Your restaurant may have all the ingredients for a successful business: delicious food, stylish decor, a great ambiance, and a brilliant team. But without a sommelier, you could be missing out on a crucial part of the recipe – not to mention the extra revenue having someone with such expertise could bring.
It’s not just fine dining restaurants that can benefit from having a sommelier. So don’t stop reading because you think you don’t meet the criteria. Everyone can benefit from having the knowledge of someone in the drinks industry, whether it’s a permanent position, or someone who works with you on an ad-hoc basis to curate your wine list, offer suggested food and drink pairings, and educate the staff.
To help us take a deeper dive into the benefits of having a sommelier in your restaurant, we spoke with Wayve Kolevsohn, food and beverage manager at the Silo Hotel, Cape Town.
Born in the Mother City, Wayve has grown up surrounded by the incredible wine farms of Stellenbosch, Pearl, Frannschoek, Hemel en Aarde, and Walker Bay, to name a few. After studying in Cape Town, she moved to London, where she worked at Michelin Starred restaurant, Chez Bruce. Eager to expand her knowledge of the wines of the world, she then worked in Asia, at a resort in the Maldives, before returning home to Cape Town, and the exquisite Silo Hotel.
Wayve really knows her stuff. She’s certified through the Court of Master Sommeliers (the first woman in Africa), the WSET, and the London Wine & Spirits School. She’s also a board member of The South African Sommelier Association.
How can a sommelier add value to a restaurant?
A sommelier can take the customer’s experience to a whole new level. Beyond selecting the wine list, they can also speak to customers and create a relationship with them. I love talking to customers, it’s the best way to get to know what they like, and I can then make a recommendation based on their taste. Moreover, a sommelier can offer wine pairings with every course, creating a true dining experience.
A sommelier doesn’t just know about the flavour profile of wines and where they’re from, they also know everything from how to store it to how to open it, and how it should be served. I can help restaurants reduce wastage by making sure wine is stored and served at the correct temperature, and then preserved once opened, optimising the amount of time a wine bottle can stay ‘good’ for, once it’s been opened… There are multiple techniques these days.
Restaurants often find they throw away bottles of wine because they’re gone ‘off’. This could be because they offer too many wines by the glass or maybe staff aren’t well educated in upselling the wines? And it may sound simple, but opening a bottle of wine is crucial too – there’s nothing worse than cork floating in your wine.
Knowledge is power. A sommelier’s job is to know the wine inside out but the other staff should at least have a good understanding of the wines sold. A sommelier can educate the staff on the wines, giving them basic tips, tasting notes and pairing suggestions.
What if a restaurant can’t afford a full-time sommelier?
Even if you can’t afford a sommelier full time, it’s worth investing in one from time-to-time. For example, when you change the food menu, so that a sommelier can offer the best pairings for the food; on special occasions when the chef curates a set menu – by offering the option to add wine pairings, you can greatly increase your revenue. And if you are opening a new restaurant, I definitely recommend having a sommelier curate your wine list.
The most important thing to know is that a sommelier isn’t there to pick and sell the most expensive wines – of course, we will do our best to upsell. But ultimately, we are there to create an experience the customer won’t forget. We want to make it special. And give them a reason to come back.