With more than a decade of experience in the restaurant industry, Ben Probe knows firsthand that a key ingredient in first-class hospitality is simply passionate knowledge of the product. That passion enhances the customer experience, which naturally leads to enhanced reviews and revenue for the bar or restaurant, and increased tips for the server.
To amplify his skills as a server, Probe pursued the Business of Wine, and the Business of Craft Beer professional certificate programs at San Diego State University’s College of Extended Studies. After graduating from both, he proposed a course he felt was needed — Beer and Wine: Service and Selling. The course was approved, and Probe has been happily teaching since the fall of 2015.
What can students expect?
“We will be learning HOW to figure out someone’s preferences and the best way to determine them, all within the first two minutes of knowing them,” said Probe. “These lessons can be applied to not only beer and wine, but cocktails, and food, and even how much attention to pay to the guests.”
Probe shared more about the Beer and Wine: Service and Selling course, and his career.
Please give us a brief history of your education and career.
I have worked almost every job in the restaurant industry and have a business degree from SDSU. In addition to professional certificates in the Business of Wine, and the Business of Craft Beer, I also hold a professional certificate in Meeting and Event Planning. I’m currently a server at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in downtown San Diego, and am working on opening my own venue to host and manage events.
How soon after completing your Business of Wine certificate did you become a sommelier?
I completed my certificate in the summer of 2014 and became a sommelier in February of 2015. I had to take the test twice because I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been the first time round. But going back through all my lessons from the wine certificate helped prepare me once I had a better idea of what to expect on the exam.
How soon after completing your Business of Craft Beer certificate did you become a certified Cicerone?
I completed the Business of Craft Beer certificate in the fall of 2014 and then passed the Cicerone exam in May of 2015. Going through the test was much more enjoyable, having gone through the Beer Styles 1 and 2 courses in the SDSU program. Not only did I have the tasting knowledge, but I had the visual and auditory lessons from SEEING the ingredients behind the flavors we were tasting each week, as well as talking about it with like-minded people. I always looked forward to leaving my job as a beer bartender to go to class, drink MORE beer, and talk about it while I did.
What are some highlights of your course, Beer and Wine: Service and Selling?
We get to partake in several beverages, both beer and wine, and talk about many service-related lessons, which I have gained over my 10+ years in the industry. Not only do we share funny server stories about the “fun” and eventful lives most servers have, but we also get to learn about WHY we like the beverages we do.
Do you have a favorite anecdote you share in class about a service and selling experience?
I once had a woman come into the pub where I was working and she had no idea how to order a beer or a wine. She ordered her salad and then asked me what she wanted to drink with it. As any server will tell you, this is a fun question because sometimes we answer with our opinion and are told we are wrong. This woman had two items on her salad that were somewhat contradictory — beets and raspberries (she added the latter as an extra ingredient) — so going off regular pairing options was not really going to help. Fortunately I was able to read her personality just from the 30 seconds I had spent with her and recommended a Habanero Passionfruit Wine that blew her mind. She ended up becoming one of my regulars, always asking me about my knowledge and wanting to learn more. She eventually moved on to drinking Sauvignon blanc and German beers (I came to find she had lived in Germany for several years) … and all because I was able to educate her.
Can you give an example of how students will learn to give the customer a greater experience?
Many guests know what they like but they can’t tell you why they like it. So when we learn about how to figure out a guest’s preferences — as well as how to answer a question that the guest doesn’t even know they’re going to ask — it makes us look much more informative and gives the guest a greater trust that we will give them what they really want.
Who should take this course?
Beer and Wine: Service and Selling is designed for anyone who works in any capacity in the beverage industry. Servers will learn how to better know their guests to ultimately create a one-of-a-kind level of service that will lead to more tips for them and greater sales for their restaurant. Managers and buyers/inventory managers will be able to better watch trends and keep operation costs down. Managers will also be able to create a sales environment that enables their servers to better perform their jobs and generate more revenue for the establishment — all while loving what they do. The course is also for anyone who has ever gone into a restaurant and wanted to try a new drink but didn’t know where to start.
What’s your current favorite wine and beer?
German … anything German … for both. I love Riesling and Hefeweizen, respectively.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A businessman. I thought that was a job. When I was young I didn’t realize it’s more specific than that.
Anything you’d like to add?
I’m working on a Spirits and Liquors program as well as a Sake program to possibly add to the College of Extended Studies’ beverage courses.