Improve Sales, Service & Retention

Train Your Staff

Looking for improved sales, increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, and lower staff turnover?

Staff training can deliver all of those benefits, and help you stand out against the competition too. Boosting your team’s product knowledge and sales and customer service skills is one of the best investments you can make in your business.

So how do you provide effective training? Here are some strategies to guide you:

Keep it Short and do it Frequently

Attention spans are short. Time is at a premium. 10- to 15-minute sessions work great, just keep in mind that training should be ongoing. Tereza Roux, a licensing and operations specialist with Rising Tide Consultants, suggests daily briefings. “They produce results,” she explains. “As a sommelier, I would spend 15 minutes with my staff at the end of service talking about wine that was served.” Use part of your pre-shift meetings to demonstrate an aspect of the customer service you want staff to provide. Or focus on a specific product and tell a story about it that staff can share with guests.

Some people need hands-on instruction, others need to hear it.

Enlist Others to Help

Look for a staff member who has the necessary skills and the ability to teach. Bring in a wine rep to talk about the wines you sell and recommend pairings with food. Ask a beer rep to demonstrate how to pour draught properly and to explain the difference between a lager and an ale. “We have a wine consultant who mentors new employees,” says Roger Gibson, one of the owners of West Coast Liquor Company’s four outlets in the Lower Mainland.

Use a Variety of Training Methods

“Everybody learns in a different way,” notes Tara Fenimore, manager of the Fountainhead Pub in Vancouver’s west end. Written information works well for visual learners. Some people need hands-on instruction, others need to hear it. (You can invite guest speakers so staff hear the message from a different voice.) Role playing can also be effective, with someone acting as a customer.

Whatever training methods you choose, “offering one-on-one time is crucial,” Roux says. This can take the form of coaching, mentoring, or job shadowing. Coaching isn’t about providing advice; it’s your opportunity to act as a sounding board, encouraging staff to raise concerns and reach solutions on their own. At Nancy O’s Restaurant Group in Prince George, shift leaders or other senior staff devote time to working with colleagues, “especially when they’re new,” says president Eoin Foley.

Know your Audience

Your staff may come from various generations, cultures and backgrounds, so don’t rely on a one-size-fits-all approach to training. Adapt to their needs by asking for their feedback as you go. Explain why things are done, not just how. And keep the pace moving, making the experience fun and interactive. Use quizzes as a game and encourage staff to share their answers with each other to make the environment more social. Create short, simple videos and post them on YouTube and Facebook.

Another key point: Don’t assume people know how to do certain tasks. Even something as straightforward as stocking a shelf may need to be demonstrated.

Think of Training as Another Way of Engaging (and Keeping) your Staff

“It’s about corporate culture, really,” explains Foley. He oversees about 80 staff at two locations and says the company’s training program has contributed to lower turnover than the industry average. “Giving people an opportunity to grow definitely helps.” Training also shows your commitment to employees, which can help you attract qualified job seekers.

Look for Courses to Help your Staff Build Skills (and Sales)

Training helps your staff provide an experience that keeps your patrons coming back. “It gives them a little more confidence when talking with customers,” says Foley. Gibson puts employees through various wine industry courses to enhance their product knowledge. There are also online courses that cover other essentials like customer service and sales techniques. go2HR, BC’s tourism human resource association, now offers SuperHost customer service training online and in a classroom format. Foley thinks it will benefit licensed establishments, “especially when you’re dealing with visitors during peak season.” The first new SuperHost course, Foundations of Service Quality, teaches about workplace communication, problem solving, customer and employer expectations, Net Promoter Score, and more. Visit for details. You can also find out about go2HR’s other industry certifications, including Serving It Right, FOODSAFE by Distance Education, and Foundations of Workplace Safety at

Keep the pace moving, making the experience fun and interactive.

Consider the Costs of NOT Training your Staff

People move around in this industry, But instead of minimizing training because you’re worried some staff will leave in a few months anyway, change your perspective. What if you don’t train them and they stay? Poor service, wastage, and repeated mistakes are more costly than an investment in training.

go2HR is BC’s tourism human resource association, responsible for coordinating the BC Tourism Labour Market Strategy. go2HR provides tourism employers with resources in the area of recruitment and retention as well as training and certification programs to develop relevant skills for prospective and current tourism and hospitality employees. For more information, visit

Training using Samples gives Staff a Taste of Product Knowledge

West Coast Liquor Company carries more than 2,000 wine SKUs. Nancy O’s Restaurant Group offers more than 60 beers from around the world. The Fountainhead Pub regularly introduces new drinks to its menu.

They all face a familiar challenge: “It can be hard to keep up with new products all the time,” says Nancy O’s president Eoin Foley.

Staff tastings can help bolster product knowledge. Foley started two-hour beer training sessions after hours. “We sip and sample a few different beers,” he explains. “When you taste it, you remember it even better.”

To help the information sink in, hand out tasting notes (you can find a lot of them on the Liquor Distribution Branch wholesale website) and encourage staff to write down their own observations. Aim to have them remember one of two key things about each item they sample.
Be sure to post the notes on a notice board or in a binder in a prominent place. Staff can use it to refresh their memories and those who couldn’t attend the tasting can get up to speed.
You can also help staff by providing suggestions for what to say to customers about a product. When a new gin and vodka were unveiled at the Fountainhead Pub, for example, manager Tara Fenimore sent out a memo “just to give them a couple of key talking points.”

The payoff? Product knowledge gives staff confidence—and that makes them better sales people.