A few weeks ago both the Head and Assistant Head Sommeliers were on leave simultaneously, which meant for one evening I got to experience what it was like to take ultimate responsibility for wines upon myself.
On the one hand I was proud that they felt confident enough to leave things in my hands, and I would do everything I could to live up to their expectations.
On the other, of course I had some doubts. There would only be two other people assisting me, one junior sommelier (let’s call her Mandy) who was still getting to know our wine list, and another person (let’s call him Giant) whose usual expertise was behind the bar.
Myself, I had only been a Certified Sommelier for all of three weeks. Was I ready for this?
But really, there was no time for such silly questions. With more than two-hundred guests expected that night, it was either adapt or die.
It Never Stops
There was a rough game-plan. I would focus mainly on the top area where most of the VIPs were seated, whilst Mandy and Giant would keep an eye on the other sections.
Thankfully there were some big pre-booked tables that night, which meant that wines had been pre-selected, making life easier.
Myself? Here are a few things I might hear throughout the night from various actors:
Mark, Table 68 is a VVIP, can you go talk to them about wines?
Mark, can you see table 41, they need a bottle of wine…
Mark, can you organise two glasses of champagne for Table 55? (When asked which particular champagne) I don’t know!
Mark, I think the gent on Table 8 wanted this wine…? (Pointing at wine list)
Mark, can you pour the degustation wine for the couple on Table 11?
Dude, Mark, I’ve been waiting for Table 28’s wine for like three minutes!
Mark, Table 34 wants this white wine! (They are pointing at a red wine on the list)
Here is a nice quote that sums up my thoughts on the situation:
— Philosopher Quotes (@PhilosophersSay) July 18, 2015
Everything that night was turned up to 11. It was exciting, challenging, and at times even fun. Like a gambler or a parkour practitioner, you walk along the thin line between safety and utter destruction and there’s a combination of thrill and fear, and the only thing holding you back is your constant, unwavering focus.
In life, you learn that not everyone is going to be happy and you deal with it.
But when you’re a sommelier, you try anyway and give it your best shot. You go to all the tables, chat with guests, offer them advice, pour their wines, help out the floor staff when they’re stretched, and this goes on for hours.
At the same time, you can’t go running around like a headless chicken. You need to think coolly, calculating the most important shots to take, and act accordingly. And if I thought I couldn’t handle something myself, I knew I could rely on Mandy and Giant for help.
You Need A Team
Which brings me to the most important point. You can’t think of yourself as some lone ranger, a Rambo or a commando waging a one-man war. No amount of planning will prepare you for the onslaught of orders and requests that will inevitably overcome you if you act alone.
You need a team, a group of competent actors that can work individually and as a group, that can adapt to the situation as it changes.
When you have that, you can relax just a few millimetres, knowing that no problem is insurmountable, freeing yourself up to do your job to the best of your ability.
How did the night go?
Well, I haven’t been fired. I haven’t been aware of any particularly bad reviews, which could really make or break you in the age of the Internet. I suppose this might be a case of no-news-is-good-news.
Actually, even the manager on the night complimented me on how well I handled everything. While my head was still spinning from everything that was happening, I greatly appreciated the vote of confidence.
So despite everything, I guess things could’ve been worse. We did the best we could with that resources we had. We kept our focus. And we’ll go home, have a good sleep and wake up tomorrow to do it all over again.