By Jim Boyce
“The sommelier is a salesman, but some [in the business] do not like this,” said Gerard Basset to several hundred people, including a good number of China-based sommeliers, at the recent China Wine Revolution event in Shanghai. Basset, who brings major credentials to the table as reigning World’s Best Sommelier, a Master of Wine and a Master Sommelier, was keynote speaker for the “Service Revolution” panel.
Basset said some sommeliers want to see themselves as artists and poets but that is only part of the job at most.
“Of course, there is some artistry and show,” he said. “But a restaurant is a business and it is very important that some part of revenue [comes from wine].”
He went on to describe sales as “a noble profession” and a needed one.
“[Good salespeople] want customers to come back, to enjoy themselves, to have a great experience,” he said. Pairing such an attitude with wine knowledge is very powerful.
Basset also noted the important and changing role of technology.
“When I started, there was no Internet,” he said. At that time, he said, people got wine information by traveling or reading books or magazines.
“Now customers come in the restaurant and [in a few minutes] are already checking the wine list online,” he said. “That can be a little scary but we should not be afraid of technology.”
Hong Kong-based Thomas Chung, with nearly 30 years of service industry experience, talked about how the wine sector has gone from eras of mixing wine with ice to using proper glasses to the increasing sophistication of today. He recalled working at the Peninsula Hotel as a youngster and, unable to afford wine magazines or books, studying in bookstores until kicked out by the managers.
Frank Yeun of Food and Beverage Manager’s Association in Singapore explained how the wine scene there has grown in importance over the past 20 years, especially as the country encouraged more foreign investment and education. He noted that getting more skills has translated into more wages for service industry employees in Singapore.
Tommy Lam, president of the Asia Wine Institute, a certified sommelier and organizer of the event, moderated the panel.