We’ve all done it. A customer asks a straight question, you give a crooked answer. On good days that might be through a genuine mistake. On bad days it might be through stress. But on most days it’s simply refusing to admit not knowing the answer. Having dealt them all during my time behind the counter, I now hear them all back as a customer.

Yes, I have tasted it”

Ah, the evergreen untruth of wine retailing, slipping out as smoothly as Sauternes slides down. Wine tasting is so vague a science that with a little experience you can bluff a description of virtually anything. Great typicality, lovely freshness, fantastic balance – it’s much easier than telling a customer you’ve got no clue what that Bulgarian Tannat actually tastes like. 

Besides, even if you have tasted every wine in your shop, it’s impossible to remember them all. Confessing your ignorance can work when followed up with something honest about the wine – the producer’s reputation, a recent press review. But the best answer ever is: I haven’t, but let’s open it now and taste it together.”

The new vintage is actually better”

Isn’t it funny how that always happens when a new vintage arrives? You might convince some customers with this stock remark, but beware. Vintage variation is one of wine’s USPs, and if a new release is inferior, be honest about it. If the wine’s not good enough, maybe it shouldn’t be on your shelves.

Our supplier/head office/courier let us down”

Pinning the blame on someone else never rings true – even when it really is their fault. Great customer service never makes excuses, and taking responsibility shows an honesty which is especially reassuring for a product that so many people find intimidating.

Sorry, we’re actually closed”

If the lights are on and the door isn’t locked, then you’re open – like it or not.

We already give as much as we can to charity I’m afraid”

Some weeks it seems you get more scroungers asking for raffle prizes than actual customers. But rather than a disingenuous refusal, why not offer something other than the free Champagne they’re angling for? A generous discount voucher is affordable, brings in customers and is considerably better than nothing.


Talking of charity, allow me to plug Skin Côntact Live Again. Following last year’s event, we are back with a new line-up to rock your corks off at the Islington Academy on May 12. And this year we’re asking the trade’s top talent to enter our singing competition – the winners will perform with us on stage. If you can’t sing, then come along to cheer, dance and taste some awesome Rhônes at the wine trade party of the year. Tickets cost £20 plus booking fee and 100% of the face value goes to Wine Relief. See skincontactlive.com for details. See you there.