Selling a second bottle

This is the third article in our special series–Sales, Service, Taste–on how to develop a successful wine training program.


Since 1983, when wine first exceeded beer and liquor sales in our restaurants, it has become increasingly important to take advantage of your customers’ keen interest in wine.

Customers who begin with wine in your lounge or bar seem more likely to order more wine at the dining room table than those who do not. This certainly represents a solid sales opportunity to offer these guests new and different wine selections with their dinner. This trend also suggests that a more aggressive attempt at merchandising wine in your bar can make suggesting wine easier for your waitstaff in the dining room.

If you decide to increase your emphasis on the wine in the lounge, here are some points to remember:

1. When ordered in the bar/lounge, wine is often one of the first impressions of the quality that your operation offers; make sure the wine you serve is a quality product.

2. Make sure you let the customer know that they are getting a recognized brand when it comes to house wine. Make an effort to pour house wines from the bottle. This shows that you’re proud of what you serve (a glass of red or white on a cocktail tray has no perceived quality or brand identity).

3. When in the lounge, try to pour wines from the bottle so that the customer can see the label. If the customer knows what they’ve been served in the lounge, it’s easier for them to request the same wine in the dining room.

Sell more appetizers and desserts

One of the best ways to increase your average check is, of course, to sell more appetizers and desserts. Similarly with wine, the sale of that “second bottle’ can significantly increase profits. Here are some points to teach your sales staff that will enable them to sell the second bottle more easily:

Obviously, the second bottle can’t be recommended until the customer has been served the first one. Stress the importance of taking the wine order with the food order. This way, the waiter can get the first bottle on the table as soon as possible.

In order to sell the second bottle, serve the first bottle with the appetizers so that a new wine can be suggested with the main course. In order to use “The Recommended Approach,’ you must train your staff how to create the opportunity to sell the second bottle. Once the fundamental technique is understood everyone will become more successful salespersons. Examine the appropriate steps to be taken.

Assume you’re serving a party of four persons who have just ordered a bottle of wine.

Make sure that your staff brings the bottle to the table first (before serving the appetizers). This gets everyone involved in tasting the wine.

Just before the main course is served, teach your staff to approach the table and pour the remaining wine into the glasses.

Have the staff then say . . . “Your dinner is almost ready to be served, would you like to try a different wine with the main course or perhaps you’d like to stay with another bottle of your first choice.’

By using the latter approach your staff will be much more successful in raising their average checks, not to mention their tips!

Remember, it all hinges on getting the first bottle served early, the second should soon easily follow.


Good service in the restaurant is something that customers expect and usually receive. Exceptional service, especially when it comes to wine is what creates particular interest in your operation such that it becomes a “wine destintation.’

Your goal should be to have everyone who handles wine in the dining room, do it with an air of professionalism. Customers are not used to seeing professional wine service because most waitstaff persons haven’t been trained properly. Here, is your opportunity to polish your staff’s wine service skills and impress your clientele.

Basically what you need to do is to educate your waiters and waitresses as to what the customer likes and dislikes regarding the service of wine. Here are some things to focus on:

All staff should carry bottles of wine in the dining room with an air of respect for their contents. Many waiters can be seen running with bottles, finally plunking them on the table as they would a bottle of catsup. Teach them to move slowly and gracefully in approaching the table. This leads the guests to believe something special is about to arrive. The bottle should be placed gently on the table with the label facing all the guests.

The capsule should be cut cleanly around the top without picking up the bottle from the table. Care must be taken not to tear the capsule as it is part of the aesthetic presentation of the wine. Never twist the bottle; twist the corkscrew until all of its five coils have completely penetrated the cork. This ensures a secure grip on the cork so that it can be removed in its entirety.

Once the cork is removed it should be placed to the right of the host. Never smell the cork! The cork’s purpose is to protect the wine from air and thus, is inspected to ensure that it’s not all dried out. The wine itself is what should be smelled; teaching your waitstaff not to smell corks, and why, is an important step in improving your wine service.

Careful attention must be paid when the wine is actually poured. Most often this is done in a hurried fashion. Time should be taken to pour slowly and elegantly, again showing respect for what’s inside the bottle. Never let the mouth of the bottle touch the wine glass. Handling the wine with respect each time it is poured has a profound effect on the image of professionalism of your operation.

Many customers do not feel comfortable with the ritual of tasting the wine to see if it is all rights. I don’t blame them. After all, we don’t ask them to taste their steak, do we?

In order to make the customer more at ease with the initial sampling procedure, ask that the person who pours the wine for the host stand out of direct contact (sight) with them. Many waiters pour a taste sample and then stare at the host. This makes the person uncomfortable, leading them to rush through the procedure just to get it over with. This is precisely what inhibits people from ordering wine with their meal.



The term body refers to how the wine feels in the mouth or how it “fills’ the mouth. In all wines we find sugars, alcohol, glycerine, acids, tannins, etc. Some wines, we say, are better endowed than others because they have more of these particular substances. When you describe a wine’s feeling in the mouth, you say it is either “light-bodied,’ “medium-bodied,’ or “full-bodied.’

Light-bodied wines are easy to drink. They go down as easily as water. They go down as easily as water.

Medium-bodied wines have more substance to them; they seem to weigh more on the palate. They fill the mouth with a richer, more velvety quality.

Full-bodied wines make their presence known in the mouth. They are assertive, they can coat the tongue. A simple analogy is that light-bodied wines are like water, medium-bodied wines can be compared to skim-milk, and full-bodied wines are like rich, whole milk.

Body is an important concept when it comes to matching wines with foods. Light-bodied wines go better with simple, everyday foods that don’t require seasonings or sauces. As the wines become full-bodied, they tend to go better with dishes of a more assertive nature. The more intensely flavored (strong spices, rich sauces) the food, the more full-bodied the wines must be so as not to be dominated by the food flavors.

In order to ensure that your staff is comfortable with the term “body,’ and how to use it, you should conduct tastings to demonstrate wines of differing bodies. The easiest way is to start with a simple house white wine and compare it simultaneously with a full-bodied Chardonnay from California (e.g. Edna Valley, Chalone, and Far Niete.)

Don’t forget to conduct these tastings for your staff in a blind, side-byside comparison format. Then it will be easier to perceive the taste difference that you’ll be trying to demonstrate.

After they have tasted the two wines, ask them to identify on the scale where each wine falls in relation to body as far as the other is concerned.

Once your staff is familiar with describing wines of extreme differences, than you should compare two Chardonnays blind. This is where you should start if your staff is more advanced than others.

Home decor: who’s manning the shop?

An increasing number of building supply retailers are hiring interior designers and decorators to strengthen their home decor departments. These designers and decorators are trained to assist customers with measurements and product coordination. While they are expectedly more expensive than ordinary sales associates, the added costs are offset by wider margins and add-on sales.

To further their edge in the home decor department, retailers are recruiting a new breed of associates

In the words of one home center executive, the decor department is “where the margins are.” But driving sales per square foot is more than just stocking the latest styles and offering the most special-order options.

For pacesetters in the category, the question boils down to who’s manning the shop.

A growing number of retailers are answering that question by hiring interior designers and decorators trained to help customers with measurements and product coordination in-store. These decorators are also capable of designing–and selling–in the home.

Retailers fork out a higher wage for designers, whose backgrounds make them more expensive than the average sales associate. But some say the costs are justified by attractive margins, plus add-on sales the designers bring.

The expense of house calls, which some retailers are beginning to offer free of charge, is further offset by the bigger sales ticket the service generates, they say.

Retailers are betting that their lower prices and one-stop shopping environment will eventually secure them a place as the interior design destination for the middle-income consumer.

Since Builders Square introduced its Idea Center two years ago, the company has gradually begun attracting associates with degrees as varied as architecture and interior design. These employees have specialized backgrounds in cabinets, drapery, wallpaper and floor coverings. Some have experience as contractors, says Marilyn Schultz, director, Idea Center.

When wooing job candidates, Square receives the greatest response from people with interior design degrees. Retailers provide recruits with a wider range of experience than large design firms, where designers often specialize in a single area, says Schultz. At Builders Square, they take ownership of an entire project.

“They develop the package themselves, from windows to cabinets to accessories, and then sell it to the customer,” she says.

The one-stop training experience for designers translates into a one-stop shopping experience for customers–an experience the company hopes will encourage middle-income consumers to think of Builders Square when they decorate. “We want [customers] to understand that our people can take them through a project from start to finish,” Schultz says.

Builders Square employs eight to 12 designers per store, hiring associates with a mix of backgrounds so they can cross-train each other in various specialties, she says. The object is to unleash associates ready to recommend and sell a range of related merchandise.

Idea Center designers are paid according to their education and the going market rate. They also earn incentives for sales in certain product categories, Schultz says.

HomeBase, which first tested its program last year, has also found it relatively easy to attract designers, says Mark Baker, VP-merchandising.

The company’s 200 designers typically have college or vocational school design degrees and at least two years’ experience selling with such companies as J.C. Penney. Some have worked for large office complexes or for tract builders such as Kaufman & Broad, he says.

“We’ve found that we can recruit designers quickly because we sell at a very competitive rate and we compensate them very fairly,” Baker says. Designers draw base pay plus a commission based on sales and margin.

Base salary plus comission

House calls pay off

For some retailers, the decor sales game plan is inextricably linked to home consultation, and that’s where the big-ticket sale is to be gained, says Jim Schaffer, president of Schaffer Associates, a Forest, Va. consulting firm.

house calls

Adding house calls brings the staff designer strategy a step forward, according to Schaffer. Previously, the customer bore the burden of taking measurements and bringing them to the store.

At Builders Square, which is testing a house call program, an associate may have an 80 percent closure rate in the home compared to a 50 percent rate in-store, says Schultz.

House calls are the foundation of HomeBase’s no-fee design service, Baker says. The strategy dovetails neatly with the company’s special-order program, which generates 70 percent to 80 percent of its decor sales.

HomeBase designers, from one to four per store, generally receive referrals from customers who come in to look for window treatments, carpeting and wall-paper. They make five to eight house calls per day and arrive loaded with sample books, says Baker.

Hechinger’s Home Project Centers have also begun using designers. The company recently rolled out in-home design services at its Laurel, Md. store and will send decor department associates out as far as 21 miles on calls.

“When you’re in the store, you’re dealing with perceptions,” says Ken Cort, president of Hechinger Stores. “When you’re in the home, you’re dealing with the reality of what the home is. The ability to close the sale once you get to the home is infinitely greater than your ability to do it at the store.”

Hechinger decorators, five per store, not only help with measurements and coordinating but also “give customers a sense of what they could do a year from now,” says Cort. One key to ensuring repeat business is to remember that many customers “aren’t going to be able to do everything they want to do, when they want to do it,” he says.

Using staff designers to boost sales is not the exclusive province of the big box retailer. Three-store National Lumber, a builder-oriented retailer in Mansfield, Mass., has tried the strategy with equally lucrative results.

National’s Newton, Mass. store, which caters to a 35 percent consumer, 65 percent builder customer mix, is the area’s exclusive Benjamin Moore dealer, says president Steven Kaitz.

National added window treatments and wall coverings to the paint department in 1991, repositioning the department as the Newton Design Center. A year later, the company brought on a full-time decorator. The service was a natural adjunct to the expanded product mix and a way to draw new retail customers, says Kaitz.

Decor sales have picked up dramatically since the designer, Cathy Anderson, came aboard. Sales doubled in 1993, and Kaitz expects them to double again when he hires another designer soon. The store now attracts more female and senior customers, Kaitz says.

Anderson makes house calls at no charge once she qualifies a customer. She draws a straight salary with no commission.

The center has not attracted builder customers yet, mainly because there is little new residential construction going on in Newton, Kaitz says. And it’s not something he’d add to his other two, more builder-oriented, yards. But Kaitz says he would like to explore a designer-builder relationship someday, adding that the center “has a lot of potential.”

At this stage, it’s still unclear whether staff designers will help retailers carve out a competitive niche among specialty design firms and specialty retail stores.

National goes head-to-head with local design shops by advertising its design center as a separate entity from its lumberyard, Kaitz says.

The Newton store does not match the specialty boutiques in terms of square footage or upscale inventory. But the design center is more convenient than Boston–where most of the competing services are located–and offers free consultations that customers would be hard-put to find elsewhere, he says.

It differentiates the company from Home Depot as well. Depot has a new store nearby in West Roxbury and plans to build more, Kaitz says.

The one-stop niche

HomeBase competes with Home Depot and specialty shops by offering “extremely competitive” prices and by positioning itself as a “complete host” that offers paint, plumbing and electrical in one spot.

While it caters mainly to consumers, HomeBase also works with commercial property owners. Vendor volume discounts allow further price breaks for customers who are decorating apartment complexes and condominium developments, Baker says.

Builders Square competes within the industry and with small design firms as well, even recruiting from them on occasion. Schultz says she’s reaching a niche that’s still wide-open for the taking.

“Middle-of-the-road consumers can’t afford an interior designer,” she says. “They feel comfortable going into a home improvement center, where they get the same high-quality product and they can do everything in one place. It saves them driving and shopping time.

“We can decorate any room in your house. This is the future, and this is where we’ll fit in.”

Case closed: grown in Wardian cases, houseplants are no hassle

IN WINTER we want greenery. The garden may be dormant. We may have a dearth of spare time to devote to fussing over houseplants. We might not even have an inch of space to spare on our windowsills. We crave the sight of green things growing nonetheless.

That’s why Wardian cases were created.

Thank Nathaniel Ward for the concept behind the closed case. In 1830, he had the ingenuity to cosset ferns collected during countryside rambles in sealed bottles to survive within his dry, stuffy London home. Removing ferns from their woodland habitat is no longer considered responsible.

But Ward’s spin on nurturing plants in a humid, temperature-controlled environment remains a brainstorm worth celebrating. From that humble beginning evolved what is now widely known as the Wardian case–ornate glass boxes that look like aquariums and function like terrariums.

Condensation keeps the plants inside the case quenched, so they require little or no watering, plus humidity is high–much to the delight of tropicals.

Fast forward to today. For those of us with less-than-perfect growing conditions indoors, Wardian cases make home-growing not only feasible but fun. They have all the magic of a microcosm, plus they offer practical perks.

Put the right houseplant in a Wardian case, and you can forget about lugging watering cans and skip straight for the rewards.

Wardian cases serve several functions. Set potted cuttings inside, and the closed case acts like a nursery. Or plant a Lilliputian landscape directly in the soil. When choosing plants, inquire about ultimate dimensions and steer toward ones that remain within the case’s bounds at maturity. In winter, a Wardian case satiates the primal urge to garden, putting a neat lid on it.

Image result for plant a Lilliputian landscape directly in the soil.

DO YOU KNOW Early plant collectors used Wardian cases to transport tropical plants home, saving the slip’s water rations and protecting the cargo from salt spray.

4 easy layers


PEBBLES Most Wardian cases lack drainage. So start with a layer of small pebbles (the sort you might find offered in bags in the aquarium aisle).

CHARCOAL To keep the soil sweet, add some fine charcoal (also found in the aquarium aisle) to the pebbles.

* SOIL On top of that, layer potting soil, choosing a light, peat-based propagation-type mix with plenty of perlite or vermiculite for drainage.

PLANTS Choose plants that remain diminutive, but also have shallow roots and play peacefully with cohabitants.

What grows best

Not every plant loves life in a box: some find it claustrophobic. The most suitable are plants with low light requirements, high humidity demands, and a slow growth rate.


ORCHIDS Doting on high humidity and requiring little water, miniature orchids are ideal for the purpose, with flowers being a bonus. Since they prefer good drainage, it’s best to keep orchids in pots.

* FERNS The Wardian case’s original occupant still dwells happily here. The larger Boston ferns (Nephrolepis) can quickly overtake a small space, but more diminutive fluffy ruffled types and ‘Duffii’ are ideal, as are Pteris.

* BEGONIAS The giant angel wings wouldn’t work, but many miniature Rex and rhizomatous begonias are ideal for containing in a glass case. To prevent mildew, opt for a ventilated case.

CALATHEAS AND MARANTAS Their multicolored leaves add pizzazz, plus many remain in scale. The venue is ideal, catering to their high-humidity demands.


PILEAS AND PEPEROMIAS Indomitable, these easy-going plants certainly don’t need a Wardian case, but the deeply textured leaves add another dimension.

MOSSLIKE Go the tropical route and opt for selaginellas. In addition to green, the spectrum includes golden (Selaginella kraussiana ‘Aurea’) and peacock blue (S. uncinata).