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Training and retaining staff

Published:  23 July, 2008

Traditionally the on-trade has suffered a reputation for high staff turnover. As such, some companies, in particular establishments with smaller budgets, have been reluctant to invest in staff, a worrying trend, not to mention extremely short-sighted. Quality training for a team is one of the most important investments that a hotel, bar or restaurant can make, and with the right focus, can reap instant rewards in increased profits.

It is a myth that training has to cost the earth, as Clare Young from Vintellect explains: Too often I hear that restaurateurs are reluctant to send staff on training programmes because they are convinced that they'll invest in their professional knowledge only to find they go off to work for another restaurant, bar or hotel. Contrary to this, training is vital for staff motivation and retention and helps to promote respect and appreciation. Furthermore, if they undertake training as a group, it can generate a positive team spirit.' Vintellect has recently created a CD-Rom entitled Max Your Wine Sales, which, for a minimal investment, can be used to train any number of staff. Young continues: The results from our new CD training package have been amazing with clients reporting a 5,000% return on their investment. How can any establishment not justify investing just 150 when the potential rewards are so great?'

Two organisations that actively promote the benefits of quality staff training are the Academy of Food & Wine and the WSET. Says Sophie Brown, general manager of the Academy of Food & Wine: The Academy has long promoted the benefits of training. We offer a range of options for members, including free skills-building tutorials that look at the basics of wine service, such as decanting, blind tasting, serving Champagne and after-dinner drinks. In addition, our training packs are aimed at establishments that might have a number of staff to train or limited budgets. They cover topics such as dealing with payments, customer care skills, preparing and serving wines, maintaining a wine cellar, etc.' The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is a global organisation providing wine courses and qualifications for the wine trade, from its basic foundation course up to its flagship qualification, the Diploma in Wines & Spirits, which acts as a stepping stone onto the coveted Master of Wine. Its tutors read like a who's who of the wine world and include luminaries such as Michael Broadbent and John Radford.

Edward Harvey, food & beverage director at Grosvenor House, suggests encouraging staff to enter professional competitions: One of our team, John Ryan, was recently awarded the Kendall Jackson Travel Bursary for his essay on the perception and promotion of Californian wines. His prize is an all-expenses paid trip to the region and meetings with top winemarkers, which will really help develop his understanding of the wines. After his visit we may look to host a California promotion whereby John can use his new-found knowledge and enthusiasm to encourage guests to try different wines.'

Champagne Ruinart has been organising the UK Sommelier of the Year competition since 1992, part of a Europe-wide initiative to promote the skills of sommellerie, which was established by the House in the '80s and which now attracts entrants from 33 different countries. Managing director George Atkinson Clark comments: The Ruinart UK Sommelier competition is designed to promote the highest levels of wine service throughout the country, something to which Ruinart has committed for many years. The competition has a strong focus on training and all entrants are invited to participate in a free skills tutorial, plus we take all semi-finalists to the Ruinart cellars for a special masterclass with our winemaker. Professional competitions can help boost staff confidence, bringing them to the attention of both the trade and their customers.'

Tastings and exhibitions offer some of the best opportunities for staff training. Take the forthcoming Wine+ event, the first dedicated wine show for the on-trade. As the show's central theme, the organisers have taken increasing profit from wine sales, something to which training naturally contributes. In addition to tasting opportunities with its 90-odd exhibitors, Wine+ has lined up a host of major names to provide free seminars in its Business Clinic and Live Theatre. Gerard Basset and Henri Chapon will be hosting a masterclass in sommellerie linked into the Court of Master Sommeliers, for which Basset is the worldwide president; while Armit is bringing Dr Sebastiano Rosa over for a tutored tasting of the wines of Tenuta Guido, Sassicaia and Guidalberto. Other key names who will be participating include Matthew Wilkin MS, a founding partner of Genesis Wines, who will be discussing up-and-coming varietals from around the world, and Francoise Peretti of the Champagne Information Bureau.

Wine+ is also addressing the challenges presented by food and wine matching through sessions with Sriram V Aylur of The Quilon Restaurant and The Cinnamon Club's Hari Kumar and Mike Worrall. Tom Aiken's head sommelier, Gearoid Devaney, is teaming up with the doyenne of cheese, Patricia Michelson of La Fromagerie, to discuss choosing the right wine with cheese.

From a business perspective the event will offer opportunities to ask the experts about selecting a supplier, issues of licensing, making wine lists work harder and the latest update from the cork versus screwcap debate. Harpers' inimitable editor will also be chairing a keynote debate discussing whether brands have a place in the on-trade, with Ian Ronald from Armit and Robin Knapp from Matthew Clark.

Show director Sue Woodward concludes: Shows such as Wine+ offer immeasurable opportunities for staff training and also act as a one-stop shop to view all the courses on the market, making it easier to choose what works best for a particular team or establishment. With such a myriad of tastings, seminars and masterclasses it's hard to justify not visiting.'

Wine+ takes place at Olympia, London, on 17 and 18 January 2007. Registration is free in advance. For information on this and highlights of Wine+ visit