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Breaking into the industry

Hello everyone, 

First post in the forums here.  I’m a chef of nearly ten years who has worked everything from fast casual to fine dining.  I recently decided after spending a summer working with two certified sommeliers that I wanted to move in the direction of working with wine.  

To that end I’ve got my introductory sommelier test in March and will continue studying towards my certified.  

My question is what is the best way to break into the industry?  I have lots of restaurant experience but it’s all back of house.  Do I look for a FOH serving job and practice that way or do I look for a wine specific position?  

Thanks for your time!  

  • I would say apply to fine dining restaurants near you that are fairly/ very renowned, and be willing to work your way up and learn. Starting at the top restaurants is the best thing you can do for your career because it's going to challenge you and prevent you from, "phoning it in".

  • Best of luck on your transition!  I made the transition from BOH to FOH over ten years ago and I can honestly say that it is a different set of skills working on the floor, a different muscle memory that you need to acquire.  My two cents would be to work at the best place that will take you in a FOH position (even as a busser or backwaiter) and work up.  You need to be able not to just intellectually understand the steps of service, but have them so deeply ingrained that you can do them without thinking about it.  As a sommelier, I find myself switching between being expo, food runner, bartender, host, busser, waiter, manager, and somm constantly on any given night.

    It would be like a very experienced captain walking into a kitchen and asking if they could be a saucier.  Nope, you're going to be a garcon de cuisine and work your way up.  Now mind you, you'll probably move up faster than others without that experience, but still you have to absorb the basics first.

  • I also came from the "back to the front" and it was easy! Use your understanding of food, its preparation and cooking times to your advantage. Let your prospective employer know that you have this skill and they will know how to apply your talents. My knowledge of food gave me an amazing advantage over my service peers as I embraced wine as part of the whole meal and experience. When it comes down to food and wine "matching" you will have the upper hand.

  • Hey Jacob,

    I am also studying for my Introductory exam (late this month) and hoping to complete my certified late this year.  I've been managing a Dining Room for a few years now but also picked up one shift a week at a local wine shop.  I've found working on the floor there has helped to give me exposure to wines outside of my restaurant's list and the discount has helped me with my tasting.

    Best of luck with your studies!

  • Hi Jacob,

    First off, good luck to you in your endeavors.  I have to agree with the approach that many mention below. Its just like being in a kitchen.  If your goal is to work on the floor of a restaurant as a sommelier and to become a leader in the dining room, you need to find great people to learn from. Its an apprentice-ship in the sense that you are learning a new craft.  Just as in a kitchen, you will need to find mentors and leaders to learn from in a dining room.  You are in Colorado, a pretty healthy wine area.  I would make some trips to Boulder and to Aspen when learning opportunities present themselves.

    If you are looking to work with wine, and not in a restaurant then retail shops would provide an opportunity to work with wine while not having to learn a whole new set of skills. Either way, start to engage people on Guildsomm that are in your local area. Find tasting groups or other local somms and people that are studying to become somms.  That community is huge, and one that can really help you.  Often, the best jobs are found via word of mouth and not in an ad. 

    It really depends on what you want to do.  Are you interested in being a Michelin starred sommelier that is passionate about service and hospitality? Or are you interested in learning only about wine, matching food and wine, and working with wine outside of a restaurant?  You could want to work with wine in a bistro, or in a formal dining room.  Identify where you see your career in wine 5 years from now, and put yourself on that path.