Cider Corner: Managing a Growing Tasting Room Staff

It’s been nearly impossible to find bartenders with a cider background, but ​Bryant’s Cider owner Jerry Thornton said he doesn’t feel it’s important.

​”​A bartender that can create an experience for our customers is more important​,” he said.​

That can be a conundrum. Being a niche product with nuances all your own to your brand, creating and building a staff of experienced and knowledgeable tasting room employees can be a tough haul.

Since Blake’s Hard Cider is in a small, rural town in Michigan, its tasting room staff often have little to no experience with hard cider at first — even the basics of it.

“We have a robust training program called Apple Enlightenment that all staff goes through,” the cidery explained to Brewer in an email. “It’s not crucial to us that our staff come here with any knowledge in the beginning. It can be learned, and we like the opportunity to teach craft beer and cider through our lens here in Michigan.

“Our apples are different from West Coast and UK apples, so we train based on our specific offerings and their characteristics.”

Blake’s added that the staff needs to learn not only the history of cider and the complexities of it, but they should know your business’s unique story too.

“A staff that falls in love with the company and its mission and message is a powerful tool,” they wrote. “Your staff becomes your storytellers, passing on nuggets of information that makes your company stand out and be remembered.”

Doug Smith of Sly Clyde said they are looking for people who are low drama and know how to smile.

The Virginia brand does lots of customer service training and even then, he admits, they don’t always get it right.

“We are very attuned to our customer base and we want to serve them, not sell to them,” he pointed out. “We made modern ciders and so our taproom is much rowdier than a tasting room. We like that and we look for staff who want to strengthen the experience people have when they come out.

“All of us are working in the background to build a better experience. It’s not about us, it’s about our ciders and the ways people share their lives with one another while drinking them.”

​Although Bryant’s Cider stresses educating on the basics of cider​, the​ focus ​is ​more on creating a total experience.

​”​Staff are expected to know the story of our cider but we don’t focus on forcing that on people until they become interested​,” Thornton said, adding that they have everyone that is working try the cider and understand the tasting notes so they can make good recommendations to customers.

​”Training and tastings are the best way to relay the information,” Blake’s wrote, “and it should come from the people who make the cider, allowing your cellarman to be a part of the training and tastings.”

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