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A sommelier is a specialized wine expert who undergoes extensive training to learn the processes that produce wine. They also must have a refined palette attuned to the subtle flavors in wines from around the world.
Sommeliers work in a variety of businesses, such as wineries, fine dining restaurants, and hotels. Their responsibilities include purchasing wine, quality control, selling wine according to customers’ tastes, and pairing wine with menu items.
How Much Do Sommelier Make? (Average Sommelier Salary Data)
Sommeliers earn between $34,000 and $164,000 annually. That’s a huge range and each sommelier’s pay is determined by several factors. Here’s how we got that range:
BinWise.com breaks down sommelier salaries by the level of certification. A level 1 sommelier averages $55,000 annually while a master sommelier, of which there are only hundreds worldwide, can earn up to $164,000 annually.
Salary.com reports on average salaries in the US. The median reported salary for sommeliers in the US is $61,866 annually.
Mint.com reports on the salaries of sommeliers. They cite a range from $18,500 to $95,000 from the tax records of 14 sommeliers, for an average of $53,000 annually.
A great way to determine how much you should earn as a sommelier is to ask your peers. It might seem taboo to discuss money with friends, but it’s worth asking other sommeliers in your area about their salaries. Then, you can get a good idea of the range you’ll be looking at (considering the type of business they work for).
Factors that Influence Sommelier Salary Amount
The level of sommelier certification that you have is one of the biggest determiners of your earning potential. There are four potential certifications: level 1 sommeliers, certified sommeliers, advanced sommeliers, and master sommeliers.
Each level of certification requires more in-depth knowledge than the last. Many wineries, restaurants, and shops require a certain level for the job they’re looking to fill. To become a sommelier, research training and take courses to gain specialized knowledge about wine.
There are just hundreds of master sommeliers in the world. But, the final exam required to become a master sommelier includes a verbal theory test, a blind wine tasting, and a test of practical restaurant service.
The kind of business and the area also influence a sommelier’s earning potential. Sommeliers that work for wineries will typically find their salaries are fixed and a bit higher than those that work in shops, hotels, or restaurants. The area of the business also affects the range of pay as there is more demand for wine, and a sommelier’s skills, in high-income urban and suburban areas.
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Determine the Worth of Your Wine Skills and Knowledge
Sommeliers working in any kind of business typically work for a fixed salary. Their salary is negotiated at the start of employment and they work for preset, regular weekly hours.
As mentioned above, a sommelier’s earnings are largely determined by their level of certification. Without certification, you might still be able to get a job as a wine specialist based on years of experience. But, the higher level of your certification, the more you can make as a sommelier.
Some sommeliers earn a portion of their wine sales, and others might earn tips if they work in a restaurant. While it is uncommon, wine shops sometimes offer compensation or bonuses based on each sommelier’s sales volume. And, those that work in restaurants often work for tips on top of a salary or hourly wage.
Sommeliers that work for commission or tips will have to become accustomed to the ups and downs of sales. The holidays and summers bring in more customers and more generous tippers, while other months will be slower and less lucrative. Hone your sales skills and match bottles to customers’ preferences or meals to increase your sales volume.
Tips to Negotiate Higher Sommelier Salary
Salaries for sommeliers are based on prior skills, experience, and the level of training and certification. Being a sommelier requires a specialized and rare skill set and sommeliers devote years to learning and working their way up in the industry.
Each level of certification opens new job opportunities and determines the earning potential of a sommelier. While you have to earn level 1 certification before moving to higher levels, many restaurants and shops will hire you while you continue certification courses.
As you advance your level of certification, be ready and willing to negotiate for a higher salary that matches your education. Be ready to speak about the qualifications and experiences listed on your resume when applying for new jobs. Business owners will likely have some wine knowledge and test your skills before hiring.
It’s crucial to research sommelier salaries in your area using local job boards and talking to other sommeliers. That way, you can negotiate your salary from an informed perspective, knowing how much your skills and experiences are worth in similar positions.
Always be on the lookout for advancement opportunities within the restaurant, hotel, or shop where you work. And, be patient with yourself as you’re earning levels of sommelier certification. The tests are difficult and many people take them multiple times before succeeding.
Make Your Passion for Wine Work for You
Sommeliers have a rarified and elite status in the food and beverage industry. The refined palate and specialized knowledge required to be a sommelier take time, commitment, and passion to acquire. When seeking employment as a sommelier, remember what your skills are worth and strive to be a consistent and reliable employee. That way, you’ll become a valued member of the team and be on solid ground to negotiate for the salary you desire.
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