How do you recommend wine to guests? Pair your product knowledge with your ability to play sleuth, and you have the makings of a great pairing or wine recommendation. Making recommendations in the hospitality setting is drastically overthought, and easily executed with just a touch of knowledge and training.
"What is the perfect wine pairing? The one your guest enjoys. "
A knowledgeable person can wax poetic about the complexities of the proper beverage pairing, but if the guest doesn't like your perfect pairing, then it wasn't perfect. The dining experience is about those who come to our establishments seeking a great experience and a brief respite from their lives. Quite simply, their dining experience not about us, and keeping that in mind goes a long way when selling and explaining food and wine in a restaurant.
Instead, go into the interaction with no preconceived notions and just let your theoretical knowledge, personality and service skills come together organically. In other words... ask them what they want. Recommending an offering that is congruent to what they enjoy is the path of least resistance, the path to a second glass and the path to a repeat guest. After all, we are literally bringing a drink to someone who is thirsty, so it shouldn't be that difficult, and we shouldn't make it so.
Start out by asking if your guest wants red or white wine. Do not assume that they want a certain wine based on your previous understanding of wine pairing. Some people like red with fish and white with steak. You do your best to steer and educate (if they are curious and ask); but since great guest service isn't about us, we make the people as happy as we can in every unique situation.
If they say red, ask them if they like fuller body wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or lighter wines like Pinot Noir. If they say white, ask them if they like light and crisp wines like Pinot Grigio or oaked and/or fuller bodied wines like Chardonnay. Even if you get the response "we hate Pinot Grigio with all of our being and love, love, love buttery wines!"... you learned what you needed to know to make a great recommendation to that table. As a sommelier, I poured my fair share of Cabernet Sauvignon with Lobster, and as long as I didn't have to drink it, I was all good.
Matching your theoretical knowledge with your practical knowledge and delivering it through your lens of experience is they key to great sales and service. Start by asking the guest their desired preferences; the characteristics they enjoy in their wines. Recommend wines that your guests enjoy, and when they let you into their dining experience with "we are open minded, what would you drink", then you are ready to offer up that small production wine from Jumilla instead of that safe suggestion from Napa Valley.
Are there so called perfect pairing that accentuate dishes better than others? Of course. Do some wines detrimentally interfere with elements of some fine dining dishes? Absolutely. It most definitely takes a professional to recognize when it is time to break out that perfect pairing, or when to go with what your guests know and trust. You can still make a great recommendation for the guest who "only drinks Cab", by the way. It just comes out of the category of wine they like.
Give the people what they want. If they want flowery vocabulary about rare wines from distant lands, then by all means. If they like what they like and want what they want, then you know exactly what to do.
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