Lessons learned: Training 2,000 restaurant workers in China

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By Yvonne Chiong

 

Since my last post, I have completed more than 30 two-hour training sessions with restaurant employees in China – all over Shanghai as well as in Beijing and Hong Kong. The idea was to give them a basic understanding of wine.

 

I find it interesting that even I, someone who works in wine, can find the topic boring if it is poorly presented. My job, then, was to train more than 2,000 local Chinese restaurant employees something about wine, and not just showmanship, that is, how to open a bottle with grace and skill.

 

Doing wine training in China is not as easy as some might think. Many find both history and geography boring as topics, but to understand wine requires knowledge of both.

 

The employees I encounter daily sometimes have no idea of the use of a wine glass – they see it as a vessel that could be filled with any liquid. I need to explain its importance. I also need to explain to them the differences between grape wine and other beverages, such as Chinese rice wine and beer.

While training, I emphasize certain points, such as how different wines work with different foods. I also explain that in China, there are four to five different Chinese names for Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, so that actually the differing descriptions on a bottle of Great Wall and a bottle of Imperial Court could refer to the same grape.

 

Teaching about serving temperature is a must. I explain that some people like their beer cold, much the way some white wines should be served. Also, there is nothing wrong with putting red wine on ice, but – as I mentioned in my last post – not in ice and water, as it will freeze the wine.

 

Finally, I teach them how to hold and present the bottle to a customer. At the end of the lesson, they should understand that they have to handle the wine like a baby, and that the price of a good bottle of Latour is almost equal to the price of having a baby delivered!

 

Of course, the students have questions. They might not have a lot of experience with grape wine, but they are aware of the fermentation method, because China’s local drink – baijiou – is produced this way. They will ask whether the grapes they buy in the fruit market or supermarket are the same ones used for wine. They ask why French wines are so expensive.

 

In general, I keep the training as simple as possible. It is better for the employees to know and do a few things well, than to be overwhelmed by too much information.

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