I have considered posting this topic on several occasions but last night I realized it was time to issue a call to action.
Last night at 5:55 pm, as I was preparing to close the tasting room, the door opened and in walked three folks one of whom identified himself as a tasting room employee from another local winery. I welcomed them in and informed them that while we had technically passed "last pour" I would be happy to offer them a taste. Anything for a guest, right? Especially industry. The two ladies excused themselves to the restroom and as I began to pour the first wine the gentleman realized he was still chewing his gum. But before I could offer him a tissue and a glass of water he had strode to the front door, opened it, and with a powerful thwack! spit his gum clear across the sidewalk and into the street. I was completely dumbfounded. Had he really just hocked a big 'o wintermint lugey out of my front door?
The two ladies finally returned to the bar and when all gum had been cleared out of mouths I finished pouring the first wine. I was about to describe it when the two women in the group started conversing over the picture of Thomas Keller on the cover of Spectator. I waited for a bit to let them finish their conversation but the discussion began to get involved and no one had yet touched their wine. Finally, at 6:15 pm, I gently redirected their attention back to the glasses and tasting began, in earnest.
From there things improved and I enjoyed chatting with the two women. One of the women had just completed culinary school on the east coast and was in California gaining wine experience. She was particularly interested in our style of wine making and was genuinely enjoying the wines. I have never minded staying open late for guests who are truly interested regardless of whether I get a sale out of it or not. I have always stressed the importance of a soft push at the end of the night and encourage my staff to keep the bar open late if they feel the folks in front of them are more than just late night guzzlers killing time before a dinner reservation.
But here the story gets uncomfortable. The industry gentleman was having trouble keeping track of which wine he was tasting and continually had to ask what was in his glass. I was starting to realize that while he had carried himself well and was not slurring he was starting to get drunk. So I grabbed the last bottle to be poured, a massive Petite Sirah that I wanted the new chef to try. I poured out a taste and then, it being the end of the day, poured myself a small taste too. I took one sniff and realized I had just poured my guests a corked wine! I immediately asked everyone to hand back their glasses. One of the women exclaimed, "I told you, I knew it was corked"! I apologized and noticed that my industry friend has gone completely blank. He had no idea what a corked wine was. No harm there, everyone has to learn this and everyone starts somewhere, right? But he was FURIOUS! He pouted, and argued with his friends, and as the two women teased him about his naivete he became even further incensed. It was now 6:40 pm. My wife had already called twice wondering when I would be home for dinner and now I was going to have to bounce a fight out of my tasting room. I took charge and assured the guy that there was nothing wrong with not knowing this yet, I explained what TCA taint is and pointed out that this bottle had obviously even escaped my staff's attention. But he was clearly feeling humiliated and sulked while muttering under his breath something about how mean his friends were. One of the ladies bought a bottle for dinner and the group left. Whew!
The point of this story is not to complain about bad customers. Dealing with the many personalities and countenances of the wine tasting public is part of our job. We're naturally good at it and it’s why we do this instead of windows. But I want to point out that these were not ordinary customers. They were industry folks. They work the trenches too and should know what appropriate tasting room etiquette looks like. They know how hard it can be to keep a smile on your face after 8 hours of upbeat conversation and bottle juggling. They know how it feels to see the door open at closing time knowing that your friends/family are waiting for you and your dinner is getting cold. They know that it is in bad taste to spit gum out of the front door, fight in public, get obviously intoxicated and stay an hour past closing. Don't they? Well, maybe not. I mean, I've never received any training on how to behave in other tasting rooms or restaurants. Have you? And this is where my call to action comes in. Anywhere you go and flash your business card you are as good as on the clock. You are representing your brand and your brand's culture.
Personally, I know that I will be taking a moment at the next staff meeting to relate this story to my team and to give everyone these 5 rules to follow whenever they are out.
1. Do not arrive at closing time and keep the staff late, period. If there isn't enough time to taste before closing then don't even open the door.
2. Showing your business card is a sign that you understand the game. If they're busy show deference to their other customers. You do not deserve special attention. Your free tasting, discount, and camaraderie are special enough.
3. Be polite and well mannered. If you're in a bad mood maybe you shouldn't be there.
4. Never arrive drunk or get drunk.
5. Always thank them for their time and if you're in a restaurant tip at least 20%.
As a tasting room manager it is my responsibility to ensure, not assume, that my staff knows everything they need to keep the peace and promote that special bond that winery and hospitality industry people have come to love about this business. Lord knows this is a lifestyle career and part of that lifestyle is the responsibility to act always with grace and respect.Cheers!