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The benefits of craft training

10 November 2005

As a Master Innholder, a retired hotel manager (of some 33 years) and now chief executive of the Academy of Food & Wine Service, I feel that I am in a good position to offer my opinion on the lack of interest in craft training from restaurant and hotel managers in this country.

During my years in the industry I have had tens of thousands of conversations with hospitality managers who say that they give training to their staff. But my own experience suggests that too many bosses say they train and don't; too many bosses say they are interested in training but aren't; and too many bosses talk about training but do nothing about it.

I am, of course, talking about craft training - not new statutory requirements, not new company regulations and procedures, and not induction sessions, but good, wholesome craft training. I appreciate that the aforementioned requirements also need to be honoured, but this does not teach staff how to mix a cocktail, wait at a table, open and pour a bottle of wine, influence people to spend more or encourage a guest to return.

Hospitality customers are becoming ever more discerning, which makes it all the more important that your front-line staff are fully trained. After all, these are the people who meet, greet and serve your guests. They can make or break the customer's perception of your establishment.

If your staff have the relevant skills, product knowledge and customer care training, they can become your best sales people and significantly increase your bottom line. Marketing and promotions may bring new customers through the door, but it is the waiter or bar person who is most likely to make them feel welcome, encourage them to spend a little more and influence their decision to return - or not.

As a first step, employers should undertake and then evaluate staff craft training. The Academy of Food & Wine Service runs many different programmes, including skill-building seminars, tutorials and mentor training workshops. I believe that the cost of properly training a waiter can easily be recouped in increased revenue due, for example, to their new-found skill for "upselling".

The Academy of Food & Wine Service. Tel: 020 8943 1011. Website: www.acfws.org

Over to you

What makes a good sommelier?

John Campbell, executive chef, the Vineyard at Stockcross The ability to make guests feel at ease is vital. Wine can be such an intimidating subject, and a good sommelier must be able to make his guests feel comfortable, whether they know a great deal about wine or not. Some guests may want to engage in a conversation about a vineyard, while others may prefer to enjoy the bottle in peace.

Guy Morris, executive director, Aurora International Personality and charisma are very important, as is the ability to converse and relate to people. A good sommelier must also be intuitive when meeting people and be able to ascertain what kind of wine suits them. But personality is most important to me. If someone is to sip my wine in front of me, I at least want to like them.

Frédéric Grappe, restaurant and beverage manager, Orrery, London
Apart from wine knowledge, food knowledge is the most important thing. A sommelier must understand the relationship between wine and food and be able to recommend a wine that will complement the food the customer has chosen. He must also be able to read people's minds fairly quickly.

Richard Harden, Harden's restaurant guides
A good sommelier encourages you to spend just a little more than you originally intended, but leaves you delighted with the cleverness of your choice.

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