Elevating the dining experience: the power of training waiters in wine service
As we prepare for Hostex 2024, a hub of innovation and excellence in the hospitality industry, it’s time we focus on a crucial yet often overlooked aspect of restaurant service: empowering our waiters. As a sommelier, judge, and Hostex ambassador, I’ve been fortunate to visit countless restaurants around the world, and one common issue stands out: the need for comprehensive wine service education among waiters.
Imagine this: a carefully curated wine list, a cellar filled with fine wines, yet a waiter fails to understand when a diner points out that a bottle is corked. It’s a disservice to the art of wine and the diner’s experience.
Restaurateurs must invest in training their waiters. It’s not just about pouring wine; it’s about extending their understanding of wine beyond the basics. We need waiters who have a basic understanding of varietals, vintages, and can suggest pairings confidently.
The unfortunate sight of a corked bottle being accepted or a mismatched wine can be avoided with proper education. It starts with mastering the basics: opening bottles, understanding wine service rules, and knowing the difference in pour sizes to maintain temperature and flavour.
Investing in waiter education isn’t just about improving service—it’s a smart business move. Well-trained waiters can upsell, turning unsold inventory into profit and building trust with diners.
As we gather at Hostex 2024, I invite you to join me in a discussion on this issue. I challenge the restaurant industry to invest in the people who shape our guests’ experiences: our waiters.
Five basic wine training tips
- Getting to know the wine list: Start by ensuring that waiters are familiar with your wine list. Provide them with a simple guide highlighting key features of each wine, like grape varietal, flavour profile, and price range. Encourage questions and help to familiarise them with the available options.
- Basic wine service skills: Focus on teaching waiters essential wine service skills, such as how to properly open a bottle, pour and present wine to diners, and address common wine-related issues like corked bottles. Hands-on demonstrations and practice sessions can help reinforce these skills.
- Simple wine pairing suggestions: Offer waiters simple guidelines for suggesting wine pairings to customers. Provide a few general recommendations for pairing wines with popular dishes on the menu. Train waiters on basic principles like serving red wine with red meat and white wine with fish or chicken.
- Accessible tasting notes: Create easy-to-understand tasting notes for the wines on the menu. Include brief descriptions of each wine’s flavour profile, aroma, and suggested food pairings. Encourage waiters to refer to these notes when guiding customers with wine selections.
- Promote curiosity: Encourage curiosity and engagement around wine among waiters. Encourage them to sample different wines during downtime and ask questions about unfamiliar varietals or wine terminology. Provide opportunities for staff to share their experiences and opinions with each other.
Hostex 2024 takes place from 3 to 5 March 2024 at the Sandton Convention Centre. Follow Hostex on X @Hostex_, Instagram @hostex_2024 or keep up to date with our news on Facebook @hostexza and Linkedin.
Sommelier Moses Magwaza holds qualifications from the Cape Wine Academy and The Wine and Spirit Education Trust, UK. Both his service and the wine lists under his curation at Restaurant Mosaic, Orient Hotel, Pretoria have been highly praised. Awards include the 2017 and 2018 Eat Out Wine Service Award (South Africa) and the 2020 Sommelier Luxe Award (Africa and the Middle East), LaListe The Best Wine List 2019, Wine Spectator – Grand Award 2019 and World of Fine Wine World’s Best Wine Lists Awards 2019. He was a judge for Woolworth Eat out 2022. He is currently the sommelier and restaurant manager at Prosopa, Pretoria where he is building a wine list in line with his passion for pairing African ingredients with wine.
Since its inception in 1986, HOSTEX has become a leading expo for food, drink, and hospitality professionals across Africa. The show provides an unmatched platform for industry leaders, innovators, and decision-makers to gather, share insights, and do business. For more information, please visit www.hostex.co.za.