A sommelier is a highly knowledgeable and trained wine steward with a formal wine education. They specialise in all aspects of the wine industry and can bring an array of wine expertise and passion to a restaurant's operations.
Traditionally only offered in fine dining establishments, sommeliers are becoming more popular and accessible to everyday diners. Today, many casual restaurants are choosing to hire sommeliers to offer a wine service. In a highly competitive industry, offering expert wine culture can make any restaurant stand out with excellent service and an enhanced dining experience.
Responsibilities of a Sommelier
A sommelier in the hospitality industry will manage the full wine service, from back-end operations to front-of-house customer service.
This will include the following activities:
- Sampling and learning about wines, grape varieties and wine regions across the World.
- Developing a curated wine list.
- Managing inventory and adequate storage.
- Coordinating with chefs for food and wine pairings.
- Offering expert knowledge to customers for the right wine pairing.
- Delivering blind tasting or wine tasting classes.
- Training relevant staff on aspects of wine and how to recommend wines.
What is a Sommelier Certification?
Becoming a certified sommelier takes years of wine education and expertise. It involves gaining an extensive knowledge of wine from around the world, following the latest trends, conducting blind tastings and completing an in-depth sommelier exam.
There are various certification bodies but the most recognised and historic is the Court of Master Sommeliers, officially established in 1977. To become a sommelier, candidates must have 3 years of wine industry experience before taking the sommelier exam.
The Court of Master Sommeliers includes 4 levels of training and exams to become a master sommelier:
- Introductory Sommelier (Level 1) Certification: This is an entry sommelier exam for those in the hospitality or wine industry looking to start their journey to master sommelier. It is typically available online and great for restaurants to offer to staff members to upskill.
- Certified Sommelier (Level 2) Certification: This requires in-person training with the Court of Master Sommeliers and demonstrating practical skills and knowledge of wine, vintage, grapes and regions. It also includes a blind-tasting test.
- Advanced Sommelier (Level 3) Certification: The candidate has to demonstrate they are a knowledgeable wine professional through practical restaurant service tests, more advanced blind tastings and winemaking styles.
- Master Sommelier (Level 4) Certification: The highest level of Court of Master Sommeliers is notoriously hard to achieve and only a few wine professionals have earned this certification since inception. It typically includes 500 hours of study, practical group tasting groups and a written sommelier exam.
8 Benefits of a Sommelier in Restaurants
A master sommelier can be a valuable asset to a restaurant in many ways. Although it takes several years to become a master sommelier, the incredible dining experience you can offer to customers may increase your return on investment. Whether you are choosing to upskill your staff or hire a sommelier, the benefits can include:
1. Enhanced dining experience
Customers want to dine in places that bring a level of food and wine expertise they can't get at home. A professional wine steward or sommelier can add sophistication and luxury to a restaurant.
2. Improved food and wine service
A wine expert can find the right wine for food pairing which enhances the taste of the overall meal. Although the perception of wine can vary for each person, a trained sommelier can personalise their recommendations to the diner's taste palate, preferences and budget.
3. Marketing unique selling points
A master sommelier can go above and beyond to offer more experiences to customers. From wine-tasting nights to food pairing degustation courses, you can attract new diners with a wine expert offering.
4. Trained and knowledgeable staff
A master sommelier can share knowledge with your team, and develop training sessions and guides to upskill your full department. Front-of-house duties can be advanced to a high level by engaging staff members in a specialised passion.
5. Brand Credibility
A confident and accurate wine service team can increase your brand's reputation and customer satisfaction. If your dining experience is filled with expert knowledge, personable facts about the wine regions and personalised recommendations then a diner can trust in your restaurant.
6. Cost savings
With their wine expertise, a sommelier will understand the true value of vintages, grape varieties and vineyards. They will build a rapport with wine producers and negotiate deals that may not be on offer to a bar wholesale company.
7. Upsell potential
A restaurant that can offer recommendations and expertise has a higher potential to upsell to customers. With the added knowledge of their partner wineries, grape variety and food pairings, a sommelier can upsell customers to increase their overall taste experience. Most sommeliers are trained in upselling techniques and offering wine tastings can be a persuasive yet customer service-focused approach.
8. Increased profit potential
The profit margin on a wine menu can be significantly high in restaurants when planned efficiently. A sommelier can curate the perfect wine list to maximise profit margins and financial success. Increasing profit margins is a proactive way for restaurants to prepare for market and seasonal fluctuations.
What is a Sommelier's Average Salary?
Sommeliers are highly valued skilled jobs in Australia and New Zealand. Usually, they receive an annual salary instead of the hourly wages common in most restaurant positions.
In Australia, sommeliers can earn between $70,000 and $80,000 (AUD) per year according to SEEK. Cities with more high-quality fine dining restaurants will average towards the upper end of the pay scale.
The average salary for a sommelier in New Zealand is lower at $57,428 (NZD) per year. In comparison, a waiter's average salary can be around $43,875 per year.
What Type of Restaurants Hire a Sommelier?
Master sommeliers are usually hired by upscale hospitality establishments to enhance the fine dining menu with exquisite wine pairings. However, many cuisines can be magnified with a wine pairing and most sommeliers with a passion will relish this challenge.
Today, you may find a sommelier in the following eateries:
- Fine dining restaurants
- Hotel restaurant
- Winery restaurant
- Cheese restaurant
- Tapas restaurant
- Italian restaurant
- Gastro pubs
- Steak restaurants
- Seafood restaurants
Enhance your Dining Service Further
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Book a demo today to see how you can support your staff in enhancing the quality of your brand.
What is the Difference Between a Sommelier and a Bartender?
A bartender will tend the bar and serve a range of drinks from beer to cocktails. Their expertise will cover multiple menu items and techniques. A sommelier, however, will be specialised in the wine menu, particularly pairing with food, completing blind tastings and curating expert wine menus. A bartender typically stays behind the bar whereas a sommelier will tend to tables, serve wine and train staff members.
Are There Other Types of Sommeliers Besides Wine?
Sommeliers have traditionally been used to refer to wine experts. However, in recent years the hospitality industry has reflected a growing demand for passion and specialised knowledge for food and drinks. You may now find water sommeliers, tea sommeliers, coffee sommeliers and "cicerones" for beer experts.