Cultivating a Learning Culture

By John Linderman | November 01, 2006

Everything is hot at GreystoneGrill — so hot, in fact, it's cool. From the menu to the wine list to the modern decor, the restaurant has cultivated a culinary experience that tempts all five of its guests' senses. And as the 2006 recipient of the Diners' Choice Award for hottest new restaurant in Maryland by the state's restaurant association, word about Greystone's heat is spreading.

But after just one year of operating two locations in the Baltimore area, it was apparent that the restaurant's servers -- at an average age of 24 -- were not knowledgeable enough when it came to answering guests' questions regarding wine. Properly informing guests about wine and food pairing is a key component to facilitating that revenue stream.

Options from A to Z
Greystone explored several options for educating staff on the basics of wine, including tapping wine sales representatives for training, hiring an outside educator to perform seminars, or even creating a curriculum themselves. Each option had significant drawbacks, ranging from too biased to too costly, to too time intensive. In addition, these solutions offered no real way to measure how much or how well employees were learning.

Greystone eventually settled on a subscription-based online tutorial that focuses on teaching the basics of wine to restaurant employees. The service is called Vino 101: An Introduction to Wine and covers how wine is made, wine characteristics, wine growing grapes and regions, and how to properly serve and sell wine. What's more, the solution was well within Greystone's budget.

The system includes a Web link and access code which enables servers to train via on-site laptops or their home computers. In two weeks time the entire staff was trained in wine. Management tracked results through Vino 101's learning management system, a data storage and management module.

It's catching
Following their training, staff members took a personal interest in wine. Greystone saw an increase in wine sales to staff members. Servers are now happy to talk to guests about the wine list, something they were previously intimidated by due to a lack of knowledge. Wine sales subsequently increased by 18 percent over the first 90 days. Glass and bottle sales showed a significant increase and the restaurant saw a change in clientele. Greystone gained the reputation as a wine lovers' restaurant.

Learning about wine became fun for the staff. As a follow-up to the training, management regularly offers staff wine tastings, discusses food and wine pairings, and solicits staff advice when considering additions to the list.

At a recent manager's meeting, Greystone discussed the effects of this wine training on overall operations, and came to the realization that they'd finally created something they had set out to do from the beginning -- a wine learning culture that is contagious. Because of the success experienced with this online wine training program, Greystone is now exploring other technology based training modules that will help improve operations, and increase the company's bottom line.


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