Jeff Josenhans | Certified Cicerone,® Certified Sommelier
No floor somm? No problem.
It is no secret that, in the modern restaurant world, a designated floor sommelier is a luxury. After 2008, the Restaurant Manager/Sommelier became commonplace. Those with a passion for the grape and vine became simultaneously responsible for payroll, service recoveries, scheduling, etc. Restaurants still recognize the value of having someone in the restaurant designated as the “wine expert,” but also need to cut their ever-rising labor costs.
Proprietors must weigh what they feel is more important –a pastry chef, cicerone, mixologist, or sommelier. At times they have to pick one, or create a hybrid position. However, managing people is a very different ballgame. So how does one balance learning management skills while furthering their sommelier career at the same time? Well, hopefully, they have picked up some server and inter-personal skills prior to taking the exam and getting the post, but if not here are some tips:
- Understand the scope of your wine list and be realistic with managing not only purchasing costs, but also how much time you have to train the team. If you cannot allocate, at the very least, quarterly wine training and routine stand-up meetings, you probably need to cut down on your list to reflect that. You may not have time to answer every question guests have regarding the wine list, and a system needs to be built up around that possibility. Ensure you have some form of manual available for new hires so that they can get an understanding of the wine list prior to hitting the floor.
- Give the team focus wines and bullet points, based on varietals and guest scenarios. If all of your servers can become well-versed in at least three chardonnays of different price points from the list, chances are they are going to be much more confident dealing with a question regarding your chardonnays. I believe a solid gauge is that all servers should be able to speak well and comfortably about at least 30 wines on the list, and be experts on all wines available by the glass.
- Create an army! It doesn’t make sense to be the only go-to sommelier around. Who do servers go to on your days off when a guest has a question beyond the 50 wines they know? You need to have a wine steward or a lead server who can fill in. They might not be a Certified Sommelier, but ideally should be someone who has taken the introductory exam. Having a person like this on your team who can work as an extension of the designated sommelier, help with inventory and vintage updates, and just promote wine culture in your restaurant is priceless.