In the course of my work I get to interact with a lot of people from many different backgrounds. Occasionally I find myself having lengthy discussions about wine with guests, which can get quite deep until I feel a tap on my shoulder or a tug on my sleeve, a signal from a neighbouring waiter that another patron would like some assistance with the wine list.
In the hospitality industry we may label this kind of interaction as “connecting with the customer” or “building rapport”, all in the name of increasing our collective tip pool and meeting vague sales targets. While I don’t mind spending time conversing with people when there is something genuine that we can talk about, the kind of forced communication for it’s own sake bothers me. After spending three years in a sales-oriented background, seeing this kind of behaviour has left me jaded.
Exchange of Information
Instead of viewing the interaction as some kind of tip-increasing ploy, I like to think of it as an exchange of information.
When I think about it, the kind of people who frequent our venue are likely to be a) quite affluent, and b) travelling from other countries.
As much as I like to think that I know about wine… I’m just one man.
The world is full of people who have travelled to exotic locations and tasted wines that I would not be able to afford on my current income. To be able to chat and discuss these experiences with them is like an indirect tasting for me.
This is not just a one-sided affair. As mentioned, this is an exchange of information – I also get to share my knowledge and experiences with other people at the same time.
I am also testing my own knowledge – in the course of trying to keep the conversation flowing, I am racking my brains for facts, figures and anecdotes to share.
Trust But Verify
At the same time, while you are listening and recording certain anecdotes shared by other people, you should make a mental note to verify the accuracy of that information.
While other people may be richer than you or have travelled to more places, they would likely lack a classical, rational system of thinking about wine.
Other times what is communicated to you may be hearsay, something shared by a friend of a friend who is less well-informed than they might like to admit.
You yourself should be careful not to make things up just to impress someone. If you don’t know something, confess your ignorance and make a note to study up on it at the next available moment.
At the end of the day, it comes down to you doing your due diligence to make sure what you are hearing is not bullshit.
Learning That Lasts
Ultimately, I find that this kind of information exchange is a very effective tool for learning and increasing your capacity for knowledge.
Recall your younger years in high school or university, where you are given reams of dry data to memorise. This is usually effective up the point of an examination, after which this “knowledge” is immediately forgotten.
In contrast, human interactions are multi-layered and rich, and thus made simpler to remember. It is easy, and a pleasure, to recall an event where certain information was involved, rather than trying to master it by rote.
Compare “I know because I was there” with “I know because I read about it in a book”. Which statement feels more immediate, more real?