Developing All-Star Hospitality Teams


[Sandra Hess – July 27, 2021 – San Francisco, CA]

As the US wine industry continues to recover from the 2020 pandemic, most of our clients are struggling to find qualified talent for both front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house-positions. We have spent quite a bit of time updating job descriptions and training curriculum with a focus on cross-training this past year. We have found great success in recruiting winery hosts from fine dining, luxury retail, and the hotel space. When developing an ideal mix of talent for front-of-the-house teams, we encourage our clients to tap into the retiree segment as well. Sometimes, these candidates live within membership lists and are long-term brand loyalists – equipped to share past, present, and future wine brand stories. 

In preparing for a few speaking engagements this fall, I am in the process of updating content and key learnings. I hope that you find the five tips below helpful during this challenging time of hiring and cross-training. I also invite you to attend one of my new DTC Wine Workshops Webinars focused on “Developing All Star Hospitality Teams” beginning this September. Watch for registration opening the week of August 9th. Reach out with any questions or feedback as I always love to hear from our various communities! 

#1 – Lead with Hospitality and Direct Sales Success will Follow 

We have trained high-performing winery teams across the US, Canada, and Australia for the past eight years. There has been a common theme when mapping post-training success to high-performing teams. Many senior-level wine educators have certifications and extensive backgrounds in wine presentation but haven’t received professional hospitality service training. In many situations, this lack of training has prevented advance level educators from truly connecting with guests and forming long-term connections. We have developed “Winery Hospitality Service Standards” and “Hospitality Toolkits” for premium and ultra-premium wine brands to ensure winery hosts have the tools needed to successfully connect with a variety of guests. As I have shared in previous blogs and conference presentations, our clients don’t focus on the first sale as a key progress indicator but instead the second sale and beyond. When today’s luxury wine buyer reinvests time and finance with a wine brand they admire, this puts them on the path of loyalty and typically long-term engagement. The top 3-5 conversion paths and compensation plans need to be clearly mapped out based on unique offerings as well as sales models. Limiting bonuses to club conversion or monthly revenue goals will not keep staff motivated to stay in today’s competitive tasting room environment nor will this approach meet reengagement goals. It is easier to cross-train a Starbucks Barista on wine knowledge and presentation than it is to train a more seasoned, advanced-level wine educator on how to have a heart of hospitality in many cases. TIP: be sure to qualify tasting room candidates with an ideal balance of customer service skills as well as wine knowledge. When a well-trained tasting room team leads with high-touch hospitality and is focused on 3-5 conversion paths where “connection” is a priority, direct sales success will always follow

#2 – Hire for the Position and not for the Person 

Too often, we find that low-performing winery teams are made up of staff members who don’t have the skillsets necessary to excel in their appointed positions. When we conduct manager interviews and analysis, we can easily map the recurring problem to the fact that the manager has hired based on what works best for the person versus the position. Have a well-thought-out ORG (organizational) chart for each direct-to-consumer division and call out the ideal skillsets for each position. Then take some time to update job descriptions that include a clear overview of what the position entails and how the staff member is contributing to overall business success. Bullet point the required skill-sets as well as those that can be taught to ensure long-term success. Give examples of how the employee will be supported, trained, evaluated, and recognized at 90 days, 1 year, and 2 years of employment. Consider the use of Wine Educator Levels to correlate more advanced level job responsibilities based on tenure and training accomplishments. Require a solid understanding of wine and wine presentation – ask for a minimum of WSET Level 1 Certification OR include the paid certification program as a benefit in the compensation package. Require that all front-of-the-house staff obtain this minimum certification within the first six months of employment. 

#3 – Allow Current Team Members and Long Term Members to Self Nominate 

When updating your organizational structure and posting new job requisitions, be sure to inform your current staff first. Employees should be able to self-nominate for a new job posting within the first two weeks and be the first to interview for open positions. Once this round of interviews is completed, take a look at your list of long-term members to identify those who have the qualities and strengths to best fill the open position. They are your true brand ambassadors and can easily connect your brand stories with a variety of consumer audiences. Being invited to work a few days a week or month can go a long way to deepen these important relationships and can be an attractive offer for retirees, stay-at-home parents, and entrepreneurs. 

#4 – Develop a Cross-Department/Cross-Training Program 

In today’s competitive direct-to-consumer wine landscape, all staff members must be more nimble and flexible than ever. Identify your leads in each department and empower those individuals to create Training Checklists and Best Practices documents to share with team members and new hires. Offer a one-time bonus or raise in exchange for these added responsibilities. Set a quarterly meeting with all team leads to continue to update your Knowledge Base of training materials and share ideas for continual improvements across departments. There is a lot of power in bringing together the executive team with department leads on a regular basis as this allows your key personnel to better connect and learn about the latest initiatives, developments, accomplishments, etc. Schedule a quarterly field trip for all DTC team members to visit other departments or locations as well as your complimentary winery set within your respective wine region. Lastly, when onboarding new hires, be sure to schedule visits with all department heads to ensure every member of the winery team is aware of how you all work together to deliver customer service and business excellence. 

#5 – Schedule Daily Stand-Up Meetings to Best Prepare, Motivate and Recognize 

As we are all aware, high turnover in the hospitality space is a given. Whether it be restaurant, winery, hotel, or resort industries, frontline staff tend to move around quite a bit. With that in mind, Training Guides and Checklists are critical to the success of any hospitality team member. Detailed Hospitality Standards and Standard Operating Procedures will provide clarity and minimize most areas of confusion. In addition, the facilitation of a Daily Stand-Up Meeting on Thursdays through Sundays at a minimum, will allow the manager on duty to clearly communicate the daily game plan and motivate staff to perform at their highest levels. Do take time to call out those who are receiving excellent ratings/reviews and let them share their secrets of success with others. This is also an ideal time to communicate any updates or changes to policies and procedures. Yes, this means paying staff to arrive a half-hour earlier each of these days but the payoff will be clear when measuring guest satisfaction and sales success. If you don’t know what a daily Stand-Up Meeting entails, feel free to reach out. 


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About Sandra Hess

Sandra Hess, founder of DTC Wine Workshops and the DTC Consultant Network is a public speaker on the subject of direct to consumer wine sales and customer retention in the US.