As president of Hospitality Restaurants (owners of Salmon Dave's in Rocky River, Blue Point Grille in the Warehouse District, Cabin Club in Westlake, and Delmonico's in Independence), George Schindler obviously gets it: Smart wine service is important, both to customers' satisfaction and to the bottom line. But while some restaurant owners are satisfied merely to offer their staffers the occasional informal wine-tasting or a list of suggestions for food-and-wine pairings, Schindler has popped the cork on a whole new approach to wine education: He sends his staffers to "sommelier school" and offers them some pretty irresistible incentives for paying attention in class.
Working with Master Sommelier Matt Citriglia (one of only about 120 top-level wine-and-spirits experts in the world to have earned a diploma from the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers), Schindler has arranged for his servers and managers to complete the Court's Introductory Sommelier Course. Sure, the classes take up 10 weeks' worth of the staffers' Sunday mornings, and yes, they have to pony up about $500 to attend. But in return, they don't receive just a valuable set of professional skills: Schindler gives any employee who passes the exam a raise of $1,000!
The program has been so popular with staffers that Schindler estimates he will have 25 to 30 "certified" sommeliers roaming his restaurants by year's end. For guests, this translates into above-average wine service; but for Hospitality Restaurants, it translates into $25,000 to $30,000 in extra payroll. Is it worth the expense?
"You know, people always say to me, 'What if you spend all this money on training a server, and then they leave?'" Schindler chuckles. "I say, 'What if I don't, and they stay?'"
Spreading the "Cheers!" . . . So what do Schindler and his peeps do with all their wine smarts? Well, for one thing, they've come up with a pretty tempting Friday-night food-and-wine-pairing promotion for all four restaurants.
Designed in consultation with Marianne Frantz and the Cleveland Wine School, the Friday-Night Wine Fixe program pairs a three-course prix-fixe meal (app, entrée, and dessert) with two-ounce pours of three matching wines. At Blue Point, the theme is champagne with seafood ($59); at Salmon Dave's, it's the renegade matchup of red wines with fish ($33); at Cabin Club (where the program has just begun), it's Napa Valley reds with red meat; and at Delmonico's (scheduled to launch in June), it will be "big bottles" (in either body or format) paired with beef. To keep things interesting, the specific wines and dishes will change every two months, but each restaurant will stick to its general theme for the duration of the program.
And speaking of the Cleveland Wine School, Frantz and company are working with The Wine Buzz mag to present another in a series of Better Cellars dinners. Designed to help Average Joe Grapehead stock the home cellar with stuff that's hipper than Merlot and White Zin, the June 16 shindig will include a four-course meal and 15 to 20 wines for sampling and purchase. Better yet, your tablemate is likely to be a winemaker, retailer, educator, or distributor, eager to give you the inside scoop on the fine art of cellar-building.
The dinner will be hosted by Blue Point Grille (700 West St. Clair Avenue); call Frantz at 216-295-9583 for reservations.