Pay Scale for New Sommeliers

Hi everyone, 

I'm looking for a little guidance with regard to sommelier pay scale and tip arrangements, specifically for smaller restaurants where the sommelier is also taking on front of the house management duties in addition to building the wine program and working on the floor. 

As I understand it, most sommeliers are compensated with a combination of salary/shift pay and tips (either a percentage of wine sales from the house or from server's as a percentage tip out).

There is a good discussion in the forums, but it's nine years old. Any current information about specific compensation arrangements would be great. 

Thanks in advance! 

  • I think what market you’re in plays some relevance in the conversation. Sadly. For perspective I worked in Hawaii. I moved from there to Yountville in Napa and was compensated 150% more for the same position.

  • Thanks for the input, Jason. I'm in Toronto, which isn't New York or San Francisco or LA (or Napa?), but is probably comparable to Chicago.

    If you don't mind me asking, was compensation in these positions all salary or a combination of salary and tip out? If the latter, how did the tip out break down? i.e. a percentage tip out from servers as if you were a bartender or support staff? Or a percentage on wine sales from the house? I'm just trying to get a clear picture of all the potential scenarios for myself, and to put it out there for sommeliers who are just getting started in the business.  

    Thanks again for your response. I appreciate it. 

  • It is also worth considering the labor laws in your area. In NYC, most sommeliers are hourly + tipes, although there are a few restaurants that do a base salary + tips, and in service included restaurants they are either straight hourly or hourly + commission if the restaurant is using a revenue share model (these latter are relatively new systems that could evolve over time). 

    However, if you have managerial responsibilities, specifically the ability to hire and fire, you cannot be a part of the tip pool per NYC law. Most wine directors/beverage managers in the city are salaried, often with a bonus that is tied to some combination of controlling costs, hitting budgeted sales, and/or increasing profitability.

  • I was an hourly Somm in a Charlotte steakhouse.  Charlotte is considered a mid-tier market and is growing fairly quickly.  It was a corporate restaurant and I was paid hourly + 20% of the tip pool.  The hourly rate really racked up with on average, 20 hours a week of overtime.  My new roll as Club Somm at a private country club, is salary + commission.  It really depends on how the roll is set up.  If you have managerial responsibilities, ideally you would be on salary and hopefully a cut of wine sales.  The worst they can say is "no".  If you can justify to your GM that getting a % of wine sales is great for the restaurant and can show how it will affect the profitability of the restaurant, it will make it easier for them to say yes.

  • Thanks for your insights, Mia. Very useful. Any thoughts on how a revenue sharing model might work? I've heard of systems that work as follows: 

    Wine revenue - cost of goods sold x agreed upon % = sommelier's profit share.

    I guess revenue sharing is really just a commission on the sale of wine.  

  • Thanks for your response, Adam. Very helpful. It's really starting to fill in some blanks. Just a quick question. What is a reasonable percentage of wine sales to negotiate for in this type of commission structure? 

  • Hi Darryl, I know you asked about smaller restaurants but it seems like some of your questions are going unanswered, so I figured I’d answer for me. I work as the assistant somm in Raleigh, NC at a 5-star hotel and restaurant. Myself and the head somm get paid salary plus commission on all wine sales (straight revenue) of the restaurant and bar and lounge. I get .5% commission as a quarterly bonus plus extra for events like wine dinners and “wine experience” banquets that require a somm out of the restaurant. I know that a similar property to ours a little further away gives their somms an hourly rate plus tipout, so I don’t think it’s really one-size-fits-all. 

  • Hi Darryl,

    I'm Toronto-based so quite familiar with the market. First of all, regardless of restaurant size, the vast, vast majority of somm positions in the city are hybrid, with somm/manager being very common, followed by somm/server and distantly by somm/bartender.

    There really isn't a "normal" in Toronto. You'll often see everything from entirely-salary-based to the server standard of minimum-plus-tips. But there are a few trends. In truly small restaurants where you have a FoH crew of 2-4 on a Saturday night and as a manager you're taking tables and essentially functioning as a server with a few additional duties, you can expect to make a slightly higher base wage than servers and receive the same tip quantity, whether it be pooled or not. Once you're in a restaurant large enough where as a somm/manager you're not taking tables, you can expect to receive a day rate/hourly wage/salary and a significantly smaller share of tips, typically 0-50% of the tips that a server receives.

    Commission-based bonuses are rare in Toronto. The majority of somms don't have a bonus-based pay structure (not counting tips) but if they do it's more likely to be a flat rate based on meeting some sort of target, be it beverage COGS, sales, or profit.

    A simpler way to put things is that you can expect your overall hourly compensation to be 80-110% of a server in a very small restaurant based on working more hours and receiving the same or slightly higher base pay. In a large restaurant where management and somm-specific duties take up a significant portion of your time and the majority of your pay is base and not from tips, you can expect your overall hourly compensation to be 40-80% of a server.

  • Thanks so much for your thoughts on this, Hannah. Very kind of you. It's helpful to get a broad idea of how sommeliers are compensated in different markets. Anyway, thanks again. I appreciate it. 

  • Hi Jonah, I really appreciate your thoughts on this. It mirrors much of what I've seen in the city, but it's nice to have it laid out so comprehensively. Thanks again!