By Roger Noujeim September 28, 2017 Comments Off
Staying Relevant

The message is, be proactive. Embrace technology now, or prepare for a career change.

Technology is changing all business and professions. It always has and always will. Contrary to what some may believe, the sommelier will not be exempt. If you are a restaurateur, read on. The opportunity is significant.

A fully automated bartender in Las Vegas can now prepare and serve virtually any cocktail or drink, and serve wine, in 70 seconds. But there is an in-between path for the hospitality industry, before the industry and the world turn fully robotic.

This is not the time for the sommelier to reason why their profession is safe. Nor to resist change. It’s time to think outside the box. To look for new, better and faster ways for doing things.

Some may think otherwise, as expected. Every evolution goes through a phase-in, phase-out process. Pioneers and younger generations are more open to new ideas. Before long, non believers also begin to adopt the change, or move out of the way.

To remain relevant, we envision the sommelier becoming well versed in workplace automation and technology.

The days when wine expertise and accolades were enough to secure that coveted position at the city’s top restaurant, are coming to an end. Smart employers will soon be looking for more from their sommeliers.

Rising minimum wages will accelerate this reality.

More than ever, restauranteurs must now get creative, to make their numbers work.

According to Silicon Valley Bank’s ‘State Of The wine Industry 2017′ report, wine consumption in restaurants decreased over the past several years, except for the $25 and up red category, which grew by a mere 1% in 2016.

With wine being a critical contributor to profitability in full-service restaurants, the sommelier is in a unique position to help. This virtually guarantees their role in the organization.

The formula is simple. Whether you are a restaurateur or a sommelier, ask yourself. What do we do today that can be done better, faster and with fewer people?

Here is how we at Quini envision the sommelier’s role evolving:

TODAY’S SOMMELIER

Brings expertise in wine, wine service and wine program management. Overall they spend less time on technology, more on the floor, with staff, in the cellar, tasting wine and managing orders and inventory. A resource for everyone, for anything wine. They get urgent calls from their colleagues at work, even on their day off.

TOMORROW: THE TECH SAVVY SOMMELIER

Delivers expertise in wine, wine service, wine program management and automation. The sommelier will be expected to spend more time on evaluating and deploying technology that makes the wine program operation run more efficiently. To empower staff and enable the organization to deliver better, faster wine service through fewer people. And we are not talking about social media.

The sommelier’s focus on advanced technology will allow them the time to mingle with customers at will, rather than rush around to see things through. They implement ideas to better engage guests online and on-premise, and learn more about each customer, in real-time.

Data collection & analysis becomes an essential part of the job and a key driver behind important decisions. Data-driven predictive actions and recommendations on staff, wine, technology and operations will deliver more value and continue to assert the need for the sommelier in the company.

Wine and sommelier schools will integrate automation and technology certification studies into their programs. These new skills will emerge as mandatory requirements when applying for the sommelier’s job.

THE FUTURE: CYBER SOMMELIERS

Expertise in wine, wine service, wine program management, automation and robotics. The sommelier’s focus is now on technology. They become a programmer and work very closely with technology vendors, in addition to being a people person and wine expert.

This generation of somms will be wine professionals with the knowledge and aptitude to ensure that applications are deployed, programmed and constantly fine-tuned to deliver the best wine service possible under optimal operational conditions. At the bar, the table and online. They will see that servers, some of whom may then be robots, are adequately programmed to deliver a great wine experience without constant direction. That efficient wine ordering and inventory systems are in place, driven by near real-time wine tasting feedback and sales data to help the sommelier optimize storage, financial resources and profits.

Deployed systems will anticipate guest arrivals, recognize guests and prompt for sure-fire wine recommendations served in record time through automated and robotic systems.

Until and unless Artificial Intelligence (AI) takes over the world, the sommelier’s role will remain key. It will however evolve from the sommelier being ‘it’, to becoming an ‘enabler’.

Wine educators and schools must now reinvent themselves to enable this future. Those who do will secure their market for the long haul. Those who don’t, risk going by the way of the old travel agency.

For those concerned about the future, fear not. Throughout this evolution, the sommelier’s wine expertise and knowledge will remain paramount. Without this knowledge, inventive software and hardware applications will be incapable of producing the desired results.

Get proactive and embrace technology as if your future depends on it.

Roger Noujeim

Roger Noujeim

Roger is CEO at Quini.

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