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The sommelier day-to-day job

Sommelier : a service industry profession

A sommelier, employed by a restaurant, is above all a service role. It is, of course, essential for a sommelier to have excellent vineyard and oenology knowledge, know how to manage their cellar, and even how to carry out a tasting but they are, first and foremost, there to meet their customers’ needs.

A sommelier suggests appropriate wines depending on the dishes the customer has chosen, serves the wine(s) at the right temperature for tasting, in the correct glasses, and adheres to the rules of service. A sommelier will know how to provide insight into the chosen wine by using a rich and varied vocabulary to give explanations and make comments. A sommelier is modest and readily shares their oenology expertise with their customers. 

A sommelier’s training is based on pairing food and spirits and the gustatory affinities of the customers. A sommelier who has been trained by professionals is capable of introducing their customers to new pairings.

How to become a sommelier - compose its cellar

Creating a restaurant cellar

A sommelier also plays a role in buying the wines and maintains an excellent relationship with winegrowers and professionals from the world of wine and oenology. The sommelier regularly goes to the vineyards and selects the best cru for the cellar of the restaurant in which they work. In order to make their selection and fulfil their complementary role of restaurant cellar person, a number of parameters are taken into account including:

  •    the region in which the restaurant is located (a sommelier in Paris will not choose the same wines as a sommelier from elsewhere in the world or from a different region of France).
  •    the customer profile
  •    the price range of the establishment. It is important for the cellar to reflect the reputation and the speciality of the restaurant.
  •    the cooking style of the cuisine chef

Managing the restaurant cellar

A sommelier must be a good manager. In charge of a cellar which sometimes might be worth hundreds of thousands of Euros, they will decide when the wines it contains can be sold, when the cru will be at its best. The financial investment is considerable and mistakes are not tolerated. A restaurant’s wine cellar plays an important role in the reputation of the establishment. 

become a sommelier - managing cave

The professionnal sommelier : an excellent salesperson

Once they are aware of what the customer has chosen to eat, the sommelier takes on the role of salesperson. Selling the wine(s) which go with the meal is a very crucial moment, the sommelier must have perfect knowledge of the crus in their cellar but also a sense of empathy to define, in the space of a few minutes, the needs and desires of the customer. The sommelier is able to distinguish between personal taste and what the customer wants, to give them the best possible experience and therefore leave them as satisfied as possible. 

The commercial side, whether selling or buying the wines that will make up the cellar, represents an important part of the training. The sommelier, just like any excellent salesperson, must completely master sales principles: products, positioning and contextual sales argument.

Hierarchy and working hours

There is a hierarchy for sommeliers, especially in luxury establishments. It is quite common to start one’s career as a “commis sommelier”, then sommelier, before becoming head sommelier.

As a restaurant employee, a sommelier often works split shifts, week-ends and public holidays, in a similar way to a cuisine chef or pastry chef.

The qualities needed to become a sommelier

Ultimately, a trained sommelier must possess a number of essential qualities if they are to excel in their profession:

  • Great customer service skills and empathy.
  • Very thorough, providing every customer with perfect service.
  • Highly developed sense of taste and smell. These qualities are essential to gaining excellent wine knowledge.
  • Curiosity and open-mindedness. In the wine industry, the learning process is on-going to ensure you are up to date on all the latest innovations and able to look beyond the great classics.
  • Good at imparting knowledge and giving advice. A sommelier must enjoy sharing their expertise and know how to adapt what they are saying depending on the knowledge of the person to whom they are talking.
  • Good manager: To ensure the restaurant cellar is profitable, a sommelier must also make sure they are getting a good price from their suppliers.
  • Good memory: A sommelier must be able to call to mind all the wines on the wine menu, usually with a number of vintages, which can sometimes add up to hundreds of wines.
  • The ability to speak one or more foreign languages (particularly English) has almost become a necessity for being able to advise foreign customers.

The Wine and Management Programme at Le Cordon Bleu Paris Institute

Learn all about the career of two Instructors in wine department at Le Cordon Bleu Paris Institute

Franck Ramage Jean-Michel Deluc

Photo gallery - become a sommelier

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Testimonials

  • le-cordon-bleu-paris-ecole-art-culinaire-ancien-etudiant-marie-sophie-guthmann
    The year at Le Cordon Bleu Paris is something everybody should experience at least once in their lifetime. The months are intensive and hard but when you see the final result, you cannot be anything other than speechless. I had never analyzed a glass of wine, a bottle, a grape variety, a region… Curiosity played a major role and opened my eyes to discover the beauty of this sector. Marketing, communication, management, soft skills… We touched on these subjects every day. The consultants are professionals, particularly good listeners and receptive, which is a very positive aspect.
    Marie-Sophie Guthmann, Wine and Management Programme Alumna
  • le-cordon-bleu-paris-ecole-art-culinaire-ancien-etudiant-guillaume-gondinet
    The Wine and Management Programme is complete. You will learn techniques and theory; you will practice and visit the places to know. You will also make contacts and become an insider of the wine world.
    Guillaume Gondinet, Wine and Management Programme Alumnus
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