The sommelier is a specialist in wine and spirits service. This professional typically manages the wine cellar at a restaurant, and acts as the in-house expert on optimal wine and food pairings.
Sommeliers utilise extensive knowledge of wine production and wine service to help ensure the enjoyment of dining patrons. The job not only requires one to use refined techniques to serve the wine, but also to teach and educate clients on the merits of different wines and vintages and how each wine might be paired with different types of food.
A few of the factors that can greatly affect salaries in this field include the star rating of the restaurant or establishment you are working in, your experience, your level of sommelier certification and the city you are working in. The amount paid for both salary and annual bonuses for sommeliers in London tend to be significantly greater. The starting salary for a sommelier after achieving initial certification would average approximately £20,000 per year. After several years of experience and additional training and certifications, it is not uncommon for a head sommelier at a four-star restaurant to make £50,000 or more. Tips and annual bonuses are not included in this salary range.
- researching the latest trends in the culinary, wine and spirits world
- being knowledgeable about different types and regions of wines
- helping customers choose the correct wine for a meal or budget
- planning the wine menu
- working with the executive chef on wine and food pairings
- decanting wines, especially red wines over 10 years old
- choosing and ordering wines that best fit the menu and patrons
- knowing the proper way to store various types of wines
- managing the inventory of the wine cellar
- educating patrons on the proper ways to drink and enjoy wine
- hosting and attending wine-tasting events
- describing the taste and aroma of different wines
- suggesting other drinks that may complement one’s meal
- selecting the house wine
- cultivating relationships with distributors and vintners
- creating a diverse wine list at price points for all diners
You can find wine and spirits training at most culinary arts schools or through programmes offered at some vocational colleges. Top restaurants are more likely to favour certification from an internationally accredited organisation associated with the Worldwide Sommelier Association (WSA), which is the largest sommelier association in the world. The WSA utilises exclusively the renowned and worldwide acclaimed curriculum developed by the Italian Sommelier Association (AIS). This curriculum is famous for its technical tasting approach and methodology, patented food and wine pairing technique, publications, service standards and three-levels course structure which leads to the Certified Sommelier qualification. A Professional Sommelier qualification and diploma is issued by AIS after the candidate’s career assessment for those sommeliers actually working in a food and beverage establishment. The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) is another wine and spirits examining body that offers the ‘Master Sommelier Diploma’ and the ‘Advanced Sommelier Certificate’. The Master Sommelier Diploma was introduced in 1969, and at the end of 2013 only 214 people from around the world had achieved the title ‘Master Sommelier’.
- Service orientation
- Active listening
- Critical thinking
- Social perceptiveness
- Active learning
- Operations analysis
- Complex problem solving
- Management of material resources
- Systems evaluation
- Operation monitoring
- Quality Control analysis
The sommelier in a restaurant works closely with the chef and restaurant management as a part of the culinary team. The sommelier suggests wines that will best complement each particular food item on the menu and coordinates with wine suppliers for those wines to be available in the restaurant when those specific meals are served. This entails the need for a deep knowledge of how food and wine, beer, spirits and other beverages work in harmony. A professional sommelier also works on the floor of the restaurant and is in direct contact with restaurant patrons.
Prior experience in the food service or hospitality industries would be a great place to gain relevant experience. Some jobs that might be beneficial as a starting point for someone exploring a career as a sommelier would be waiting on tables or bartending. Useful experience in these positions includes interaction with valued guests as well as time management and prioritising. However, even with experience in related fields it is still extremely difficult to obtain a job as a sommelier without proper certification.
A Junior Sommelier just beginning his career will need to gain experience working directly with clients, developing skills while working with a wide variety of spirits and foods. Eventually, if the restaurant employs multiple sommeliers, it is possible to be promoted to Head Sommelier, which is more of a management position amongst the sommelier staff. The rate of promotion depends entirely on the unique abilities and experience of each sommelier. An average time for a Junior Sommelier to reach Head Sommelier is roughly five to eight years. There are a few related jobs which an experienced sommelier can move into. Instead of working with vendors to purchase wine for a specific restaurant, a sommelier can work directly with a wine vendor or importer, using their extensive wine knowledge and ability to communicate with clients in a different way.
High-end restaurants are the most common employer of sommeliers. However, you now find sommeliers in most places you are expecting 5-star, luxury service. You can now find sommeliers working on luxury ocean liners, in 5-star resorts and even in the first class cabins of some of the world’s highest rated airlines.
Also known as…
- Wine Steward
- Master of Wine
- Wine Consultant
- Cocktail Waiter
What’s it really like?
Andrea Rinaldi is the UK Sommelier Association President and Worldwide Sommelier Association President.
What jobs did you have before you became a Sommelier and how did they contribute to your career as a sommelier?
My first job on this career path was as a barman. This job helped me to develop my skills in customer service and it taught me how to communicate effectively with guests. Due to my passion for wine and food, 31 years ago I decided to pursue a career as a sommelier in Italy. To start my journey in this career, I enrolled in the Sommelier Course with the Italian Sommelier Association (AIS). After graduating I was hired for my first job as a sommelier in a hotel in my hometown, Montecatini Terme. The most important experiences in my career, however, occurred in London while working at “‘The Royal Commonwealth Society Club”‘, “‘The Savoy”‘ and “‘The Neal Street Restaurant”‘ owned by Antonio Carluccio.
What is a routine day in the life of a sommelier?
As a sommelier, your day will usually start around 10 o’clock in the morning. First, you have to meet your wine vendors and distributors and make sure your orders arrive. You must then organise this wine stock to coordinate with that specific day’s meals. You must also then organise the set-up presenting the wines to the guests. During lunch you must be on hand in the restaurant to consult with patrons and provide excellent wine service, which includes suggesting appropriate wines for the guest’s specific meal, presentation of the wine and pouring.
After lunch the sommelier must focus his energy on administration and office work. This includes coordinating with the chefs and restaurant management to prepare coordinated wine selections to accompany the following day’s meal selections. A certain amount of accounting work must be done to take inventory of wine stock, place orders with vendors, negotiate pricing with suppliers and finally price your wine selections appropriately to maintain gross profit. The sommelier must organise staff training whereas waiting staff participate in wine tastings of new wines and are educated on the specific details of each wine. The sommelier must also attend all management meetings.
Finally, the sommelier must once again organise the set-up and presentation of wines for dinner service.
What do you like most about the job?
I love to communicate the many qualities and characteristics of a specific wine to the client, be they a colleague or an individual restaurant patron. Through my passion for food and wine, I try to understand the client’s taste and preferences. Once this communication has been established, I hopefully will be able to give them an unforgettable sensorial experience. For a passionate connoisseur, wine is an emotion, and when I am able to facilitate in creating an extremely pleasurable experience for my guest, that is when I truly love my job.
What do you like least about the job?
Many days you will have to show up early in the morning to meet vendors to receive wine shipments. You often do not leave until the last table has selected their wine for dinner. These long hours can sometimes be very difficult.
What do you think are some of the best character traits a person considering a career as a sommelier could have?
First of all, any potential sommelier must possess a passion for wine and food. There must be a strong instinct to be attentive to the client or guest and a desire to provide outstanding customer service. A sommelier must always remain curious about new products and they will constantly conduct their own research to stay as up to date as possible. It cannot be stressed enough that a sommelier much be adventurous, passionate and extremely enthusiastic about wine and food.
How do you get certified as a sommelier?
The best courses to get started in a career as a sommelier will all use the Italian Sommelier Association (AIS) method. AIS was founded on July 7th 1965 by Jean Valenti, a sommelier of French origin, whose expertise was requested in Italy by Angelo Pozzi for his famous restaurant in Milan. AIS is now the foremost authority in wine education and sommelier services in Italy, and is one of the oldest sommelier associations of the world. The international version of that course is held by the Worldwide Sommelier Association, the largest sommelier association in the world. The course combines an extremely thorough food and wine education curriculum with hands-on training to instil instinctive, high quality service standards. In the UK the sommelier course is run by the UK Sommelier Association. We use the renowned and worldwide acclaimed AIS curriculum which provides internationally recognised and award-winning education and professional qualifications.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
It is important to start with a sommelier certification or diploma.
If you were to use your experience as a sommelier as a transition to another job, what would that be?
I would like to do wine consultancies, assisting companies or individuals in tasting, appreciating and purchasing bottles of wine for either business purposes or personal consumption. A wine consultant can often work for himself, whereas a sommelier works for a restaurant or resort. This would allow me to put into practice all of my experience in a completely new arena.