A Server’s Nightmare – Service Heart in Compliance

A group walks in. They are greeted with a splash of wine and as they are seated, IDs are checked. The server comes by to introduce themself and break the ice. Shortly after introductions are made it becomes evident that this is not this groups first winery today. Uh-oh. One person in particular appears to be inebriated. This is a moment we all dread, isn’t it? A choice must be made. Do we pretend we don’t notice and carry on (that’s illegal and thus, the wrong choice) or do we deny this person or people the opportunity to participate in the fun.

Those of us who are in wine industry typically have a strong service heart – we want to help everyone who walks through that door have a great time at our winery! So how do we say “no” to our guests without being a total fun-sucker?

Consider our Decision Criteria for when we need to say ‘no’, but not every ‘no’ is created equal.

  1. Safety / Compliance Issues – Know the regulations / Use 3rd parties as “bad cop”
  2. Internal Policies – Understand your big picture / guard rails when it comes to guest experience design
  3. Bothering Other Guests – Not bothering staff but creating a negative guest experience for others
  4. Desired Brand / Guest Experience
  5. Pleasing Them – Whenever possible and not violating points #1 to #3 from above
  6. Inconvenient to Staff – Below all other criteria, especially #5.

Once we know we have to say no, graciously, how do we handle it?

1) Preparation – The first step is to be prepared. Take the time right now to think about what you can offer guests who are unable to participate for any reason. Make a list with your team of all the possible accommodations you can offer and in a variety of scenarios. And an SOP (standard operating procedure) of how to handle this. Do you have tea, sparkling water, or snacks available on hand? Do we have alternative seating where we can move a loud group to? Do we have Uber/Lyft/Taxis available to order? Grubhub/Doordash options? Do we have a policy for our team to know that they can provide snacks no charge to the group? If we can make the guest feel included and valued in some way, we are off to a strong start. For those times we need to turn people away entirely, what can we offer that will bring them back? Do we have any small tokens of appreciation to hand out that might also serve as a reminder to return at a more appropriate time?

2) Empathy – Put yourself in their shoes. Consider how you would feel in their situation and make sure you are treating them with respect and dignity. No one wants to feel like they are being rejected, but rather that we’re concerned about them. Show your concern for them by explaining you don’t want them to get hurt, or hurt someone else, and offer to assist them however appropriate (bring them water or food, call an Uber, or offer to walk them to their car). C

3) The Platinum Rule – Now let’s take it one step further. We should treat them how they want to be treated. Break the ice by asking them open-ended questions, just like you would any other guest. Get to know them, tell them a story or make a joke. We want to get the focus away from what you can’t offer them and find out what we can offer them and how we can help them have a great time, without the wine.

4) Get Help – Figure out who is the ‘leader’ of the group or their partner. This person can help take the pressure off of you and will often times step in to assist & support. If needed, put the blame on someone else (the Liquor Board, your tasting room manager, or the winemaker usually don’t mind being the ‘bad cop’ – see decision criteria #1 and #2). Additional team members may be able to step in with the next wine for the group if you need a minute to cool off or devise a plan. Two brains are better than one – when they return, have a quick conversation backstage about next steps. If all else fails, see if your manager can step in to assist.

5) The Positive Spin – We can’t always say ‘yes,’ so when we can’t, let’s ensure we’re delivering the message in a positive way, offering alternatives for what we CAN deliver, and elevate the guest experience in the process. Need to make an exception for their food you wouldn’t typically allow? Need to move them somewhere where they won’t disturb other guests? “I have a fun idea! Let’s have your lunch in the [cellar, lawn, vineyard…]. I’d love to show you some of the property outside of the tasting room. Let’s go!” Sometimes being flexible in a positive way can actually be perceived as a surprise and delight by the guests, making them feel spoiled in an otherwise negative situation. Let’s consider our words WISEly (pun intended) – the first rule of hospitality is that we do not say “No.”  The better reply is “Let me see what I can do for you.” No one wants to hear what they can’t have, and guests feel more valued when they have alternative choices.

Consider too the difference in these few words:

  • “No problem.” or “My pleasure.”
  • “Customer” or “Guests”
  • “Your server” or “Your host”
  • “That’s not our policy” or “what I can do for you is…”
  • “It’s in the brochure.” or “Let me answer that for you.”
  • “We don’t have any more.” or “I believe we are sold out.”
  • What do you want?” or “How may I help you?”
  • “I didn’t mean it.” or “Please accept my apology.”

How we phrase things sets the mood and tone.  Next time we are having a top-notch customer experience, let’s take time to note what is being said and how language is being used.

Also think about actions with words…

  • “The bathroom is over there” or “Let me show you the way”
  • “You can pick your wine up over there” or “We will have your wine ready for you at the front desk”

Ultimately, we want to do our best to treat all of our guests well. Just because someone isn’t tasting today, doesn’t mean they won’t purchase or return – especially if you can show them a good time. By planning ahead, we can be prepared to say ‘no’ with grace and still let our service hearts shine.