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What Is a Sommelier, How to Become a Sommelier, and Beyond!

Sommeliers are an important part of the restaurant industry. They play a vital role in helping customers select the best wine to pair with their meals. But what is a sommelier, and what are the benefits of having a sommelier in restaurants?

In this blog post, you'll learn everything you need to know about somms, including what they do and how they can benefit your restaurant business. Read on!

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What Is a Sommelier?

The word "sommelier" refers to wine stewards and masters of wine. These experts specialize in all aspects of wine service, as well as matching food and wine. Sommeliers are responsible for selecting, acquiring, and inventorying a restaurant's wine selection and advising and educating guests on the best wine choices to complement their meals. Their job is to understand the nuances of different wines and recommend pairings that bring out the best flavors from both products.

How to Pronounce Sommelier?

The correct pronunciation of sommelier is "suh·muhl·yay".

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What Does a Sommelier Do?

As a sommelier, they are expected to:

  • Ask guests to present identification verifying that they are of legal drinking age.
  • Taste and evaluate wines for quality, price point, food pairings, and other characteristics.
  • Recommend wines to customers based on their preferences and budget.
  • Manage cellar operations, including inventory control, storage temperatures, bottle aging, and maintain and rotate wine stock.
  • Properly storing open bottles of wine to maintain strong flavor.
  • Educate staff on wine selection, wine and food pairings, and the different types of wines available.
  • Host special events such as tastings or educational seminars to promote wine sales and educate customers about different varieties of wines.
  • Advise management on menu changes that could benefit from a new wine list or suggested pairings with existing dishes.
  • Work closely with chefs and other staff members to determine ideal/ develop creative food-and-wine pairing options.
  • Keep up to date with industry trends and developments in the world of wine, including the latest vintages and upcoming releases from renowned wineries around the globe.
  • Maintain relationships with wine distributors and producers to ensure a steady supply of quality wines at competitive prices.
  • Maintain various pieces of equipment in the cellar, ensuring that the wine refrigerators, each decanter, and every aerator are clean and functioning.
  • Perform administrative tasks such as creating wine lists, entering orders into computer systems, balancing accounts payable/receivables, and updating prices following market conditions.

How to Become a Sommelier


Becoming a sommelier requires a commitment to learning and developing your palate. It takes years of practice, tasting, and education to master the art of wine selection and pairing. While there are no hard-and-fast rules for becoming a sommelier, there are general guidelines that can help you get started within the wine trade:

1. Get Certified

The Court of Master Sommeliers offers an introductory course and certification programs at advanced levels (Certified Sommelier Diploma, Advanced Sommelier Diploma, and Master Sommelier Diploma). Additionally, institutes like the International Sommelier Guild offer short courses, certifications, and a Masters of Wine program for aspiring sommeliers.

2. Learn About Wine Regions

Knowing about wine regions and grape varieties is essential for any sommelier. Start with the major appellations in France, Italy, Spain, and the United States, then expand your knowledge to include more niche areas such as Argentina, Germany, Australia, China, and South Africa.

3. Develop Your Palate

Valuable experience can be gained by tasting a wide variety of wines from all over the world. Attend local wine tastings and get acquainted with different types of grapes and styles of winemaking.

4. Learn Food Pairing

A good sommelier should be able to pair wines with food that enhances the flavors of both elements. Study classic pairing techniques and modern trends to make the best recommendations for different types of dishes.

5. Expand Your Knowledge

Read books and magazines, attend seminars and conferences, and follow wine blogs and social media accounts—these can help deepen your understanding of the sommelier profession. Moreover, keeping up with changes in the industry will help you stay relevant as a professional.

6. Get Professional Experience

To become a sommelier, you must get hands-on experience working in a restaurant or wine shop. Start off as an assistant or apprentice, then work your way up through the ranks by learning from experienced professionals and gaining knowledge about wines, food pairing techniques, restaurant customer service, and sales tactics.

7. Network

Building relationships with other people in the world within in the wine industry can create many opportunities for advancement. Visit wineries, attend seminars, and join wine clubs. These activities will help you build meaningful connections with others working in the field. In addition to gaining valuable contacts, networking is also an excellent way to stay informed about new trends in the world of wine masters.

8. Keep Learning

Becoming a master sommelier requires lifelong learning and dedication to the craft; even after achieving certification, it is important to stay on top of new developments in the industry. Attend regular tastings and seminars, read wine books and magazines, and practice your skills by pairing wines with different dishes.

By following these steps, you can become well-versed in the world of sommeliers. With hard work, dedication, and a passion for the craft, you can reach heights of success as a professional sommelier.

Sommelier vs Master Sommelier

The title of a Sommelier and a Master Sommelier are two distinct designations that come with different sets of qualifications. Both titles require formal training, but the Master Sommelier designation is considered the gold standard in wine knowledge.

To be recognized as a Sommelier, one must complete an approved training program and pass a written exam. The basic qualifications for the title include knowledge of wine grapes, regions, varietals, vintages, industry terminology, and proper food pairing techniques. 

The Master Sommelier designation is much more difficult and requires several years of experience in the field, as well as rigorous testing. To become a Master Sommelier, one must pass all three levels of the Court of Master Sommeliers (Advanced, Intermediate, and Introductory) exams. These tests involve blind tasting and written examinations that test an individual's knowledge of wine, beer, spirits, and food service.

The Master Sommelier designation is the ultimate professional recognition of an individual’s wine expertise and associated services. It provides a pathway for those interested in pursuing advanced study and careers within the hospitality industry, such as restaurant managing, teaching or consulting. As such, it is highly sought after by wine enthusiasts who wish to make a career out of their passion.

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Sommelier In Restaurants: 16 Benefits

Sommeliers can create wonderful customer experiences by helping them choose the perfect wine for their meals. This can be especially enjoyable in fine dining restaurants with more expensive and finely curated wine lists. Here are 16 benefits of having a sommelier in a restaurant: 

1. Improved Food and Wine Knowledge

A sommelier can help educate both staff members and guests about different types of wine, regions, grape varieties, and other related topics. This can enhance everyone’s overall food and wine knowledge, giving them a better appreciation for the art of food and wine pairing.

2. Enhanced Dining Experience

A sommelier is not just knowledgeable about wines; they also possess expertise in food pairings and the nuances of flavors that make each dish unique. They can guide how to complement dishes with the best wine selection, allowing customers to get the most out of their meals.

3. Upselling

Sommeliers have the knowledge and experience to make helpful recommendations when selecting wines. Their expertise can be invaluable when upselling customers on more expensive or higher-quality wines, as they have the necessary skills to explain why one wine is better than another. This can give the customer confidence because they trust a professional's opinion.

4. Promotes Brand Reputation

The presence of a professional sommelier in a restaurant adds an air of sophistication and luxury to the establishment, which can help build the business’s reputation and attract new customers.

5. Cost Savings

A sommelier can help restaurants save money when selecting wines. By leveraging their wine knowledge, they can source quality wines at lower prices than the general market. Additionally, they may be able to negotiate discounts on larger purchases or bulk orders due to their expertise and experience in purchasing wine.

6. Improved Pairings

A sommelier can help restaurants to create better food and wine pairings, which can elevate the overall dining experience for customers. They are experts in knowing how wines interact with different foods, so they can suggest the perfect match for a particular dish and wine.

7. Professionalism and Credibility

In addition to their expertise, sommeliers also provide a sense of professionalism and credibility to a restaurant. With their presence, customers will feel more confident in the restaurant’s wine selection and enjoy the experience even more.

8. Expert Advice 

A sommelier is an expert in all things wine-related, so their advice can be invaluable in helping customers choose the perfect wine for their meal. They understand various factors, such as flavor profiles and budget constraints, that may influence a customer’s decision and provide guidance accordingly.

9. Menu Education

Sommeliers can explain the ingredients and preparation of different dishes to customers and offer advice on what wines might best complement the meal. Guests that are educated about their choices tend to be more comfortable with their decision-making, leading to increased sales and satisfaction.

10. Unique Experiences

With an experienced sommelier on staff, restaurants can offer unique experiences to customers by creating special tasting events or pairing dinners where guests can sample different types of wines alongside a specific dish. These kinds of exclusive experiences help build customer loyalty and attract new business.

11. Quality Control

By testing and tasting each bottle of wine served at the restaurant, sommeliers guarantee that only quality products are sold to guests. This ensures customer satisfaction and loyalty as well as positive online reviews that further boost business.

12. Staff Training

Sommeliers are experts in their field and can provide guidance to servers and bartenders who are not as knowledgeable about different wines; this allows them to serve guests confidently and accurately while ensuring customer satisfaction. 

13. Marketing Opportunities

Having a sommelier on staff allows restaurants to promote their business through wine tastings, pairings, and educational events. These activities attract new customers and create positive publicity for the restaurant.

14. Better Customer Service

A sommelier is more likely able to handle customer complaints related to wine, as well as explain any issues that may arise with a particular bottle of wine professionally and knowledgeably. This helps ensure customers enjoy their experience at the restaurant from start to finish. 

15. Proper Storage and Handling of Wine

A sommelier is trained in properly storing and handling wine, including temperature and humidity control and proper opening and pouring techniques. This ensures that the wine is served at its optimal condition.

16. Increased Revenue

A sommelier can help increase sales and revenue for the restaurant by offering high-quality wines and expert pairing recommendations. Customers are more likely to choose more expensive wines and return for future visits if they have a positive dining experience with the help of a sommelier.

By investing in a sommelier, restaurants take the first step towards improving their customer service and bottom line. With these benefits in mind, there is no doubt that hiring a sommelier is one of the best investments any restaurant can make.


Frequently Asked Questions About What Is a Sommelier

Learning how to become a master of wine is quite the journey. It's also similarly complex to onboard one. See, they can elevate a restaurant and provide a better customer experience. This means that you should be extra careful during the hiring process. Read on to learn about some of the mot common topics of conversations pertaining to this profession.

What Qualifies a Sommelier?

To become a sommelier, an individual must meet certain qualifications. These include completing educational programs, passing exams, and obtaining certifications from organizations recognized by the Court of Master Sommeliers or other similar associations. Documentation from a Masters of Wine program might also be essential.

Do Sommeliers Drink?

Yes, sommeliers do drink - but they do not drink while working. It is a professional practice for all sommeliers to abstain from drinking alcohol when serving and tasting wine so that their senses are not impaired, and they can remain objective in their assessments.

What Is the Highest Level of a Sommelier?

The highest level of sommelier certification is the Master Sommelier Diploma. Achieving this diploma requires a rigorous examination process that only a select few have been able to pass. The examination includes three parts: theory, service, and blind tasting. 

What Is the Purpose of a Sommelier?

The purpose of a sommelier is to provide knowledge and expertise regarding wine selection and service. In restaurant setting, they often help guests select a bottle (or more) of wine. In a more upscale restaurant, they might be present during a tasting to guide the guests through each pairing.

How Easy Is It to Become a Sommelier?

Becoming a sommelier is challenging. In fact, it can take years of training and dedication. A previous position as a Wine Director is often a must. To reach a minimal proficiency, prospective wine experts should attend one of the many sommelier programs. The journey towards achieving this goal requires time and passion.

Does a Sommelier Make Money?

The average sommelier’s salary can range from $60,000 to $70,000 annually. However, the exact amount a sommelier makes varies depending on their experience and expertise. For example, top-level sommeliers at high-end restaurants typically have salaries that exceed six figures.

Who Interacts With the Sommelier?

When it comes to the restaurant staff, waiters and hosts work very closely with the sommelier. For one, hosts will likely instruct the sommelier if a party has purchased a wine pairing. Then, they will learn of any dietary restrictions.

The sommelier will coordinate with the wait staff. As dishes arrive at the tables, it’s their duty to present the wine. In many high-end restaurants, such as those acknowledged by the Michelin Guide, the sommelier will stick around to provide information about the wine. As you can imagine, time management between the wine expert and servers is essential. However, if you earn a spot in a restaurant as a sommelier or a server, there’s likely a sense of mutual respect amongst the staff. 

You can’t forget about the customers! Anyone who orders wine in a restaurant with a sommelier will hear from them at some point or another. As stated earlier, this is especially true for those who order wine and food pairings. Since each wine selection is carefully chosen to pair with each course, the brief presentations upon tasting each new glass is part of the luxury dining experience.

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Where’s the Sommelier? It’s Wine O’Clock Somewhere!

A sommelier is one of the most valuable staff members a restaurant can employ. Wine experts bring worldly insight to the dinner table, which is an elegant touch to any meal. In educating the clientele about various wines and their origin, the restaurant sells more bottles. In turn, it’s a foolproof way to elevate the business. Explore the idea of recruiting from the wine trade, and watch sales and the sense of luxury in your restaurant soar.