Tips for the Sommelier by Chicago Rising Star Sommelier Ryan Arnold of Lettuce Entertain You

by Caroline Hatchett
May 2015

Be humble and learn to put the needs of your guest first. Our position can be viewed as intimidating, so much so that some guests don’t want the somm to visit the table out of fear that they’re just going to be up-sold. Check the ego and “flash card” terminology at the door.

Get to know importers, and learn their points of view. They tend to represent wineries that have a consistent orientation to viticulture and winemaking practices throughout their portfolio, which can be crucial when trying to fill slots on a list.

Create a culture of wine within your restaurants. Most of your servers aren’t going to be stoked to go to wine class and learn about subzones of Barolo. You need to make wine fun for it to appeal to the majority of your staff. Make your wine classes more than just blind tasting and soil types. Tie in stories of the place the wine comes from: music, food, culture, etc. If servers are excited to sell the wine, it’s infectious and trickles down to the table and translates to sales.

Invest in your community. Our industry is small and interconnected. Being a somm is more than just opening wine at the table. We’re bussing tables, taking orders, and running food. When not at work, view yourself as an extension of the restaurant. Taste with other somms. As much as we think we know, wine is a lifelong pursuit, and we can always learn from others.

Treat your vendors with the utmost respect. Keep in mind that there is an enormous amount of wine out there, and that though it will be impossible to respond thoughtfully to every tasting or meeting request, it is important to acknowledge them with a smile. Many sommeliers have the reputation of being flaky or disorganized, which is often the result of working crazy hours and being overbooked. Yes, we do work crazy stupid hours! Try to be mindful of the world beyond the restaurant walls, and to keep the suppliers—and your family and friends—in your thoughts. Remember your vendors can be some of your greatest allies.