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Adding wine service training adds value

Nicholas & Company
Salt Lake City, Utah
Marketing territory: Utah, parts of Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, Nevada
2008 Sales: $404 million
2009 ID Top 50 Rank: 16
Web site: www.nicholasandco.com

Plenty of foodservice distributors now have corporate chefs to help with menu development, but how many can boast of an on-staff sommelier who provides wine-service training? Nicholas & Company is one.

Wendy Caron, a Cornell-trained sommelier who joined the distributor after first owning a restaurant and then serving as wine director for Gastronomy Inc., a multi-concept restaurant group in Salt Lake City, heads up the company’s value-added services program. Two and a half years ago, she added wine service to the company’s training curriculum—despite the fact that Nicholas & Co. sells not a drop of wine.

“We wanted to look for creative operational solutions,” Caron says. “We realized that training in general and wine service in particular was something that people struggle with. Being in Utah and serving Idaho, as well, much of our demographic is unfamiliar with wine; it’s somewhat foreign to them. It can be tough to get servers trained and comfortable with selling and serving it.”

To that end, Caron developed a series of 1.5-hour classes that cover basic topics such as how to open a bottle, how to decant and pour wines, how to serve a second bottle, what equipment and props are needed, and what appropriate glassware to use. Training on grape varieties and wine styles is offered, and a course on food and wine pairing is particularly popular. “We do a component tasting with six different wines and nine different foods and talk through what to think about as you’re training your staff to make suggestions, or creating a wine dinner or promoting wine pairings with menu items.”

Customers who’ve taken advantage of the training range from brewpubs to fine dining restaurants, to ski resort and hotel operators. Nicholas has also put 70 of its own sales reps through the pairing training to equip them to provide suggestions and create awareness of the program. The company recently signed a supply partnership with Riedel glassware, and brought on some of the smallwares required for wine service.

“The more people know about it, the more they want to do it,” Caron says of the training. “Servers who’ve gone through have told me they’re now comfortable selling bottles of wine instead of just glasses because they’re not afraid to open and pour at the table. Others have said they spend less time at tables because they know what they need to do and they have everything they need when they get there. Some have said they’re getting repeat business from customers who trust their wine suggestions. That’s all good. Whatever we can do to help our customers stay in business and do a better job of, whether food or wine related, is good for both of us.”

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