Selling High-End Wines

Tools & Tips for Staff

Servers and sales staff may not have the confidence to sell high-end wines, so following are some tools and tips to give them more confidence and help move some higher-priced products.

Customers want value for money and are happy to have recommendations from a qualified professional.

Training Staff – Ongoing staff training of your wine list ensures that your staff is knowledgeable and confident about selling wine. While a 10-minute pre-shift brief may be a challenge, it is an effective way to communicate a featured or new wine on the list. That new wine may be a $50.00 bottle of Spanish Rioja.

Posting Spec Sheets – Every wine has an individual spec sheet, which is a useful tool for staff to familiarize themselves with each wine, and learn not only what varietal(s) is in that bottle, but also the alcohol content (important to many customers these days) as well as the background of the vineyard. Having a story to tell about the wine makes it easier to sell that $75.00 Brunello di Montalcino as an exciting alternative to the Chianti that the customer usually buys.

Posting the spec sheet of a new wine in your staff area gives employees the ability to talk about the wine, even if they aren’t familiar with it. Providing links to a site so they can go online and learn more about that particular vintage is also helpful. Keep spec sheets in a binder behind the counter for easy reference.

Utilizing Shelf Talkers – Having information available at point-of-sale for the customer to review makes the job of your sales team easier and is the start of a conversation about the wine.

Understanding your Customer – Building a rapport with customers can help your staff identify premium purchasers. By asking a few key questions you can reveal if the client is budget conscious or willing to pay for a fine wine. If someone enjoys premium beer they may well love to buy a buttery Napa Chardonnay for when they’re having company.

Cross-Selling and Up-Selling – Cross-selling can be done by recommending a wine or beer pairing with food, such as recommending a crisp Chardonnay to go with salmon. Up-selling can be achieved by listening to your customer so when they say they love Malbec, rather than suggesting an inexpensive Chilean Malbec, you can recommend a more expensive Malbec from France that they would enjoy. In a pub, recommend a couple enjoy a bottle of wine vs. just a glass each, and remind them that they can take any unfinished wine home with them.

Promoting New Products – Some customers love to be the first person to try a hot new product, so if you have a patron you know fits this bill, it’s a perfect chance for staff to recommend a higher-end wine that your customer is familiar with, such as a an Italian Vermentino or Georgian Saperavi.

Highlighting Limited Availability – If you are only getting one case of a unique wine, mention that in your newsletter and build excitement about the date the new wine will be arriving. The fact that there is limited availability can entice customers into the store.

Buying Local – BC has internationally renowned wines. Quite often customers ask for a wine or varietal that is familiar to them, so when someone says they love Syrah (which they usually have had from France), it’s an opportunity to recommend a Syrah from the Okanagan Valley. Although BC wines are considered expensive compared to import wines, view it as an opportunity to be passionate about our local wineries and winemakers. When you are passionately talking about a wine to your customers and encouraging them to buy local, they are more likely to buy into it, and agree to purchase that more expensive wine.

Offering Incentives – Staff and customer incentives offer a competitive and rewarding way to increase sales of higher-end wines. A little competition goes a long way as staff will enjoy achieving a goal. A time frame set for two weeks allows employees to let their salesmanship shine, while incentives for customers, such as tastings, are the perfect time for staff to connect with customers and sell that insanely delicious, rare Australian Shiraz.

The world of wine is endless and people can be creatures of comfort, especially when it comes to their favourite grape. In the hospitality industry we don’t just sell wine, we offer an experience. Enhancing that experience by stretching out of your comfort zone makes it a great day for everyone.

Tereza Roux is a Sommelier and Licensing and Operations Specialist at Rising Tide Consultants. She can be reached at