Become a sommelier: a day-to-day job
Sommelier : a service industry profession
To become a sommelier, employed by a restaurant, is to take on 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.
After completing his or her studies, the graduate will usually start as an assistant sommelier, assisting with the reception and storage of the different wines in the cellar, and picking up the wines ordered by customers in the cellar during the service. Afterwards, after having gained more experience, he/she can become sommelier, then continuing to manage the cellar and will take on a more prominent role advising and attending the client. After a while, the sommelier can evolve to become head sommelier, managing the entire sommelier service of the restaurant or business and, in large establishments, a complete team of sommeliers.
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.
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.
The professional 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.