For some, breaking down a complex Pinot Grigio is second nature, with the ability to localize where grapes were grown or what notes are the heaviest. For others, wine knowledge stops with red wines are a different color than white wines.
As true as that fact is for the general public, it is also true for servers. Wine knowledge at varying restaurants can feel like a hit or miss. Though upscale venues are more likely to hire and train staff that can spout off information about what pairs nicely with a citrus-based salad, in resort communities such as Park City, the seasonal rotation of employees makes keeping a well-informed staff a unique challenge.
That is where Kirsten Fox of the Park City Fox School of Wine hopes to build her new business, the Culinary Wine Institute, which offers consistent, easy-to-use online wine courses offered to restaurants looking to teach staff beginner to intermediate wine knowledge skills.
"I felt like I wanted to do something that was more on the practical side with wine," Fox said, "something more than just the fun side. When I started looking into this concept, I realized restaurant managers are overwhelmed, just slammed. To try and incorporate wine education into an already packed schedule, it can be difficult to say the least. And in Utah, many servers have never ever tried some of the wines they may be trying to sell."
The first level of online courses was fully launched at the end of last year, and local businesses are already looking to certify their entire staff through the program. The first course covers the basics, including the difference between red and white wines, the different types of red and white wines, how to pair wines and basic table service for servers.
Managers can print off free pre-tests provided by the Culinary Wine Institute to see what staff already knows. Through the course, servers will watch four 15-minute videos that explain different concepts and will take a short survey at the end of each lesson testing their knowledge.
"Being able to answer questions about wine, it affects your credibility and confidence at a table," Fox said, "especially in places like Park City where you get a lot of sophisticated diners."
"When I am visiting a destination, I remember my meals," she added. "I love food, and I love wine. Some of our restaurants offer beautiful wine service, but it's that level of beginner to intermediate I am trying to help, and I believe this is a real need. We put everything online, so it's available 24/7. Servers don't have to come in on a day off. The managers don't have to worry about schedule conflicts. It's just there."
The Culinary Wine Institute is developing four levels for servers which Fox hopes to tentatively have posted and available by the end of the year. Eventually, she also wants to include training videos specific to different types of cuisine, from steak house to Italian fare. The institute already offers a Jump Start program where she will come into a restaurant and complete the training on site for every server at once, including testing, teaching and certifying the staff.
And the value is there, she added, quoting varying research on the importance of wine education. With a knowledgeable staff on hand, a restaurant could earn 20 to 24 percent more in wine sales, she estimated, meaning servers receive larger tips and restaurants pull in more sales.
"If your staff understands the basics, you will see an uptick in wine sales," Fox said. "Managers have been the impetus in interest in the wine program."
Culinary Wine institute