How to better train restaurant and bar staff

5 tips for sales reps, portfolio managers, and brand ambassadors

Not all that long ago, brands used to be built on-premise. Before anyone ever imagined that a wine or spirit could make a name for itself in the “outer-premise”—online and via social media—brands gained substantial traction through restaurant and bar sales. Because these venues afforded consumers a low-cost point of entry to try something new via by-the-glass offerings or cocktails, brands and their distributors coveted on-premise placements.1 Now that the proverbial light at the end of the pandemic tunnel is visible, restaurant and bar business is ascendant and the need to train on-premise staff is growing. Lest anyone believe that the only thing that’s changed is that everyone should now be wearing face masks, be assured that the new normal means it’s time to reimagine tired, old staff trainings.

Here are five considerations when it comes to teaching restaurant and bar staff how to sell your products:

  • A training is more than taste 'n tell.

    You are not running a food demo at Costco. Nor are you there to lecture servers and bartenders during staff meal. Your job is to train the staff to be better salespeople. The more interactive you can be, the better. Bring props like peat moss or sugar cane. Create a free “quiz show” experience with Kahoot! where the staff can buzz in and answer questions with their smartphones.2

    Another effective technique is to present in pairs: sales rep and manager, brand ambassador and sales person, etc. The back-and-forth of a practiced duo reverberates with more energy than most solo presentations.


  • If the training isn’t memorable, you’ve wasted everyone’s time.

    You are not the first person to come in and run a training, nor will you be the last. It is quite possible that someone might be waiting for you to finish so that they can begin. While being interactive helps captivate, to be truly memorable means also appealing to novelty and emotion.

    Novelty means conveying distinctive information about the product; what sets it apart from most others in its category. Emotion means recognizing the human element of product to make it relatable. Instead of reciting a fact, tell a story. Staff will much more likely remember the winemaker’s father’s disappointment at him planting Cabernet Sauvignon than they’ll recall how much sulfur was added. If you can get the staff to remember one story about the product for more than one week, you’ve accomplished more than most.

  • Make the tasting enjoyable. Don’t just pour shots of vodka.

    Usually, a staff training involves tasting. However, the goal is not to arrive at a fair assessment of the wine or spirit; the objective is to get the staff to fall in love with the brand so that they’ll sincerely recommend it. This means making the experience of tasting the wine or spirit as enjoyable as possible. So, if you’re doing a training on vodka, don’t pour shots; whip up a batch of mini–Moscow Mules. If you’re showing off some Fino Sherry, bring along some Marcona almonds and some olives. And, please, make sure it’s served chilled!

  • Keep it short.

    Joe Weisenthal rightly quipped, “Most books should just be articles. Most articles should just be blog posts. And most blog posts should just be tweets.”

    Most staff trainings should really be two or three shorter staff trainings. These seminars should be 15 to 20 minutes or less. Need to go over four products? Don’t! Review two products with the staff and then come back in two weeks and do another training (where you can also review what you discussed previously). While science has proven that human attention ebbs and flows, it’s still easier to keep people engaged for a short period of time rather than a long one.

  • The staff need to know how to push your product. That means you need to know what they sell.

    Your product doesn’t stand on its own merits because your product doesn’t stand alone. It stands in relation to every other wine and spirit and cocktail and appetizer and entrée. Make sure you can say what specific items on the menu your wine pairs with or what other spirits on the back bar are similar in profile to yours.


On-premise placements enjoy two other advantages over retail: they are faced with less competition and aren’t subject to as much price pressure. Think about it. Compare the relatively sparse BTG and bottle offerings of any given restaurant to the myriad selections offered by most retailers; that scarcity greatly benefits any brand that makes the wine or cocktail list. Additionally, restaurant sales aren’t as reliant on price as an accelerator, thus preserving wholesale margins.


Kahoot! is amazing. The staff don’t even have to download an app. Of course, you’ll have to spend time beforehand creating the quiz, but you’ll be able to use it over and over. To take advantage of the free version of Kahoot! make sure to do the following: when choosing account type select “Personal” and then when choosing who you will play with most often select “Family and Friends.”