Make lemons your sherbet

21 March, 2008

Q I'm selling more limoncello than I used to but know next to nothing about

it. I always thought it was slightly naff - is it cooler than I realised?

A Limoncello sales remain minuscule but there does appear to have been a recent reappraisal of the Italian digestif in the UK market. Far from being naff, many people find it a deliciously refreshing way to round off a meal and, as it's lower in alcohol than brandy, whisky or grappa, it appeals to people watching their alcohol intake.

Limoncello originates from southern Italy

and, contrary to popular myth, is not traditionally made with lemon juice, but the skins, or zest, of the fruit. Purists will tell you there is a difference in flavour characteristics depending on what sort of lemons you use.

It's fairly eas y to make your own limoncello. If you put the skins of seven or eight lemons in a litre of vodka for a couple of days, strain off the liquor and then add it to a litre of boiled water to which 700g of sugar has been added, you will have a passable liqueur with which to impress your friends - though possibly not your customers.

Q We've had a number of problems with our security alarm, and now the police have warned us that they will not attend next time the alarm is triggered. Are they entitled to take such an approach?

A The Association of Chief Police Officers is concerned about how much time is wasted in dealing with false alarms and is trying to reach a situation where a third of all alarm calls are actually genuine. A couple of years ago it was calculated that nearly nine out of every 10 alarms were false.

The latest ACPO guidelines insist

that systems are produced to set standards if they require a police response. Police will not respond when three false alarm calls have been received during a rolling

12-month period, until the system is


If it has already been upgraded to the approved technology, then the past three months must have all been free of false alarms.

Police may charge a fee to register monitored systems, though this does not guarantee a response to an activated alarm.

Pay sales people salaries - not commission

Q I want to

motivate my sales ­assistants to sell more fine wine. Should I consider introducing a commission system?

A It's an intriguing thought, and commission is a very common thing in most types of selling. In drinks retailing it's pretty rare and there are strong arguments for not going down that route.

"Put your people on individual sales commissions and some of them will shark your customers," says Richard Hammond, author of Smart Retail. "That's simple, straightforward human nature. The best service organisations pay

bonuses based on customer satisfaction combined with something reflecting overall store profit ­performance. Or just be a great employer and give your frontline people salaries."

Some generic wine bodies or wholesalers occasionally offer incentives to stores

that achieve the biggest sales increase with a certain promotion or which create the best window display - look out for details in OLN or in depots. Sometimes there is prize money

in a national competition, like OLN's Drinks Retailing Awards .

A commission system risks destroying team unity, can cause resentment among staff that aren't able to work the most lucrative shifts, and can be difficult to calculate. We'd be interested in hearing from any drinks retailer who has managed to do it successfully.

the forum

To respond to the unanswered questions below, or to ask a reader's advice, simply email:

Q Last week I had a heavily pregnant woman in my shop who was slurring her words and was obviously drunk. I was completely unsure if I should sell her the two bottles of wine she wanted to buy. Is it my place to lecture her on the dangers of drinking when pregnant, or should I simply have refused the sale because she was drunk? When, if ever, should a retailer get personally involved in customers' lives?

A I would refuse the sale and tell her it's because she's had too much to drink. If she is drunk, explaining to her the dangers of drinking when pregnant would probably just fall on deaf ears. If she's a regular I would try talking to her next time she's in and find out why she feels the need to drink when she's expecting a baby. But unfortunately people don't always want advice and as a retailer you sometimes have to take a step back and not get personally involved, however hard that may be.

Janet Lacey, Derby

A Last year we had a similar dilemma when we had to decide if we should keep serving a local alcoholic. He was slowly killing himself with the drink but was always courteous to staff. We ended up explaining to him why we could no longer serve him and put him in touch with a local organisation that could help him quit. He listened intently and left saying he understood our position. But he was soon seen being served in the offie over the road. Sometimes you simply cannot help people who don't want to be helped.

BW, Marlow

Q Can anyone recommend a particular Scotch whisky distillery tour? The more tartan, bagpipes, haggis and, of course, sampling the better.

A I would recommend the Glenkinchie Distillery in Edinburgh . My wife and I adore this place - you get a tour of a working distillery and can spend hours pouring over their malt Whisky exhibition. On our last trip we were introduced to the joys of Glenkinchie accompanied with sardines. Heaven.

Alfie Green, Dover

QAll the obvious off-licence names have been taken, many times over. So

why has no one

thought of

City's Liquors? Is it just too subtle

Lee, Brighton

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