
This misconception is systemic to a business because it could not be more immediate to what business is. This misconception has to do with making money. But it isn’t about how you make money. A lot of operators and managers have figured that out. You make money by selling goods and services. A glass of wine is a good; a service is the romance a sommelier imbues it with through words and actions. Front of house or back of house, you make money by selling your product and having it attached to service that adds value to that product.
There is usually no confusion about how you make money in hospitality. But what so few operators and managers understand is when you make money. Most think, “I make money when I’m open for business, especially on the busiest days, especially at the busiest times.” Unfortunately, that is not when you make money. It’s when you collect it. In the hospitality business, you make that money usually when you are closed, on off-days, at off-times. Because it is at those times when you make your decision about who you are and what you value—and everyone is watching.
What do I mean by this? Let’s look at a common complaint that operators make, “my servers aren’t upselling at the table.” When servers passionately up-sell your product, the effect can be profound for your bottom line. When they fail to, you lose money. But in the heat of the moment, is that server prepared to upsell? Do they know the premium options available to them? Can they describe them? Have you even made them available to sell? It’s hard to upsell a guest on a premium chardonnay by-the-glass if you don’t have one on your list! But just having it doesn’t mean your staff is prepared or motivated to sell it.
All these questions have already been answered long before your server is on the spot. They aren’t answered tableside—they’re answered months earlier, before the busy season. They are answered during that server’s first two weeks training on the floor and learning from another server who once upon a time had their first two weeks training with another server. And eventually, you can go back far enough to hit your opening night, when everyone was new. Did you make the decision then, to give your staff the power, the motivation, and the capability to make you money? That is when money is made. By the time the server is tableside, it’s too late.
Now think—do you have this misconception about when you make your money? Can you see it when your hostess brings a party to their table, and they want to order champagne right away because they are in a great mood, but your hostess doesn’t know anything about your product because she’s just a hostess? If by the time someone with the proper knowledge got to the table, and your guests were hungry and decided to skip the champagne, then you probably don’t.
If you instead collected the money that was there to be taken, then odds are good you have the right mentality. You had it when that hostess started, and you insisted she sit in on wine trainings every week. You had it when you had her spend a night shadowing your sommelier. When she trains a new host, that new host will understand the importance of knowing about your food and beverage program. And because the hostess training him was just promoted to server because she is now armed with formidable knowledge, he’ll see a path to move forward for himself as well.
When you have the correct mentality, you come to celebrate that money isn’t made in the busiest times because those are the times when you have the least opportunity to think and to influence. Instead, you get to make your money when it is slow, when you have time to think, and when you have time to invest in the proper training that will ensure your operation will collect every dime this upcoming busy season. It is never the wrong time to change your mindset and start making the money you deserve! Here’s how.
Understand the value of education. Education has an upfront cost. Short-sighted operators fail to invest because they don’t understand the annuity that an educated staffer becomes for their business. Great operators view education as a benefit that returns its cost many times over. Show your staff, and the community, that you invest in education. You will attract and retain the best talent, who will repay you with their superior knowledge, training, and passion.
The best learning is not attached to brands. There are a lot of brands that I love, and stocking great brands and knowing a bit about their provenance is important. But knowing a story about a brand’s founder, or exactly where each of the unusual ingredients is sourced, or the script for selling it, isn’t education—it’s marketing. There’s room for that, but don’t confuse the two.
Organizations such as the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) exist for this very purpose: to provide objective fundamental education in wines, spirits, and sake for professionals and enthusiasts. Students and their employers know that a WSET qualification-holder has more than just superficial knowledge of brands—they have a deep and broad knowledge of categories and processes.
Be consistent. Make learning a part of the culture of your operation. It should occur regularly, with talented and knowledgeable individuals leading the way. It should be open to all. You might even choose to make parts of it open to your customer base. This will be self-effacing. The culture will feed back into itself, and you will have staffers emerge as your “rock stars,” seeking more and more knowledge on their own time and bringing it with them to work.
Lead by example. Learn alongside your staff. If you can teach, teach them. Don’t worry if you can’t; it shows them that you want to know, and that they themselves should never stop learning.
Don’t make the all-too-common mistake of trying to make your money at the wrong time. During this year’s busy season, put yourself in a position of comfort and confidence that you made your money months earlier by setting the right tone for your operation and equipping your staff with proper training and education.
Dave Rudman, WSET Business Development Director USA, is a 10-plus year veteran of the drinks business, with a foundation in hospitality, and six-plus years in sales management within the U.S. distributor market. The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) (WSETglobal.com) is the largest global provider of wine and spirits qualifications.
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