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Higher Learning

Higher Learning

Restaurants are polishing their service with professional certifications

“What we teach with the Court of Master Sommeliers is how to use our knowledge to enhance a customer’s experience.”
– Randall Bertao, a director at The Court of Master Sommeliers

In sourcing food and beverage supplies, restaurants today enjoy unprecedented access to global markets and artisanal local producers, making the options better—and more diverse—than ever. Yet elevated menus require specialized product knowledge, and while chefs trained at the top culinary schools have always been in demand, staffers with an education in beverages have lagged in all but high-end establishments.

That’s changing now, thanks to the rising popularity of certification programs that give recipients the knowledge and confidence they need to make the most of what’s available—and ensure guests do too. We contacted certification organizations for wine, beer and tea to find out how having certified professionals on staff can elevate the dining experience for everyone.

“Historically, the reputation of a sommelier was a bit daunting,” says Randall Bertao, a director of The Court of Master Sommeliers, the wine world’s premier international examining body. “It was someone who had all this expertise, and customers might think there was some arrogance or at least a disconnect. What we teach with the Court of Master Sommeliers is how to use our knowledge to enhance a customer’s experience.”

It may be one of the world’s oldest beverages, but many fashionable restaurants are taking a renewed interest in tea, creating a need for certified tea professionals versed in its preparation and service.

Established in 1977, the organization offers education and certifications ranging from introductory sommelier up through master sommelier, a distinction Bertao shares with only 248 others.

“A sommelier brings the ability to understand the products that a restaurant sells, and how to buy products that complement not only the financial model but the personality of the restaurant,” he says. “That means working closely with the chef, understanding the menu and showing by example how quality beverage service happens tableside.”

The explosion in modern craft beers and previously underappreciated beer styles from around the world has led to a similar thirst for beer knowledge. Established in 2008, the Cicerone Certification Program offers classes and four levels of certification, from certified beer server to master cicerone.

“Restaurants benefit by putting staff who sell beer through the certified beer server level so they understand the basics of beer handling and can guide customers on beer choices,” explains John Scholl, marketing manager with the Cicerone Certification Program and a certified cicerone himself. “Certified cicerone is designed for those who are running a beverage program and have a solid understanding of beer styles, food and beer pairings, and are able to troubleshoot a draft system.”

It may be one of the world’s oldest beverages, but many fashionable restaurants are taking a renewed interest in tea, creating a need for certified tea professionals versed in its preparation and service.

“A certified tea professional can be a certified tea sommelier, certified tea blender or a certified tea master,” explains Chas Kroll, certified tea master and executive director of the International Tea Masters Association, which offers comprehensive training and certifications. “In an upscale restaurant, they are available to meet with customers directly to answer questions and make menu pairing recommendations. And unlike liquor, tea is normally marked up between 500 percent to 1,000 percent, and it is not taxed like liquor.”


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