Gregory Astudillo, former sommelier and wine director of the Ocean House in Watch Hill, R.I., has worked tirelessly to help create the five-star resort’s wine program. Here are some of his recommendations on how hotel restaurants can increase wine sales while also maximizing customer satisfaction.
Offer custom wine pairings. Scripted wine pairings can pose challenges because most tables order opposing dishes, and there is never one pairing that goes with everything, Astudillo explains. At Ocean House’s fine-dining restaurant, Seasons, he did custom wine pairings per table and starts by asking diners about their preferences. “If you hate Chardonnay, I wasn’t going to serve you a Chardonnay just because it goes well with this dish,” he says. Astudillo then judges customers’ proclivity for exploration. “I’d find out whether they want a more traditional wine pairing, something they’re more familiar with and comfortable with that they can find in the store easily, or if they want to have some fun, let go of the reins, and let me pick out some things they’ve never heard of that will go with their food and might open their eyes to something completely new. Those were the most fun pairings for me.”
Include local wines. “Beyond just following a fad or promoting local businesses, it gives you a sense of place,” Astudillo suggests. At Seasons, guests can indulge in wines from all corners of the world, but they also have the option to choose one that’s made only 20 minutes down the road or from a vineyard that can be seen from the resort’s Tower Suite. “To be on the land and to taste the wine, to stay in the area and eat the food, you go away with a real sense of what that particular spot in the world is like,” he says.
Make the customer feel smart. Astudillo keeps patrons happy by making them feel like the expert when selecting a wine. “People want you to hold their hand and guide them into a bottle of wine that they’re not only going to like but also is going to impress their friends and make them look good,” Astudillo says.
Create opportunities for upselling. Ocean House offers a series of complimentary wine and culinary arts classes to guests. This not only gave Astudillo an opportunity to use up some of the wines that might not be selling as well but also serves as a marketing vehicle for Seasons restaurant. “With as many bottles as we have, at one point or another, you are stuck relying on the sales mix, and there is going to be something in that mix that doesn’t sell,” he says. “So I used that wine in my class, taught people about it, and they ended up loving it.” Afterward, many of those guests will order the same wine at dinner. “From there, it’s your bridge to upsells,” Astudillo says. “You can say, ‘If you liked that wine I shared downstairs, I have something similar to it from a different region’ and you sell them into that. It works like a charm.”
Invest in employee development. The Ocean House holds a free training course every winter that’s open to any staff members who have an interest in wine. “It empowers employees so they will perform better and feel more a part of the hotel,” Astudillo says. In addition to boosting morale, it enables the food and beverage department to identify employees who demonstrate potential for advancement. “The property recently promoted one of the servers to assistant sommelier, so it’s a way to bring people to our side in a wine role.”