How to Hire a Sommelier for Your Restaurant
Embarking on the journey to hire a sommelier is akin to seeking the maestro of a symphony, the curator of an art collection, or the savant of wines.
In fine dining, sommeliers are the guardians of taste and their expertise extends beyond recommending wine pairings; they transform a meal into an unforgettable experience through their mastery of wine.
There are 167,942 people employed in fine dining restaurants in the US as of 2022, but the number of people employed in these restaurants industry declined by 3.8% between 2017 and 2022.
Hiring and turnover are a challenge that plagues the restaurant industry, so we’ve written this guide to assist you in hiring a sommelier for your restaurant.
Hire and Retain Great Restaurant Employees
How to Hire a Sommelier
Hiring a sommelier for your restaurant offers several advantages. They enhance the dining experience with their expertise, create harmonious flavor profiles alongside your menu, boost wine sales by recommending and upselling bottles, and contribute to your restaurant’s reputation.
What is a sommelier?
A sommelier ensures that excellent wine selections are paired with the menu. The sommelier selects wines alongside the executive chef, general manager, and/or restaurant owner. The sommelier also works alongside front-of-house members to delight guests and enhance the experience.
You’ll also want to identify the qualities that will bring out the best in your restaurant team, as this role will help train front-of-house staff on beverage service and pairings.
What are the Levels of Sommeliers?
There are four levels of sommelier certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers. There are also four levels on the Wine & Spirit Education Trust side – both are popular sommelier training programs.
One of the biggest differences is the CMS system is more service-oriented and generally preferred by professionals working as sommeliers.
These levels will assist you when considering the level of expertise you’re looking for and their salary.
Introductory Sommelier: A minimum of three years in the beverage industry is recommended for this level. This is the starting point for sommeliers to feel more confident about wine.
Certified Sommelier: Requires theory, tasting, and service skills.
Advanced Sommelier: Has worked in wine for a while. Can run a wine list, open a restaurant, and educate students about wine.
Master Sommelier: Receiving a mastery level takes up to 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. A Master can teach pros and pushes the industry forward.
Define Your Needs
Defining the specific needs of a sommelier for a restaurant involves a thoughtful evaluation of your restaurant's goals, menu offerings, and overall vision.
To start, here are some general qualities that a sommelier needs:
A natural salesperson: A sommelier must promote and upsell customers wine pairings. They should be charismatic, firm, and knowledgeable.
Wine certifications: Proof of expanded wine knowledge and a desire to learn more about this profession.
Communication skills: Friendly and polite to customers and staff, effectively communicating updates to the wine list to the entire team and describing pairings to customers.
Wine knowledge: Knows grapes varieties and regions.
Organization: Keeps accurate and clear records and manages wine stock.
Here are some other ways to define what you need from a sommelier:
Evaluate Your Current Menu. Where are the opportunities for a wine expert to recommend pairings?
Determine Expertise. How many years of experience do you prefer your sommelier to have? Do you need someone to teach other staff members about the intricacies of pairings?
Kitchen Dynamics and Collaboration. How will this role collaborate with existing kitchen staff? Front of house?
Inventory Management. In addition to tasting, learning, and recommending wines, a sommelier must effectively manage a wine cellar, ensuring that the wines are stored in optimal conditions and always stocked.
Growth and Development. What are the opportunities for your sommelier to develop their craft and career? Do you offer a professional development budget?
By carefully evaluating these aspects, a restaurant owner or hiring manager can create a detailed profile outlining a sommelier’s specific needs and expectations tailored to their establishment.
Here's an example:
"We are hiring our first-ever full-time sommelier. Our existing approach to our menu is a seasonal menu focusing on the best produce and meats available. Therefore, we need someone who can work with our seasonal changes and weekly specials - pairing wines that bring out the flavors our chef is highlighting. Our sommelier will brief wait staff on these pairings during our staff meetings before each service and will serve our guests themselves.
They should be charismatic, prone to upselling, and specific with their knowledge and customer service. They should have already worked as a sommelier for 2-3 years or apprenticed in a top restaurant and are ready for leadership. Their background can be in any industry, but we would prefer a restaurant/service focus. We can afford a salary of $47,000 to start, including health benefits and a $1,000 professional development stipend per year."
Create an Effective Sommelier Job Posting
Now that you have written out exactly what you need from a sommelier, you should have everything necessary to write a clear job post.
How to Write a Sommelier Job Description
List the job's duties and responsibilities, schedule, experience necessary, and salary range. Highlight the best aspects of your restaurant culture, team, and any special job perks, such as robust benefits and educational opportunities.
Sommelier Job Description Sample
Read more about writing a job description for your sommelier here.
Job Title: Sommelier
Salary: $40,000 to $120,000 per year
Tip Income: No
Schedule: Full-Time (40 hours per week), Wed–Sunday
Role: We seek a dynamic and talented Sommelier to join our award-winning team. Demonstrating a true passion for wine and food, the Sommelier will work with the General Manager to curate our top-notch wine program to enhance the guest experience. Keen attention to detail and a background in fine dining are key qualifications.
Sell wine on the restaurant floor
Advise on wine and food pairings for guests
Execute proper wine service technique
Curate and update the wine list
Work with General Manager to maintain a top-notch beverage program that meets revenue goals
Monitor wine inventory
Maintain wine cellar
Oversee glassware inventory
Establish relationships with vendors and negotiate prices
Attend distributor tastings and trade events
Conduct ongoing staff training for wine
Organize and execute wine-tasting events
Additional requirements: Must be able to lift up to 25 pounds and stand for long periods.
Advertise the Sommelier Job
Most new employees discover their restaurant jobs through friends (55%) or social media (50%) — with that in mind, here’s how to get the word out about your job opening.
Use Online Job Boards
Tapping into the vast pool of restaurant talent available online is crucial. Online job boards like Indeed or Glassdoor provide an extensive reach, connecting you with diverse potential candidates.
When looking at job boards, choose the right platforms, ideally websites that cater to the hospitality sector, like Poached or Hospitality Online.
Leverage Social Media
Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn broaden your reach and provide a more interactive space for potential candidates to engage with your restaurant's brand. Posting on social also makes it easier for your current employees to share the posting with their networks.
LinkedIn works as its own job board; you’ll post on LinkedIn using the same information as those other websites. The difference is that you can share this post with your network or have your team members share it as well.
For other social media sites, you’ll need a visually appealing post and a link to your job posting. Or, depending on character limits, you can shorten the description and add it straight to the social platform.
Consider using paid features to boost your job posting content to reach a larger, more relevant audience.
Tell Your Employees
Never underestimate the power of internal resources when hiring staff for your restaurant. Establishing an employee referral program incentivizes your team members to bring in talent within their networks.
If you don’t have the budget to incentivize referrals, you can motivate in other ways, such as free meals, gift cards, or recognition.
Screen the Resumes
After waiting for your applications, you’re probably excited to begin the interview process. But first, you must screen all the resumes you received – which can be difficult if you don’t know what to look for.
Develop a resume screening criteria to identify top candidates. These criteria will help you review the resumes and job applications to identify who you want to hire. You’ll score based on past experiences, qualifications, skills, and potential fit for the restaurant. Here are some of the top criteria we recommend prioritizing:
- Relevant experience: Look for candidates with a proven track record in the hospitality industry, particularly in previous sommelier or wine industry roles. Look into the types of establishments they worked in. Are they similar to your restaurant?
- Customer service skills: Evaluate resumes for any mention of customer service achievements, positive feedback, or specific instances where the candidate went above and beyond to meet customer, client, or diner needs.
- Knowledge of wine: Screen for mentions of menu knowledge, any certifications related to their craft, and familiarity with grapes and regions.
- Adaptability and stress management: Restaurant environments can be fast-paced and unpredictable. Seek candidates who thrive under pressure and can adapt to changing situations seamlessly.
- Team player: Assess resumes for mentions of teamwork, collaboration, or instances where the candidate worked closely with colleagues to achieve common goals.
Then select your top contenders, and move onto the interview stage.
The interview is where you get to the heart of your candidate and where your future sommelier gets to know you.
Your sommelier candidates should be prepared to showcase their wine knowledge. Candidates may be asked to propose wine parings for specific dishes on your menu, or do a blind taste test to prove their palate and ability to discern flavors accurately.
But before you dive into your candidate’s skills, you’ll want to set the candidate’s expectations for the interview. Introduce yourself, briefly describe the restaurant, and why you’re hiring for this role. Let them know you’ll leave a few minutes at the end to answer any questions they may have.
Behavioral questions aim to uncover past behavior as a predictor of future performance, focusing on situations relevant to a sommelier’s responsibilities.
Examples of behavioral interview questions for Sommeliers:
Can you describe a time when you had to handle a challenging customer or a difficult service situation? How did you resolve it while maintaining a positive guest experience?
Describe a situation where you had to adjust your wine recommendations to suit a group with varying preferences.
What is an unexpected wine-related problem you’ve run into during service? How did you approach it?
Share an example of how you would train or educate staff members on a wine paring.
What qualities make for a great sommelier?
Describe a situation where you had to manage inventory and control costs without compromising the quality or variety of wines offered. What steps did you take?
What aspect of your skill set are you working to improve?
What is your favorite wine, and why? Try to sell it to me.
Tell me about a time when you successfully revamped or enhanced a restaurant's wine program. What strategies did you implement, and what were the outcomes?
Review References and Background Checks
Part of the hiring process is reviewing references and conducting background checks. It’s an essential aspect that job candidates will expect. This way, you ensure your sommeliers are skilled workers who are trustworthy and reliable and will contribute to a happy team dynamic.
Contacting Past Employers
Work history and references can be extremely helpful in hiring the right sommelier
Previous employer questions:
How did [candidate] manage their time, team, and energy?
What are the most popular pairings that [candidate] created at your restaurant?
Were they good with budgeting and inventory management?
Would you rehire them?
You should always ask permission before contacting previous employers to respect a candidate’s privacy.
Criminal Background Checks
Ensuring the safety of your restaurant is paramount. Background checks also help with legal compliance to ensure you follow all relevant laws and regulations governing certifications.
Like contacting past employers, you must obtain a candidate's consent before conducting a background check. Provide the necessary information and forms and make sure they understand the process.
An important note on discrimination: a candidate’s criminal record should only be used to evaluate job suitability and not be the sole basis for disqualification.
Verification of Qualifications
In the world of wine, qualifications and education matter. Check their certifications, where they’ve trained and their level, or anything else listed on their resume. Ask about professional development and other relevant expertise.
Make the Offer
Beyond a competitive salary, the offer should showcase elements of the position that speak to their passion—a wine cellar to curate, opportunities for professional growth, autonomy to innovate, and a cohesive team.
Provide a Written Offer Letter
A written offer letter serves as a formal legal document that outlines the terms and conditions of employment. Begin by addressing the hire by name, and express your enthusiasm for having them join your team.
Repurpose the job description you wrote earlier as the job details: specify their position and responsibilities.
Outline a compensation package, including base salary or hourly, any bonuses or benefits, and pay frequency (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly).
Detail the terms of employment (an employee agreement contract), and start date. Include background and certification check conditions, a deadline for acceptance, and a signature line.
Compensation and Benefits
Be prepared for the possibility of negotiation. Some candidates may want to discuss their salary or benefits. Emphasize any unique aspects that will make your offer stand out.
Set Expectations for Start Date and Onboarding
Confirm the agreed-upon start date with your new hire, and tell them about anything they need to bring on their first day and what to expect.
Orientation and Restaurant Policies
To make your new sommelier feel like part of the team from day one, introduce them to as many people as possible. Give them a brief tour of the establishment, an in-depth tour of the wine cellar, and review restaurant policies and the employee handbook.
Training on Equipment and Processes
Outline a training plan, including dedicating specific shifts to learning the restaurant’s menu and operational procedures.
Encourage your new sommelier to ask questions and provide feedback throughout orientation.
Restaurant Retention After Hiring
Retaining any role in a restaurant involves nurturing an environment and culture that fosters growth and cultivates a sense of belonging.
Respecting your team’s expertise and experience is super important; employees thrive with appreciation and recognition. Make sure to celebrate achievements such as crafting exceptional pairings or enhancing the wine program.
As part of the training and onboarding, you may encourage your sommelier to work with you on a growth path. This will outline a clear trajectory for advancement and include opportunities for leadership roles.
How to Create an Effective Restaurant Training ManualGet Access
How to Hire the Perfect Sommelier
The key steps in hiring the perfect sommelier are:
Define who your ideal sommelier is. How do they service your clientele? What are their hours, and how much is their pay? How do they fit in with your existing restaurant culture?
Write a job description with those values in mind. Remember to include the basics, such as location, position, and experience level needed.
Share that job description far and wide. Give it to your employees, your mom, your uncle. Post it on job boards, social media, and industry-specific platforms.
Screen resumes of potential candidates after creating a list of screening criteria. Reiterate who you’re looking for and who has the qualifications to fit your needs. Choose a handful for the next step in the process.
Conduct phone screens and interviews with a few qualified candidates. Ask all sorts of questions that cover skills, behavior, and culture fit.
Review other application materials such as cover letters, personal statements, and recommendations. Call your candidates’ references if they have any.
Make an offer on your top candidate.
Begin the onboarding process with retention and training top of mind.
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