How to Conduct Tastings and Educate Bar Staff on New Spirits

In the hospitality industry, staff and servers need to be professional, knowledgeable, and capable of doing their jobs well to encourage repeat customers. The same measure of excellence is required from bar staff, which means training them on new products.

As high-end spirits grow in popularity, it’s even more important than ever to educate your bar staff on new spirits. In doing so, you will help them expand their knowledge, improve their ability to recommend drinks, and enhance the overall customer experience. Part of their training should incorporate a tasting, so they can get firsthand experience.

Next up is our step-by-step guide to help you conduct tastings and prepare learning sessions for your bar staff.

1. Brush Up on Your Knowledge and Skills

Before you start training your bar staff on new spirits and tastings, you must update yourself on any recent trends, legal requirements, and applicable products. This ensures that you’re prepared and knowledgeable enough to conduct the course training and to answer your bar staff's questions.


2. Select the Spirits

Choose a range of new spirits you want your bar staff to learn about. These could be newly released products or lesser-known options that can add uniqueness to your bar's offerings.


3. Gather Information

Before the tasting, research and gather information about each spirit. Information to include in your training consists of the following:

  • The origin of the spirits
  • The production process
  • Its flavor profile
  • Other unique selling points


4. Create Tasting Sheets

Before the tasting and training, prepare tasting sheets for each spirit. Tasting sheets help guide the tasting, facilitate note-taking, and reinforce the lesson. Each tasting sheet should include:

  • The spirit's name
  • Its category, type, and origin
  • The production method
  • Its flavor profile
  • Tasting note
  • Suggested serving recommendations


5. Schedule the Tasting

Find a suitable time when the bar is relatively quiet and all the staff can attend the tasting and participate fully. If you have a significant amount of staff, offering two or more training sessions might be necessary to accommodate everyone.


6. Provide Glassware and Water

When conducting tastings, it's important to follow procedures, even for bar staff training. For instance, use the correct glassware during training. The appropriate glasses for spirit tasting are tulip-shaped, while water glasses should be neutral. Water is meant to serve as a palate cleanser between tastings, but you can add plain crackers or bread as an additional option.

spirits tasting bar staff education
(Photo: OlgaMiltsova, iStock / Getty Images Plus)

7. Presentation

Your tasting and learning session needs to be well presented. Begin the tasting session by providing an overview of the spirits you're including. It's during this time that you can talk about the history, production process, and what makes them unique.


8. Tasting Order

During a tasting, it's advisable to start with lighter spirits and progress to the stronger ones. Doing so helps to prevent overwhelming the palate. So, you might begin with vodka or gin, move on to rum or tequila, and finish with whiskey.


9. Tasting Technique

Educate your staff on the proper tasting technique. This includes assessing the appearance, swirling to release aromas, taking a small sip to coat the palate, and analyzing the flavors and finish.


10. Discuss and Compare

Encourage discussions after each tasting. Ask your staff about their impressions, what they liked or didn't like, and what flavors they detected. Doing this helps to foster a deeper understanding of the spirits and their characteristics.


11. Cocktail Ideas

With new spirits comes new menu offerings like cocktails, so you should discuss these in-depth. Doing so helps to showcase the spirit's versatility and provides practical knowledge that your staff can use to make recommendations to customers.


12. Pairing Suggestions

Discuss potential food pairings or cocktails that complement each spirit's flavor profile. If a customer asks for a cocktail suggestion, the server can suggest a cocktail based on the meal the customer ordered.


13. Answer Questions

Training should include time dedicated to discussion and answering questions. You should be prepared to answer any questions the bar staff may have about the spirits, their production, or how to serve them.


14. Role-Playing

At bartending school, classes are often designed to mimic real bar shifts. This encourages bartenders to become confident in their abilities and gives them a real feel of what’s to come. You can do the same in your training. Incorporate role-playing scenarios where your bar staff recommends spirits to customers or makes drinks using the new liquors. They can then taste-test their results.


15. Take Feedback

Encourage the bar staff to provide feedback on the tasting experience and the spirits themselves. This feedback can be valuable for making future decisions and improvements in training sessions.


16. Promote the Spirits

Once staff are fully informed, you can promote the new spirits more confidently. You can display the spirits prominently in the bar and encourage your team to recommend them to customers when appropriate.


17. Follow-Up Training

After the tasting, periodically follow up with the bar staff to reinforce the information and encourage them to experiment with the new spirits in cocktail creations. Consider a refresher course as often as necessary, depending on staff numbers, changes, and shifts.


18. Staff Incentives

Consider offering incentives for staff members who excel in their knowledge and sales of the new spirits. The top performers can earn a commission or a prize for the best sales. Decent incentives will motivate your bar staff to actively promote and educate customers about the products, plus it will promote staff retention.


19. Customer Tasting

When you feel your bar staff is ready, periodically organize customer tastings or events featuring the new spirits. This will give your team a chance to practice their knowledge and provides an opportunity to engage with customers.


20. Don't Forget the Non-Drinkers

A lot of effort and training goes into understanding spirits and alcoholic cocktails. However, many customers don't drink alcohol. So, consider dedicating a portion of your training to learning about non-alcoholic cocktails, so your staff can be equally informed, enthusiastic, and inclusive of all patrons.


Training bar staff on new spirits is crucial to keeping customers happy, engaged, and coming back for another round. Use these tips to ensure that every new spirit gets the attention it deserves and that your staff can sell it with confidence.


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