Happy Scholar - becoming a wine expert!

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Greig Thompson - Drinks Package Scholar 2018

Assistant Restaurant & Bars Manager, Doubletree by Hilton Glasgow Westerwood Spa & Golf Resort

“Throughout my 5 years at the Westerwood Hotel, I have developed a real interest in the drinks industry.  I initially worked in the Conference and Banqueting department as a supervisor, then moved to the position of ‘Bars and Stores Supervisor’, where I looked after the cellar and hotel bars.  This involves a great deal of responsibility, such as ordering stock for the whole hotel, writing new cocktail menus and running promotions on drinks, whilst maintaining a motivated and efficient bar team - with the aim of providing the best possible customer experience.

One area that I felt I need to improve on was my knowledge of wine, so I applied for the HIT Scotland Drinks Package scholarship, and am pleased to say that I am now a wine convert!

HIT organised for me to do the WSET level 2 award in Wines and Spirits at Tennent’s Training Academy, which was excellent.  The trainer was clearly very knowledgeable and passionate about wine, and I learned about all the different styles, regions and the tastes that these create.  I have experienced lots of new flavours that I would probably never have tried. I now look at wine in a whole different perspective, with a great deal of respect to winemakers.

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HIT also organised a unique experience for myself and another scholar, visiting Wine Importers in Livingston to spend time with their team learning about how wine is selected, imported and distributed.  The highlight of the day for me was getting a tour around the warehouse, seeing the huge selection of wines - on various budgets! The wine tasting with Wine Development Manager Graeme Broom was (as expected) also a highlight, as we tasted wines I would never have experienced otherwise.  We found out how the company source their wine and what's involved, pricing, and then what restaurants look for and what staff need to know to encourage customers to buy.  We also learned how to design a wine list, which I am eager to become involved with in the future.

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I will never forget the experience of meeting my first Master of Wine, owner Billy Bell Birse-Stewart - the wealth of knowledge he had was inspiring.  Although this may not be the level I am personally aiming for, it has made me want to further my knowledge.

In terms of drinks service in the hospitality industry, I think a lot of servers lack knowledge. This knowledge is essential as it can really help a customer understand the drink and what it is they order. If a server can educate their customer as they serve, the customer can apply that knowledge they've learned to future experiences.  I plan on applying my scholarship by doing exactly that, passing on my knowledge to anyone who will listen! Not only is this impressive service technique, it can really help engage my team in their own job.

Many staff in hotels shy away from learning even a basic knowledge as it is seen as too difficult or confusing. When in reality it is relatively easy once you get started!   I have been able to apply my knowledge already in the hotel. I served a taster evening for our VIP conference, where I paired wines and made recommendations. This was really exciting and a great opportunity for me to upsell to some wealthy clients - helping to drive extra revenue for the business.  This shows that the HIT scholarships are good for both personal and business development!

I would definitely recommend a scholarship as it is a great way to expand your own personal skills and knowledge, and it allows you to grow and aim for that next step in your career.  Our hotel has now become a Doubletree by Hilton, and I have become Assistant Restaurant & Bars Manager, and I look forward to using and expanding on my wine knowledge, feel free to stop by the hotel and ask for a wine recommendation!”

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HIT Scotland Scholarships open for application now, closing 26th November 2018. Visit the Scholarships section here

Thanks to the BEN for their support for our Drinks Package scholarships!

Alyson Gray