Wine is a critical part of any fine-dining restaurant, and at Tru in Chicago, guests expect the best wine experience possible from the nationally renowned list. “We try to always have a wine list that represents the world of wine as best as we can,” says David Murr, Tru’s sommelier. The wine list contains over 1,500 selections in addition to by-the-glass pours and an impressive list of liqueurs. “We try to carry the big names as well as the small producers.”
Educating and maintaining wine knowledge among front-of-house staff can be a challenge for any management team, but Murr says there are a few smart ways managers can approach wine education for their staff. Below, her shares five tips that he uses to keep the team at Tru engaged with the wine list.
1. Speak to your whole staff.
At Tru, the staff includes both servers who have worked in the industry for over 10 years and employees who don’t have much experience. As a result, Murr has to build wine lessons that work for both groups — with enough new information to keep the servers with more experience engaged, while covering the basics for the newer servers. “When we sit down to do tastings I make sure that we have a discussion about the staples of the wine list like, the by-the-glass pours, and then we’ll move into talking about more unusual things,” he says.
2. Focus on the guest experience.
Murr bridges the gap between the two topics by talking about the guests and how they might interact with a certain wine. That brings everyone into the discussion and enables them to think about how they can talk about certain pours tableside. “We don’t focus on the ‘theory’ of a wine per se, but more why our guests might like it and what would pair well with it food-wise,” Murr says.
3. Find that piece of “excitement” to get staff engaged.
When he’s introducing his team to a new by-the-glass pour, Murr tries to think about what’s exciting about this particular wine. “I try and find that piece of excitement that the staff can latch onto,” he says. The goal is to arm staff with information that they can pass onto the guest. “It could be a different or unique blend or varietal, or anything — it’s just something that’s eye-opening that they can revisit at a table,” he says. “As much as possible you want to find what appeals to your staff.”
And don’t make the mistake of thinking that your staff will geek out over wine for the same reasons that you do, Murr says. “My palate is different than my staff and what appeals to me may not appeal to them,” he says.
4. Invest in your own education, too.
It’s important to make sure that you’re continuously learning as well — that will benefit everyone on your team, Murr says. “For me, it’s a lot of reading and tastings as much as possible,” he says. “It’s full-on immersion in the world of wine.” Staying informed about new vintages and reading about the wine world is part of the job in addition to educating your staff. “There’s always new things to learn and review,” he says.
5. Focus on the journey, not the destination.
At Tru, wine education is an ongoing part of the restaurant and a vital part of staff education. The team at Tru meets biweekly to go over the wine list, and any changes to the by-the-glass pours and larger wine list are talked about as they happen so that everyone’s on the same page. “It’s a constant conversation,” Murr says.
Since the wine list at Tru is constantly changing and evolving, wine education has to do the same thing. It’s all in the name of creating a great wine experience for the guest. “The more we learn as a team, the more we can pass that onto the guest,” Murr says.