Paul Brady talks with Chicago sommelier Anthony Minne about the future of sommelier positions.

This Instagram interview with Chicago sommelier Anthony Minne focuses on his perspective coming up through the industry, beginning as a teenager stocking shelves to working in celebrity chef-run restaurants to having some of the heftiest buying power in Chicago. We touch on ditching the wine-or-bust mentality of sommeliers into understanding that the mentality really needs to be just to work. 

I also listened to Sabato Sagaria and John Regan’s Guild Somm webinar, both master sommeliers who were running Danny Meyer’s restaurant group when I worked there, on the subject of the future of sommeliers in restaurants. Below are what I believe to be the best talking points. 

Interviews with wine analytics writer Cathy Huyghes and Chef Tom Colicchio’s National Beverage Director Natalie Grindstaff on the subjects of the future of sommelier positions are recorded and will be posted soon too. 

Then this Friday at 4 p.m. on Instagram Live, I’ll speak with my friend and mentor Mark Stryker, author of the book Jazz From Detroit. Mark was the Arts Critic and covered both jazz and classical music for the Detroit Free Press for more than two decades. In Jazz From Detroit, Mark goes into detail as to the importance of inner-city music education in Detroit, and how it shaped jazz globally. We’ll also touch on nightlife in Detroit and how that scene evolved during Mark’s 20 plus years on his beat, covering jazz in clubs, bars, and restaurants.

Click here to learn how you can donate to support arts programs in Detroit public schools.         

What does the near future of sommeliers look like:

John: All speculative. People will be looking for value. Restaurateurs will be looking for utility. We’ll have to be scrappier and more resourceful. 

Sabato: How to adapt to 50% revenue? Restaurants are going to change week to week just like everything is changing now week to week. Guest’s mindsets will also change week to week. 

John: The job really becomes putting guests at ease. 

Sab: We may not ever get back to where it was. It will be vastly different coming out of this. Those that can wear multiple hats are going to have a place on the starting roster of restaurants. 

John: Sommeliers need to make themselves essential by providing more than just a wine skill set. 

John: When we can get back, health and safety will be priority. Then looking at P & L. Refigure and rethink everything–did we really need to spend that dollar on that thing?

Do we need that thing anymore? Then when we get back opened how can we be as competitive as possible? And, how can we make the guest feel as at home as possible in this new environment? Wine service may change — we may be wearing gloves when handling bottles; the amount of time spent table side may have to change; other ways to convey a wine list other than handling a physical menu including iPads; will we still taste a sip of every bottle to make sure its sound? I’m concerned that that might not feel safe or appropriate when we get back to it. 

Sab: Allocations will be plenty and tempting to buy, but cash flow will be precious. Speaking to sommeliers in advance may become practical, prior to arriving at the restaurant. It could take large restaurant groups several months to open all their restaurants — it will begin with one or two. Menus will become smaller as the staff will be smaller. 

John: Offering wine education sessions at the restaurant during off-hours to add some revenue. Even if it’s just break even. If the state allows to-go wine sales and take out is still a driving force, how will that change both food and wine lists to be more adaptable? 

Sab: How do you hire and train at scale remotely? New systems for training should be expected. Virtual training will likely have to be more practiced. 

John: Restaurateurs will likely be more comfortable getting rid of those predatory corkage fees. And it will be up to us to raise the flag on outdated regulations (corkage is illegal in some states, but even modest corkage fees=cash flow).

John: Re-thinking expensive markups for wines that aren’t moving to get those otherwise expensive wines on tables to excite gusts to keep them coming back. 

Sab: It will be an amazing time to introduce people to new wines and places as they’ll be more comfortable spending less — entry level Burgundies, Lange Nebbiolo — as opposed to the higher more expensive classifications people may have been comfortable with at one time. Be transparent with suppliers; let them know what you need. 

John: On the higher end I think margins will have to come down. Some business models will try to protect those, but ultimately I don’t think those will be the folks who find long-term success coming out of this. 

Sab: Floor somms should be thinking about what all they can add to the team if they want their jobs back. Stay active — stay in tasting groups, stay in study groups, if possible. That’s the type of person I’d be looking for to come back. 

John: Be thinking about what the new definition of a wine director or sommelier will be. 

Sab: Offer to take over the bar program, offer to open, close, take on various manager responsibilities. 

John: We (somms) are going to have to redefine ourselves again. I’d rather try to find success in a new restaurant model based off what we know now, rather than keep with the old model. 

Sab: We see the boom in retail, we see all these virtual tastings — there are new opportunities. 

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