The Lowdown on Down Time

Tasting Room Managers all know this drill.  It’s been a crazy busy day up until now, and the staff is finally catching their breath.  Or it’s been a very slow day with few visitors and our staff is simply standing at the bar.  Of course, this is exactly when we will receive a surprise visit from our winery executives.

General Managers go crazy when they see staff standing around – they see it as a cocktail party. But the correct perspective is they should be thinking of it as a fire station.  We need our staff there, prepared to jump in and put out the blaze when we get busy again.  How do we reconcile our need to have staff present when customers are not there with the GM’s need to be sure we are productive?

Use this time for more than just cleaning, buffing, and re-stocking.  We can make the downtime between guests much more fun and productive with creative, on-going training and customer outreach.

Plan out the projects and other sales opportunities that will make a difference to our business.  Here are some ideas:

Customer Outreach Projects

  • Have thank you cards available for the staff to send to their best customers to thank them for their recent purchase or for new customers joining the wine club. Same for birthday cards and wine club anniversary cards.
  • Make your Wine Club Manager ecstatic with an offer to call club members to update email addresses for club members whose emails have bounced.
  • Same thing for your Ecommerce Manager – help to get or correct email addresses for online buyers.

Gatekeeper Relations

  • Call your best referral sources to thank them for sending you great customers.
  • Invite your best referrers to visit and enjoy your latest tours and tasting experiences.

Peer-led, Continued Training

  • Who’s your best staff member at wine club conversion? Have them lead a training to share their best tips for success.  Same for sales conversion and contact data capture.
  • New POS or other system? Share the knowledge and gain new team expertise.  Who is the best on your team at ringing up difficult transactions?  Show and tell!

Role playing 

  • Who has had the most difficult customer lately? Role play that situation and brain storm how we might have gotten that customer to buy wine/join the wine club/give their contact information.
  • Who has the best open-ended questions to gain valuable information from each guest in order to satisfy their needs? Practice asking open-ended questions to learn more about customer wants and needs. Bonus points for opening questions to ask instead of ‘where are you from?’

Mystery Shopping

  • Send your team out to mystery shop the wineries close to you. They will learn what to do and not do by observing what is happening in other tasting rooms.  Go with them if you can so that you can learn together or debrief when they return.  Build your list of wineries you will want to refer your own customer to so that you have solid recommendations when they ask where they should go next.


  • Teach your team how to handle some of the things that take up your time. Delegating makes your team feel involved, trusted, and proud that you made the investment of your time to teach them something new.  And now you will have more time for your own priorities of planning, budgeting and other management functions.

Team Brainstorming

  • Have the team brainstorm together to propose improvements in their work processes and procedures. This can be a lot of fun and it’s extremely productive in generating new ideas and getting team buy-in for improvements.
  • Practice analogies – have each team member talk about how they explain complicated wine concepts to customers.
  • Who has the best stories and analogies that help bring the brand to life? Have the team work together to come up with ones that work for them and new ones to share.

Be sure to document how you are using down time and proactively communicate the benefits you achieve to your General Manager.  They will be excited to hear about the progress you are making to build an All Star Team, while improving processes and taking care of customers.  And they will be a lot less anxious the next time they visit when they see how productively you are using down time between customers.