When you worry that your staff may not know how to open a bottle of wine properly, it’s definitely time to go back to the drawing board.
Or so thought Mary Melton, director of beverage for PF Chang’s China Bistro, who realized that as the chain and its wine list grew, training had not kept pace. Not surprising given that as many as 20,000 servers in 200+ units were at the front lines of wine service, and so as part of a multi-year project, Melton and the company’s training staff have reworked and refreshed how servers are trained on wine.
“We needed to really upgrade our wine training; it didn’t take much but it’s so needed. We wanted to make sure we had a basic understanding of wine and wine service; even opening wine,” said Melton. “I’m amazed how many people don’t know the right steps to opening a bottle of wine at the table and we’re correcting that.”
Now, every server has undergone a “Wine 101” program, as will all new hires. Those sessions are all about the most basic information, with nothing taken for granted, which is wise, given how pockets of America have embraced strong anti-alcohol prejudices, or simply offer little wine exposure.
“This is a brand new initiative for us - in the past, wine training hasn’t been quite as organized as this,” continued Melton. “And the idea is to keep adding to it; we have the Wine 102 program planned for this coming January.”
Chang’s followed up with their “Wine Passport” training program, in which staff get to immerse themselves a little deeper into the wines the chain serves and their regions of origin. Each staff member gets a book of wines organized by flavor category, just as the wine list is - reds, for example, are grouped under “lush,soft and tangy, rich and spicy, powerful,” and servers are advised on basics including bottle opening and the proper steps in tasting wines.
In addition to Wine 101 and the passport program, a component includes weeks where certain wines or wine styles are focused on in every unit and then backed up with a newsletter focusing on a particular winery or wine in that week’s covered category.
And in development are further classes, not likely to be mandatory but offered for those enthusiastic about learning more.
Melton’s long term goal is to introduce the same kind of program for beer and spirits; “I want to be able to offer something for our servers in which they keep learning from us,” she says.
Connected to the more focused wine training was the recent trimming of the chain’s wine list; the new list, introduced in October, is down to 48 wines and 24 by the glass, down from 54 bottles and 48 by the glass. Also, individual units now have no power to include local options, at least until the new training has time to percolate through the many units; in spring some local options will be allowed. Melton says even though some local selections had been doing well, the lack of server knowledge about those wines was a serious concern, something the training program aims to correct.