In Vino Veritas LVIII – beverage specialist nomenclature

Educating your servers about wine so they pay that knowledge forward to patrons in the form of intelligent menu recommendations and building rapport is a worthwhile pursuit as well as one I have wholly espoused throughout this column. However, with many restaurants already encouraging this practice and with even more waiters seeing this as an avenue for bigger tips, basic wine knowledge has become the norm rather than a value-add. And therein lies an opportunity to further enhance overall guest satisfaction.

This doesn’t mean you should abort all attempts at staff education or in offering recommendations. Rather, we have to put our marketing caps on for a moment to see if there’s a way we can tweak this aspect of the meal experience so that it feels fresh once again. And an easy solution may be in further specializing your F&B team by giving these dedicated experts uniquely alluring names.

The inspiration that sparked this concept came about tangentially when discussing a somewhat recent initiative at select Ritz-Carlton alpine resorts where they have introduced a “smoreologist” — in essence, a fancy name for a pastry chef who spends a bit more of his or her time experimenting with fancy graham crackers and marshmallows. Still, the name resonates, helps create some excitement amongst the family crowd and generates good buzz all round. Kudos to the marketing team for conjuring up this elegant portmanteau and then designing an F&B program around it.

Getting back to your servers, it’s one thing for a suggestion on wine to come from a waiter while it’s a whole other level for it to come from a “sommelier.” Regardless of whether the wine recommendation is actually better for that specific customer’s palate or not, the official accreditation implied by that word carries a lot of weight.

Thus, any sort of in-house labor specialization or professional designation you can implement will help to augment the meal experience. The key is to choose a title and build a program around that individual that fits with your restaurant’s value proposition.

It makes sense for a fine dining establishment with a massive wine cellar to have a sommelier. In fact, you would probably be suspicious if they didn’t have one. On the food front, an affineur on staff is a wise choice if you offer a wide variety of cheeses. Likewise, the smoreologist example fits the bill because of the resort’s mountain lodge setting while elevating your pastry chef to chocolatier will definitely go over well with the chocoholics amongst us.

Other examples include a beer sommelier, or cicerone as they are officially known, who would blend seamlessly into the workings of a brewpub or microbrewery attached to your restaurant. Ditto “whiskey expert” for establishments with a substantial number of top shelf bottles on display. Next are bartenders with a bit of craft who are called mixologists. If you already have a prominent high tea program, then help advance one of your team members into becoming your “tea sommelier” or “tea specialist.” Similarly, while you may already have a dedicated barista on staff, do you have a “coffee master” who can not only roast a mean bean but also speak eloquently about said coffee’s country of origin, the brewing process or specific aromas and tasting notes?

It’s all a matter of devoting some energy to further expounding upon what you already do best, and then using clever nomenclature as a marketing ploy to complete the experience. I’ve noted a few naming combinations in the paragraph above as well as some ubiquitous modifier words like “specialist” or “master,” but there are others to consider like consultant, connoisseur, aficionado, maestro (perhaps best for restaurants with a diverse array of Italian liquors), gourmet, gourmand, ambassador (too United Nations sounding for my taste) or even feinschmecker, an unfamiliar yet appropriate German word I discovered while researching this topic.

And so I leave it with you to both offer your thoughts in the comments with naming ideas as well as current or past examples you have witnessed of such job titles working in hotels or restaurants.