Essential Training for Tasting Room Assistants (TRAs)
A high percentage of wines are sold from the tasting room floor. An Eastern Wine Exposition report noted that in Pennsylvania alone, “from 80 to 100 percent of wine sales are direct (sales) to consumers from within the tasting room.” Much the same can be said for micro-pubs and breweries where tours and tastings remain the primary contact between producers and buyers. The interaction among tasting room assistants (TRAs) and customers becomes all the more important then as the first, and perhaps the only, avenue for the on-site introduction and sales of beverages.
Most TRAs either have first-hand experience or are taught about the beverages they are offering and selling. A basic understanding of varieties, production, tastes and sensory knowledge is important to understand and translate to the visitor. Some TRAs take this role so seriously though that they are apt to talk and show their amount of knowledge rather than listen to what potential buyers are seeking.
For example, a 2012 Wine Market Council study noted the difference in consumer interest by generation. The Baby Boomer generation may be most “brand loyal” while younger Generation X and Millennial buyers are attracted by information they glean on websites and through social media research. Younger buyers come to tasting rooms with a lot of pre-visit marketing research already assembled. They may not be interested so much in the usual tasting room spiel that moves from sample to sample as much as they are about specific wines they are interested in. With that in mind, assistants should be prepared to step away from the “canned message” and answer specific questions.
Having a company expert available to answer specific questions could be helpful in assisting buyers experience the type of beverage they are seeking and offering suggestions for food pairings and gift ideas, too. This backup to the usual tasting room experience demonstrates to buyers that a business is serious in its approach to producing, offering and selling quality products.
Before launching into a tasting room talk, assistants should be encouraged to ask questions about a visitor’s interest in wines or craft beverages, what they drink at home, what they are interested in knowing more about and what products for sale match these “consumer likes.” By listening, assistants get a feel for how they can adapt the tasting room experience and script to best suit the potential client on the other side of the bar.
Suffice it to say, some tasting room visitors are happy to be led through the tasting room talk and will not have specific questions in mind. Others want information tailored to their own interests, likes and dislikes. Both are hopefully seeking suggestions for what to buy and carry home. Assistants who offer good general information and then listen for buyer input are ready then for suggesting purchases and asking for the sale. Some buyers who are brand loyal may know exactly what they want, but could be interested in special reserve wines or craft beverages, while other buyers are willing to try newer varieties and offerings.
Since many sales take place in tasting rooms, then working with customers to explore exactly what they are looking for sets the stage for increased success. Be aware that many visitors have already done their research before even stepping into the tasting room and will expect answers to their inquiries. A wine marketing consultant at a recent conference (reported by Penn State extension) noted that customers with website and social media knowledge make up “about half of the core wine drinkers in the U.S.” TRAs that are prepared to deviate from the “tasting room script” and are able to offer additional information, or use company experts to assist, can help boost tasting room sales, prompt brand loyalty as well as inspire return visits. Customers want to know that they are appreciated and remembered. When you link knowledge with good customer service, you have valuable assistants who can make a positive difference for your business.