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Wine Vision News: On-trade needs big shake-up to boost wine sales

Published:  20 November, 2013

Restaurants should drop sommeliers and offer customers the chance to send bottles back if they don't like them, say on-trade experts.

Speaking at Tuesday's Wine Vision conference held in London, panellists made some radical suggestions about how to innovate around wine in restaurants.

Peter McCombie MW said the trade is "very complacent, with too many people not caring about what people want but focusing instead on profitability".

"Success is not measured in gross profit percentages, but on whether customers come back. Too many people are hung up on profitability," he said.

Gerard Basset OBE said more needs to be done in teaching staff how to sell wine. "We often focus on wine knowledge not on the interaction with customers. That's the most important part," he said.

But Neil Bruce, restaurant wine consultant, went further, sayings one innovation was "not to have a sommelier". Instead he suggested giving staff enough knowledge to sell wine rather than talk about root stocks. But Xavier Rousset MS, owner of London restaurants 28:50 and Texture, disagreed, saying that people who come to a restaurant and spend a lot of money on wine want to have someone on hand who has the knowledge to tell them if a wine's corked.

Rousset championed the use of by the glass sales to encourage customers to experiment and trade up. "I won't spend £40 on a bottle of wine I've never heard of, but I would spend £3 to try it." He said that, as in retail stores like the Sampler in London, customers would pay £3 for a 70 ml sample.

Winemaker Nigel Greening of New Zealand's Felton Road asked why margins were so high in the on-trade, but Rousset and Basset said staff costs and overheads were high. But Rousset added that he is not happy paying a five-times mark-up unless he "has a five-star experience", including glassware, knowledge and staff. He added "we could charge more on food and less on wine, but I would go bust in three months".

McCombie suggests that rather than asking a customer to taste a wine to see if it's "correct", we should be asking whether customers like the wine. "If not, change it." McCombie also said: "You don't need to have a big list to be impressive," but that staff training is "absolutely crucial".

All of the panellists agreed that staff attitude was critical, if it's wrong, they've got to go. You can build knowledge, but "if they have a bad attitude you can't do anything", said Basset.

Follow @harperswine on Twitter and #WineVision for more news on Wednesday.