While the movie “SOMM” may never be as popular as the infamous movie “Sideways,” the film’s enduring legacy will surely be one of elevating the beverage industry, rather than wrecking it. What “SOMM” has done for the wine industry, and for consumers of wine, is to help illuminate the incredible lengths that some people will go to in order to dedicate their lives to the sommelier profession.
Working the floor of a restaurant requires a specially talented skill set–one that combines the ability to be personable with speed and efficiency. And efficiency is inclusive of a category all its own–from designing and managing a wine list, to how well you run your inventory and how well you are able to manage that ever-changing inventory from the floor. All these factors, and more, will come into play and determine your success as a sommelier–the good news is, not everyone has to be a Master Sommelier to live a long and prosperous life in the profession.
But what makes for a successful sommelier? How can anyone interested in getting into the profession, position themselves to succeed and seek higher education if desired? At the Napa Valley Wine Academy, we are introducing a series of courses called SommDay School workshops, designed and taught by Tim Gaiser, MS, aimed at answering these questions. The first classes will be held in August, and you can learn more by visiting our SommDay School workshop page.
We asked Tim, and three other local Napa Valley sommeliers how they define great service. Here’s what they had to say:
“This is a short question with a very long answer. In the context of being a sommelier, great service is helping the guest have the best possible wine experience with their meal. There’s a great deal of knowledge involved here in terms of knowing classic grapes, regions, and wines, not to mention food and wine pairing and how both correlate to a specific menu/style of cooking. There’s also a communication/human intangible element that’s vital to the guest having a good experience as well.”
As for a successful night of working the floor? Taking care of the guest and helping them have a great dining experience is the key. The SommDay School provides the knowledge and training necessary to help a sommelier provide a great dining experience to the guest.” – Tim Gaiser, MS, Instructor, Napa Valley Wine Academy in Napa, CA
“To me great service is friendly, never stuffy, and yet also correct, never sloppy. For the role of the Sommelier, good service is all about listing and understanding what the guest needs/wants. It means asking the appropriate questions, and having the knowledge of the wine list to find the wine that will make the guest happy. Overall guest happiness is the key; we should do whatever we can to help make the guest leave in a happier state than when they arrived.” – Kris Margerum, Wine Director (Advanced Sommelier), Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford, CA
“I think great service is defined as understanding, and even more so anticipating, your guests needs and being able to deliver these with warmth, grace and humility. Understanding what your guest is saying and also what they are not saying–a little reading between the lines if you will. Hospitality is about deriving true pleasure by giving people what they want and expect when dining out with great food and great wine.” – Danielle Aita, Sommelier, Bouchon, Napa, CA
“My definition of great service varies depending on the establishment. However, what is clear to me is that once expectations have been established standards can never drop. It is the ability to constantly deliver these standards that makes a restaurant stand out. Working on the floor I call successful nights those when I can devote my full attention to the guest, pick their brain and allow them to pick mine. Being a sommelier is all about understanding what the customer wants, when I see guests walking out of the restaurant excited about what they drank or what they’ve learned, that’s what gets me excited every day.” – Nicolas Cadavid, Sommelier, PRESS Restaurant in St. Helena, CA.