Customer Service: A Tale of Two Bartenders

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While we were in San Francisco on our way to the Russian River Wine Road Barrel tasting, we stayed at the Hotel Triton, a funky little boutique hotel just on the edge of Chinatown.  Prior to having dinner with our friends, Lisa, Thea, Robbin and Liza, we stopped at Café de la Presse (conveniently located adjacent to Hotel Triton) to meet Lisa and Thea, and share a few drinks.

While Joe was upstairs in our hotel room searching for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Leather Wine Bags we’d brought as souvenirs for our Wine Blogger friends, Lisa and I drank some “bubbles.” At one point, Lisa said to our waiter (who to me looked about 19) “could you be a peach and make me a Pimm’s cup?” Then she decided that perhaps “peach” was a little old-fashioned and we tried to think of the proper adjective to describe our young barkeep.

“How about Stud?” he said. Which amused us greatly, especially me, since the kid was probably young enough to hang out with Joe’s elder teenage son. If this had been a smarmy older guy, it most certainly would have caused the uncontrollable eye-roll. But the kid was personable, and even when busy made eye contact with anyone just seated at the bar. When Thea arrived, we proceeded to  introduce her to Stud, the Bartender and she quickly snapped his picture with her iPhone so that she could post it via twitpic to all of our twitter friends. From then until the time we left, it was “Stud, this” and “Stud, that” and we truly enjoyed the cocktail portion of our evening (as we did dinner at Indigo, later.)

However, on the last stop of our Saturday Barrel Tasting with Tour Director Thea we encountered wine pourers of a very different sort.  One of the wineries was hosting their barrel tasting at Madrona Manor. Only a few of us were even able to sample the wines there, because the guy at the gate told us “only 5 more minutes” when we arrived at 3:00 p.m. He wouldn’t even let our Tour Director on-site, even though barrel tasting officially ended at 4 p.m. We heard they’d scheduled a wedding after, but to me, if something says it ends at 4 p.m.; it ends at 4 p.m., not at 3:00.

While we had no difficulty with the garden-area barrel tasting, the current, bottled vintages on the porch were a different story.  Here, another group of young pourers were chatting amongst themselves and drinking full glasses of wine; all the while ignoring the consumer guests.  In fact one of the pourers spent more time snuggling with his lady friend than actually pouring wine. Unfortunately, our having to wait several minutes and then finally ask for a taste of the wine left us with a less than favorable impression of the winery.

We have had similar positive and negative experiences in Houston.  One of the reasons we love Chelsea Wine Bar is the friendly, knowledgeable and thoroughly trained staff.  Mayra, Juan and Matthew always make eye contact when we enter or seat ourselves at the bar, even when the place is swamped with thirsty customers.  And like Madeleine, they remember what we’re drinking, suggest new things to try, and generally make use feel like they’re truly glad to see us.

On the other hand, we recently attended a consumer tasting of Duckhorn and Paraduxx wines at a local upscale hotel. Again, we had to practically beg to have a bit of wine poured in our glasses — even though we’d paid to be there. We guessed that those pouring either assumed that Texans were hayseeds that didn’t know plonk from wine, or perhaps we weren’t wearing the requisite finery to rate attention. Whatever the case, we came away with a bad taste in our mouths for Duckhorn and Paraduxx, all because some of those pouring wine were horrible ambassadors for their employer and their brands.

As a part-time wine pourer, I realize sometimes a rush of thirsty patrons can be overwhelming.  I just spent the past weekend pouring in the Championship Wine Garden for the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. When you suddenly get slammed with thousands of people pouring out of a ZZ Top or Brooks & Dunn concert — all demanding requesting attention — it’s tempting to half-ass the customer service. But you’re doing a disservice to yourself, your patrons, and the wines your pouring, if you do.

Just as an attractive bartender can affect your perception of the wine, a rude bartender or sommelier can likewise sour you on a brand or venue. I don’t really even remember what I was drinking at Cafe de la Press, but I’d go back — because the “Stud” behind the bar knew not only what he was doing but also why he was there — to serve customers, and act as an ambassador for his employer.

And even though Duckhorn was the wine of choice at the Inaugural luncheon, we don’t really feel like forking over the extra cost for the Napa real estate where the wine is made — because we’d simply be enabling rude treatment to future patrons.

A good bartender, waitperson or sommelier knows that he’s not doing the customers “a favor” to serve them, but that they’re doing him a favor by being there.  She knows that but for the customers, she would have no job. And in today’s economy, especially, there are 10 people just waiting to take the job.

We at Another Wine Blog would like to offer some friendly advice: Employers, train your waitstaff to truly appreciate your customers. Get rid of the people who are not willing to treat each and every patron as an honored guest — no matter what she’s  wearing.  Because in the long run — a good bartender can grow your business and help to make you successful. A bad one can run customers off.  You could end up in the red, with perfectly enjoyable wines, and a fabulous venue, yet have no idea that it was your bartenders who caused your business to fail.

It’s so simple to follow the “Golden Rule” and do unto others, as you’d have them do unto you!


Amy Corron Power,
aka WineWonkette

About Amy Corron Power

A licensed attorney, Amy is a wine-lover, foodie, photographer, political junkie and award-winning author who writes about Wine, Food, Beer & Spirits. As Managing Editor & Tasting Director for Another Wine Blog, she travels all over the world's wine regions to share her experiences with her readers and nearly 11,000 twitter fans. Amy holds certifications through the International Sommelier Guild, and is also certified, with honors, as a California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS). She is a member of the Guild of Sommeliers, The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas and regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events.
  • WineDiverGirl

    Too often! I sure wish these places had those little comment cards. I don't wish ANYONE to go out of business…however, with lame service, I'm not sure how one would expect to be successful in ANY economic climate.

    • jpower

      Amen, Lisa! Maybe they should hire your old buddy “Stud.”

  • Shana Ray

    Ahhh, the things we go through for cute guys. I am sorry to hear that your experience at Madrona Manor was not as pleasant. Being a former busser at this restaurant, I do want to say that they put you thorough a long customer service “boot camp” to treat customers just as you said – as guests.

    Which winery was pouring their that day?

    • jpower

      Hi Shana,

      I think that the bad behavior was on the pourers themselves and those that should have been supervising them more than on the venue. Although, turning people away early was not a great idea. However, I would love to eat there sometime as I have heard nothing but good things about them.

      I can't remember what was being poured. Imagine that! ;)

    • Joe Power

      Hi Shana,

      I think that the bad behavior reflects more on the pourers and the people that should have been supervising them than on the Madrona Manor. Although, turning folks away early was not a great move. I would love to visit them again for dinner sometime as I have heard nothing but good things about them.

    • WineWonkette

      It looked like the winery had pourers there just for the event. The 6 or 7 “adults” on the back porch were fine. It was the three much younger (barely over 21) and their girlfriends who seemed more interested in drinking among themselves than pouring.

  • El Jefe

    Wow. If I caught any of my pourers behaving like that, they would experience the full force of my size 13s! I suspect that these may have been volunteers, but the volunteers should have been better supervised…

    • WineWonkette

      They did seem like volunteers, and it the last hour of the event we were there. I think it was more youth than pay scale. All of our bartenders and wine pourers at the Rodeo were volunteers. Lack of supervision was probably the problem.

    • jpower

      You have the best pourers anywhere, El Jefe. Friendly, knowledgeable, and able to swear like sailors…what else could you want?

      • WineWonkette

        Now remember, they are only allowed to swear if the customer swears first, d@mmit! ;)

  • WineWonkette

    Now remember, they are only allowed to swear if the customer swears first, d@mmit! ;)

  • WineWonkette

    Now remember, they are only allowed to swear if the customer swears first, d@mmit! ;)

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