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Memo From American Sommelier: Pitfalls of the Newly Hired Sommelier

Posted on  | October 25, 2013   Bookmark and Share
Written by |

Andrew Bell, co-founder and President of American Sommelier

Young buyers are passionate people! They have a tendency to want to acquire all that they have recently tasted and create a movement, developing followers trumpets-a-blaring.

Caution is what I say. The role of the sommelier is often less than clearly defined. A good employee wishes to keep him/herself employed and the bosses responsible for paying the bills happy.

Once a sommelier has accepted a position as buyer or head of department (buying and overseeing the stocks) the notion of responsibility, relative to value of inventory and purchasing practices, is not necessarily taught by the general manager. It is very easy to fall into the practice of changing a list very quickly (making it your own list ASAP) and not taking a moment to determine who your new customers are and what their predilections are with your chef’s cuisine.

This can take weeks or even months. Going in hot and fast is a surefire way to wind up with inventory no one seems to want to drink. Waiting, observing and analyzing before creating a plan of attack is a more organic approach. This allows you to mold a list that has your personality in mind, but respects the penchants of the existing clientele and even offers an opportunity to draw in a new clientele.

Observing: Notice what the clients are ordering and what your conversations with them have been. Listen to what they are requesting—do their requests match up with the selection you had at your disposal on the inherited list? Encourage your staff to pay attention to and share what their guests are saying. I am not suggesting that every guest have a say in the direction of the list, but tracking guests’ interests is always helpful.

Analyzing: Within the first weeks to months of taking over a program, every item on your list should be evaluated from a cost to sales ratio. This should be in an Excel spreadsheet calculating margins. Keeping margins appropriate to corporate standards or to the boss’s standards is imperative! The break-out should be wines by the glass and by the bottle in separate tabs of the spreadsheet. It is much easier to project the path to where you would like to arrive if you are clear about your point of departure. Generating a report showing your immediate superior or the owner a numerical breakdown of where the beverage program currently stands helps to clarify the logic for why you want to take it in another direction. Remember, there is a reason that you were hired in the first place.

The Fun Part

Improving the situation then becomes the fun and interesting part of the job. This requires creating a virtual set of changes to the program, costing it out, projecting the sales prices for the items being brought in and organically beginning the process once the projections have been approved. You do not want to be left with “onsies” and “twosies” of many items from what is falling off the list. This goes straight to loss in the profit column, as the wine has been paid for. The customers clearly consumed it in the past, so get it sold before you “86” the reference from your list. Eliminate before changing over!

To be successful, a sommelier must treat each task with the same passion. The filing, stocking, counting, cleaning, etc. are the least romantic of the responsibilities, but allow for an organized workplace where anyone could pick up where you left off.

Andrew Bell is a co-founder and president of American Sommelier. Through the Sales, Service and Buying Seminar Series, American Sommelier provides professionals with the tools needed to build and maintain a successful wine program in any restaurant environment. Member benefits include events, career guidance, discounts and a the American Sommelier newsletter. For more details and a calendar of classes, visit americansommelier.com or call 212-226-6805.


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