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Insights From Top Sommelier Thomas Brenner On How To Grow Your Restaurant Sales

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09/02/2024 Take a journey into the wine world with Thomas Brenner, Beverage Manager and Sommelier at Palo Alto Hills Golf and Country Club. Discover the passion behind each pour, from building strong wine programs to uncovering hidden gems in London.

Discover the complexities of the wine world through the eyes of Thomas Brenner, Beverage Manager and Sommelier at Palo Alto Hills Golf & Country Club. Explore his journey, role, and insights into creating profitable wine programs. Continue reading the interview to learn useful insights and advice from a true wine expert.

Place of work.

Palo Alto Hills Golf and Country Club

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you begin your career and how did you progress into this role?

I started my career as a wine professional as most of us did. A job at a fine dining restaurant in Palo Alto, California during my college years transformed me in a profound way. Learning about the wide and wonderous world of wine from our Sommelier saw me enchanted with all things vinous almost right away. I have always enjoyed travel, great company, history, maps, learning about cultures and geography and it wasn't before too long that I came to appreciate wine's relationship with all facets of life on our planet. 

I quickly got my Sommelier Certification and began a career path that saw me perform in the function as a wine professional across boutique hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants and private clubs. There is no looking back at my life before I grew my love for wine.

Define your role and the tasks involved in your role.

As a Beverage Manager and Sommelier for a private Golf and Country Club and enterprising wine professional in my personal time, I concern myself with a myriad of wine-related tasks and indulgences. I am responsible for the selections of wines, the wine program and the organization of our bottles. I regularly meet with wine makers and distributors and taste the finest offerings to be considered for our robust wine program. We hold a retail license and offer wine service across multiple venues, ensuring that I always stay busy. I manage the selections for club events and private functions, our retail program and on-premise selections, each of which are constituted of several sales vehicles. These include Sommelier Spotlights, Specials, wines by the glass and wines by the bottle. In my free time I offer consultancy services centering around organization, appraisal and procurement of wines for collectors, as well as menu creations for local restaurants. I also greatly enjoy writing articles for magazines and regional newspapers, filming documentaries, podcasts and interviews. Needless to say, when not studying or reading about wine, collecting bottles for clients and myself occupies my time; and I wouldn't have it any other way.

What questions would you ask the restaurant owner before you plan your wine sales growth strategy?

I would recommend asking about sales quotas, commission, inventory caps and various sales vehicles you wish to implement. 

How can suppliers work with you to drive sales?

Offer promotional dollars to help with events, staff training, sample bottles, swag and tastings.

Give us an example of a profitable wine program mentioning wines on your list and why you have them.

I have recently added, however begrudgingly, wine recommendations to our dining menus. All but one selection is sourced from our successful by-the-glass program, seeing one SKU be offered as a pairing for the Tomahawk steak that is meant for 2 diners. For this menu selection I showcased a lesser-known wine of the highest pedigree. This winery came out to pour and educate about this wine, lead an informative pre shift meeting with the staff and offered me a boundless allocation for this special wine. 

Let's dive deeper into your restaurant wine program. Break it down for us as to why certain elements were included in the wine menu and how these helped the bottom line.

When I first inherited the wine program from my predecessor, it was organized by price point and featured only generic wines one would find at a chain grocery store. Organizing the wine list by grape Sparkling wines first, then white wines in order of body, then sub categorized according to Old World and New World, variety and region, all alphabetized, north to south, newer vintages last and seeing this organization be reflected in red wines and finally sweet wines, is the perfect solution. Gaining supreme oversight of all SKUs on offer and not organizing by price points, allow for better appreciation of wine enjoyment and, in turn, translates directly to increased sales. 

What are the three main things you focus on daily in your role?

Guest satisfaction, integrity and hospitality

What are the points you look at when selecting a new wine for your wine program?

I look to see if the selection fills a hole in the wine program. If it is a popular style, then I wish to offer varied iterations of a vinous product. I also pay attention to the quality-to-price ratio, repute and style, ensuring that all facets are covered and exuded by the SKU up for consideration.

What is the difference between the role of a sommelier and a wine director?

A Sommelier mainly focuses on wine service and hospitality, as well as setting up and breaking down for service. A wine director selects wines for the menu, decides price points, organization, which wines to reorder, meets with distributors, procures hardware, trains staff, creates events, sales vehicles and makes decisions pertaining to all facets of a wine program in addition to the service and hospitality that a Sommelier concerns themselves with.

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What do you look for when you have to evaluate the effectiveness of a wine program?

I consider current trends, proven sellers, and evaluate COGS, inventory levels and ensure that a wine program is successful in offering their guests wines that suit the culinary fare, region and clientele, all while being profitable without overcharging.

How according to you has the role of the sommelier evolved, especially now during Covid times?

The role of a Sommelier has evolved significantly over recent years. During the days of covid constraints, wine flowed abundantly and was sold through retail and to-go channels more frequently than ever before. Post-Covid wine sales saw a slump and now a Sommelier has to be more cognizant of service, sales, sharing a wine's story, perfecting food pairings and developing new and interesting ways to sell and enjoy wine. 

What are some of the most important skills for a sommelier to have?

Knowledge, passion, being relatable and possessing a listening ear

Your favorite places to enjoy great wine in London?

Small restaurants off the beaten path, away from crowds and tourists, offering hidden gems and great values with enhanced service and passion.

What's the best part of your job?

Being privy to great people and even better wines each day.

What's the worst part of your job?

Being paraded around, gaslighted and caught in tired conversations, dealing with drunks and having the spotlight on you at all times. Oh, and having to wear a suit and tie.

If you had to pick one red and one white wine as your personal best, which wines would they be?

$5 rose, great Riesling and Aussie Grenache.

Any favorite food and wine pairing suggestions for London drinks enthusiasts?

Still rose with a blue cheese, bacon wedge salad

A unique opportunity to present your wines to America's top sommeliers. The wine scores are benchmarked for on-premise channels by top sommeliers, master sommeliers, wine directors and restaurant wine buyers. Enter Your Wines Before March 15, 2024, To Save.