According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of a sommelier is, “a waiter in a restaurant who has charge of wines and their service : a wine steward.”
According to the Court of Master Sommelier’s one of the reasons the Hospitality Industry needs (Master) Sommeliers is, “Master Sommeliers are committed to the very highest standards of service and quality customer care, and to helping others achieve the same levels of excellence.”
With origins going back to the early 1800’s the word, “sommelier” comes from “Middle French soumelier official charged with transportation of supplies, from Old French, pack animal driver, probably alteration of *sommerier.”
A good somm is actually a number of things—a sales person, a glass buffer, a table side service provider, a stocker, an educator, a wine list builder and even a marketer. With the rise of the social web I’d add in ‘personal brand’.
Over the past three years social media has changed a wide range of job roles across many industries, not just the Hospitality industry. Anyone who works in the food or drink industry might have the biggest advantage over any other industry because eating and drinking are some of the most inherently social interactions between human beings.
As 2013 approaches, the roles and responsibility of a sommelier are changing. In the not-to-distant future I see job descriptions for sommeliers being rewritten to include social media responsibilities.
As the founder of a social media agency and a certified sommelier I can wear both hats and see potential for how the two can live together. Here’s five quick ideas:
1. Before, During and After- The joy of being a sommelier means being of service to guests. Social Media offers a rare opportunity to stretch a relationship to a before, during and after interaction. For example, a restaurant guest may want to send a tweet or leave a Facebook post saying, “hey, I’m coming in later what kind of wines do you have?” That’s an opportunity to start the conversation ahead of time. The somm can send a tweet back with a link to a YouTube video or a blog post talking about the wine list. When the guest comes in, table side conversations can have more value and context. And after the guest leaves, the conversation and relationship can continue online through a series of “thanks for coming in” or “we enjoyed our visit” tweets or Facebook posts. I don’t have data on the value of building loyalty with customers but I’d be willing to bet it can only help increase the level of personalized service and returned visits.
2. Education- Many sommeliers put in countless hours learning everything they can about wine and spirits in order to either pass an exam or provide a higher level of service. The social web offers an opportunity to share their knowledge and educate fellow wines lovers. There’s a sea of curious wine drinkers out there looking for someone to help them discover something new, and they’re only a tweet away.
3. Learning- The web continues to provide an endless amount of real time information. Sites like guildsomm.com have an advantage over books and other education tools because the content is constantly updated to ensure accurate up to the minute data about wine laws. More and more winemakers around the globe are using social media to share insights about their vineyard, winemaking process and viticulture practices. It’s not just a sea of reference material, it’s also a sea of wine industry people who are there to answer questions.
4. Promoting the Culture- One of my favorite things about the Court of Master Sommeliers is the culture. It might be one of the best kept secrets the rest of the world doesn’t know about. Sommeliers in the Court have a great deal of humility and are interested in nurturing others in their pursuit of wine enjoyment. For me personally, I believe the social web can be used to open up and roll out the red carpet to show wine lovers more of what it means to be a sommelier.
5. Legacy- We are all curating a real time time capsule of our society with every tweet or post we put out there. In the future, historians won’t have to dig up human remains or look at history books—they’ll just go online to study us. And because digital content can last forever (potentially) we need to think about our legacy.
Moreover, there’s a good chance every sommelier’s career path will take them beyond their current role. Building a personal brand is going to be invaluable for any wine professional who wants to continue to be employable.
We’re still so early on in the evolution of how human beings relate to one another. In my opinion anyone who’s in a customer-facing role or service related role really needs to think about adopting social media as a part of their daily routine. Hopefully these five ideas can help get started. Leave a comment below with any questions or comments.