For sommelier Dominic Smith, “each shift brings new challenges, surprises and rewards”. However, he has a wide range of roles that you might not expect when imagining a somm’s routine – maintaining sanitary conditions and following dietary requirements are as important as choosing wines. Dominic (aka Dom the Somm) gives us a unique insight into his everyday tasks and duties.
What does it take to become a sommelier?
To be a sommelier, you need to have a healthy respect for routine and supreme spontaneity, as each day will have plenty of boxes that need to be ticked but will also present unexpected challenges that you need to be primed for.
Sanitary conditions are always paramount, especially in these times, so cleaning your workstation is one of your first jobs of the day. The wine lists and digestif menus are also to be sanitised, you must make sure all the wine glasses are clean, in position and free from any dust. Plus cleaning the ice buckets, decanters, Coravin, wine filters and all the tools that you’ll probably need to use during your service.
At the beginning of the day
Being part of a somm team, you will often be taking over from your colleagues from the night before, so handover information would be left for you. At my restaurant, for example, we keep what we call an ’86 list’ where we reference any wines that are now no longer available – it’s essential to make yourself aware so you can remove them from the wine list in advance of service.
The sparkling, still and dessert wines that are sold by the glass are popular orders, so you need to make sure that they’re in good supply. Tea infusions and juices likewise are regularly used for the soft drinks pairing, and these too fall under the remit of a good somm.
Deliveries will arrive at busy and quiet moments of the day, so you will be running cases of wine up and down staircases as and when it’s required.
The afternoon, preparing for service
As you near lunch service, check the menu with the chefs for any changes from your previous shift. For restaurants that specialise in seasonal and incredibly fresh produce, the menu can change between lunch and dinner. My restaurant offers a wine pairing option to match the menu, therefore I need to make sure the recommended wines are the best possible match for the dish being served, and if not, make changes accordingly.
Learn more about the principles of food and wine pairing with the Level 2 Award in Wines.
Next, a staff briefing will make you aware of any special requirements the soon-to-be arriving guests may have - be it dietary, allergies, or just general preferences. Celebrations, returning guests and industry connections are also noted, to allow us to offer a more bespoke experience for the guests.
Once doors are open it is time to welcome, seat, and serve guests. Those joining us for the wine pairing menu will have lots of interaction with a sommelier, whereas those ordering by the glass or the by the bottle, perhaps not so much. You can offer as much or as little interaction as the guest requires, all with the continual aim that they receive the perfect bottle or glass of wine for their occasion, be it a celebratory, business, or casual sitting.
After a long lunch service, you will again clean down your workstations, uncase and restock any wines you have sold from the cellar, and check the menu for any changes moving into dinner. You will break for a short staff dinner yourself, and then be back on your feet to prep for, what is normally, a busier service.
After dinner, you will clean down and restock again, and write your report about the two services of the day, as well as inputting the sales numbers. Upon completion, you will have typically been on your feet for around 14 hours, and now it’s time to call it a night so you can head home and be back in the morning to do it all over again!
Each shift brings new challenges, surprises and rewards. Each guest has a new experience which can allow you to have a new experience too. Sharing your wine knowledge and helping guests discover new varietals, regions, vintages, producers, or helping them reconnect with old classics is the joy of a Somm, when they're happy - we're happy.
Related content from the 'Inside story' series:
- Inside story: from student to educator, Richard Lane DipWSET
- Inside story: what’s it like to work a wine harvest?
- Inside story: online vs in-person WSET courses