Wine has been gaining popularity worldwide for years, and many restaurants rely on it to drive sales and add to their bottom line. In the UAE, alcohol sales volume in 2020 was approximately 125 million litres. According to Euromonitor International, total consumption of wine has been increasing each year steadily and will continue to do so, reaching up to 21.7 million litres in 2022: approximately 25% more than in 2017[i].
Knowing this, wine can be as valuable a culinary tool as a first-rate Chef's Knife.
Alcohol helps accentuate molecular compounds in food, which improves its taste as well as its smell. Pairing wine with food, therefore, can capture the emotions, memories, and palates of discerning guests in your restaurant, and the more you can do to nurture that, the more successful your wine sales will be.
Although it might seem a daunting task to navigate your way through the vast world of wine, understanding its context in the kitchen and your restaurant can help draw more people who enjoy drinking wine.
But how best to accomplish this without a sommelier?
Following are some recommendations that will help waitstaff boost their wine knowledge, wow guests, and drive repeat visits.
Training waitstaff to perform wine service is one thing; empowering them to talk confidently about wine varietals is another.
There is a multitude of grape varietals used to make wine around the globe, and these days more and more wine regions are exporting their wines to the UAE. Rather than overwhelm your waitstaff with geography and climate lessons, offer them some basic knowledge of grape varietals and their most common regions.
An often-untapped resource for wine knowledge is importers, distributors, and suppliers.
An opportunity to solidify relationships with restaurant owners aside, requesting they conduct information sessions or wine tastings for your waitstaff is an excellent way for them (the suppliers) to promote their product line. Many will have educational materials such as handouts, maps, and other illustrations to show or distribute as a bonus.
Depending on what you have available on your wine list, perhaps more thorough insights might be appropriate. For instance, if your cellar consists mainly of wines from France, making sure everyone understands that Pouilly Fuissé and Pouilly Fumé are not the same thing might be wise, but should they be able to name the 10 Crus of Beaujolais? Probably not.
Curate an Appropriate Wine List
If you have a background in wine, you will likely embrace this challenge. If not, consult a wine expert or do your own research to determine what makes sense to pair with the cuisine you serve and how different wines paired with other flavors create balance.
The wine list you decide upon should represent your restaurant's culture and the quality of whatever wines you serve should be up to scratch.
Simply put, all restaurants should endeavour to offer at least a few wines in each of these categories: white, red, rosé, sparkling, and maybe one or two dessert wines.
An 'Experience First' Approach
Potential customers are often looking for more than an inspiring menu or an eclectic atmosphere: they hope to enjoy a dining experience!
In the UAE, about 60% of customers prefer red wines, while 30% enjoy white wines[ii], and like food, wines have distinct elements such as flavour, weight, and nuance.
A working knowledge of wine can help your staff understand which foods go with which type of wine and allow them to make recommendations or pairings. Advising on a wine pairing with certain meals can help empower customers and make them feel as if they are making an informed decision. In turn, this will encourage them to spend more to better enjoy their dining experience.
Wine pairings encourage customers to spend more to better enjoy their dining experience.
Generally, food and wine pairings will help make customers feel more connected to the restaurant and ultimately make them feel as if the atmosphere is enhanced because they can trust the selection they have made[iii]. It allows them to be adventurous without being worried that they have made a wrong choice. It also elevates the overall experience and makes it more memorable in the minds of the customers.
If you make an effort to introduce these tangible suggestions at your venue, not only will you elevate the overall experience, but you’ll also drive a higher average check which in turn, positively impacts your bottom line. So wine not?
[i] Euromonitor International, 2020, The Food and Beverage Market Entry Handbook: United Arab Emirates (UAE), accessed 25 May 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/chafea/agri/sites/default/files/handbook-uae_en.pdf
[ii] Statista, Food & Beverages United Arab Emirates, accessed 25 May 2021, https://www.statista.com/outlook/dmo/ecommerce/food-personal-care/food-beverages/united-arab-emirates
[iii] Olsen, J., Thach, L., & Nowak, L. (2007). Wine for my Generation: Exploring how U.S. wine consumers are socialized to wine. Journal of Wine Research, 18(1), 1–18.
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