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Being a Restaurant Sommelier
Ever wonder what the sommelier job entails? Read on! This is our ultimate restaurant sommelier job page. Want to become a sommelier or explore other sommelier jobs outside of restaurants? Check out our guide to sommelier certification.
The Sommelier Job
Being a restaurant sommelier is a rewarding position. However, it requires more than just opening up bottles for people and making the occasional wine-pairing suggestion. The essence of the job is behind the scenes: a sommelier runs a business within a business.
Is a sommelier a well-informed wine snob? Is their job an excuse to showcase their all-encompassing knowledge of wine regions and laws? Not! The idea that being a sommelier is a fancy pants position is a myth.
What does a somm do? First, they must make money for the restaurant; they build a wine list. To be successful, the list will match the cuisine, conform to the pricing structure of the restaurant, and appeal to the demographic that frequents the establishment.
There is no room for placing 75 bone-dry Rieslings on the list at a steakhouse. Just because a sommelier thinks they are exceptional wines is not a reason to be included. Buying wine that doesn’t sell is a surefire way for a sommelier to join the unemployment line. However, this doesn’t mean there is no room for expression and exposing clientele to new and exciting eclectic wines.
Take the steakhouse example; the route to success is a wine list full of rich and hearty reds like Cabernet Sauvignon. The following is a list of responsibilities and duties summarizing what a restaurant sommelier does.
Educate the staff
Wine education is a critical job for the sommelier. As mentioned, a sommelier is a profit-driving job for the restaurant, selling wine. The restaurant needs a wine-educated wait staff with the desire and knowledge to help guests purchase wine.
The sommelier can’t make it to every table to offer wine suggestions. So the majority of recommendations will come from the servers. They are the ones that must have the tools to make proper suggestions and present the wines.
A weekly educational wine class is vital for any successful restaurant wine program. In these wine classes, the sommelier teaches the staff the basics of wine. This ensures that front-of-the-house staff members know exactly what is on the current wine list and make recommendations.
Procure the list
Building an excellent wine list is one of the best parts of a sommelier’s job. A successful list will have great diversity and match the attending demographic’s price category, and the food style served.
A great example is the well-known Thai restaurant in Las Vegas, Lotus of Siam. They have an award-winning, diverse, well-priced wine list and are highly focused on wines that pair with heavy spice and flavor. This does not mean that Lotus doesn’t have California Cabernet on their list; they didn’t make it the top priority or the focus of their list.
Regardless of the style of cuisine, every restaurant should carry some fancy bottles of Cabernet and a big buttery Chardonnay for those who want what they want. Ignoring this type of thing leaves money on the table, which a successful restaurant cannot afford to do.
Maintain an accurate list.
A good sommelier must have an accurate wine list and not be littered with vintage and out-of-stock errors. A quick way to piss off a patron dining at your establishment is to have her scour the wine list for 15-20 minutes and finally come to a conclusion, only to find out that the wine is out of stock or is not vintage that was printed. Frequently reprinting the wine list can be costly and time-consuming, but it is necessary.
Many restaurants have software that helps inventory wines. They also do a weekly manual count of what is in the cellar. The sommelier is responsible for conducting inventory and knows the stock and dollars tied up in the wine cellar. This is important for issues of shrinkage as well as maintaining an accurate list; just as important, it helps the sommelier to understand the sales flow and what to order.
Reduce losses and shrinkage.
This is a massive part of running a successful wine program. Any sommelier who doesn’t understand this concept will not make their restaurant sustainable profit. Reducing loss in a wine program is accomplished by keeping a close eye on inventory.
Ensuring that servers and bartenders are not over-pouring glass pours is another way to prevent shrinkage. Getting credits and replacements from vendors for corked bottles is another way to reduce losses and increase profit. Finally, creating a wine-by-the-glass program that is not too large is vital to minimize spoilage. These are just a few examples of reducing losses and keeping profits solid and steady.
Budget and sales
A sommelier will have a close relationship with the management team. They communicate budget information and help the sommelier understand what margins must be made. This includes both percentage and volume of sales. Working with upper management to accomplish sales targets and meet ownership expectations is vital.
Trends and the newest releases
A sommelier must be actively tasting the newest releases. They need to know what wines are hot on the market and coveted by their clientele. It’s not enough to build a wine list full of standard products. A successful wine program has the solid basics that always sell well, but it also contains wines that have recently scored well in the press or buzzed around them. The sommelier needs to be clued to what’s trending and the industry’s latest hot spot. This is especially important in the “smartphone” era, where people love to break out their phones to search for high-scoring wines.
Work with vendors to ensure profitability.
As mentioned, vendors must help reduce loss, pick up damaged bottles, replace them, or credit them back to the restaurant. Vendors also serve a huge role in informing the sommelier about the latest releases and vintages. They can also play a huge role in educating staff members and conducting educational tastings.
Vendors also help the sommelier know what deals are available and make an extra profit through savvy purchasing. For example, a wine salesman might say, “we have a buy four cases and get one free deal,” or they may have a unique promotional price point on a specific brand. Working closely with vendors can also help the sommelier know what has been successful at other restaurants and what the competition is doing. Keeping a tight relationship with the people who sell you the wine is a massive tool for success. This is critical to the sommelier’s job description.
Work with the chef
The sommelier must work closely with the chef and understand the food. The sommelier will need to taste everything on the menu and be aware of any changes to the food menu. To build a list that matches the food or give spur-of-the-moment suggestions to the guests at the table, the sommelier needs to know what wines will match each dish and explain to the guest why it works well. The sommelier must help the servers to understand the right pairings as well. This can be accomplished in every wine class by teaching the staff about wine regions and laws and how wines match up with certain foods and, specifically, the foods on your restaurant’s menu.
Know the Patrons
A sommelier needs to remember the regular guests and memorize their preferences. Understand the palates of the frequent clientele. This will ensure that you have the right wines available for them. Forming a bond and trust with key patrons will result in better sales and great word of mouth for the restaurant. A savvy sommelier listens carefully to the “regulars” and stocks the cellar with things they want.
Many more facets encompass the position of a restaurant sommelier -the sommelier job description. Still, these are a few things one should know about the place and how it works behind the scenes. A sommelier is more than just a nose and a palate. A sommelier is intrinsically involved with the budgetary designs of the restaurant and has the end goal of not only providing excellent customer service and wine recommendations but ultimately conducting a sound business and selling a ton of wine at a significant profit.
For the current scandals plaguing the CMS –including charges of racism and sexual violence– please refer to this page: Master Sommelier Scandals.