For the record, server Elkin Chahin rarely drinks alcohol.
“Customers ask me all the time if I am a drinker because I’m so knowledgeable about wine and beer. I am not a drinker at all,” said Chahin.
Chahin is one of chef John des Rosiers' front-end staff receiving more than six hours of weekly training on menu items at the restaurant. The expectation is that customers will receive better service if they are given more knowledge on the choices.
“There are a lot of stories built into things we do. The more staff knows the more knowledgeable they can be in helping customers choose,” said des Rosiers.
The staff training sessions come on the heels of Inovasi ending its lunchtime service and focusing strictly on evening dining. Des Rosiers said the move was driven as much by economics, as it was the opportunity to concentrate on the evening dining experience.
Lunchtimes now are devoted to training, and it is turning into time well spent.
“I have learned an incredible amount of information that has helped me,” said server Chris Rhodes. “Because of the knowledge I now have, it is easier to create a connection with people I serve. They trust me.”
Des Rosiers includes training on the logic behind what goes into a dish. For example, Rhodes said that when he learned why the tomato, cheese and cherry flatbread was paired, it opens the door to introducing new items to customers.
“The pairing is done so that the acid in the cherries would cut through the strong cheese and help to wash the pallet,” Rhodes said. “It spurred my interests in the off-the-beaten-path approach to things, and helps to get people to try something they wouldn’t normally have.”
Staff has been required to taste wine blindly to learn how to differentiate by smell and taste what type of wine it is, where it came from, type of grapes used and process.
“I can advise customers on whether they want a lighter wine or one higher in acid, and make informed recommendations on what goes with items,” said Chahin.
Des Rosiers said increasing staff training keeps pace with the restaurant’s expansion.
“There is so much more to learn then what we can teach someone when they are actually on the floor or in the two weeks of initial training,” said des Rosiers. “We are continually adding new farmers. We had 13 when we started and 35 now, as well as many new wines and purveyors of tea and coffee.”
Chahin had no fine dining experience when hired by des Rosiers two years ago. “I had no idea what foie gras was and had never had truffles,” said Chahin.
That isn’t the case anymore.
“I now know how the duck is fed a certain way to make the liver better and bigger,” Chahin said. “I used to be a picky eater; now I will eat anything.”