Doesn’t time fly. We are now two months on from when restaurants, bars and pubs were able to re-open and allow customers back into their outlets across England, with Scotland and Wales following a little while after. So how has it been like for those tasked with working on restaurant floors? Here Mattia Scarpazza, head sommelier at Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, south London, shares not just his experiences over the last two months, but those of fellow sommeliers working at leading restaurants across London and the steps and changes they have had to make in order to keep everyone safe.
QR codes and iPads have become as much a part of a sommelier’s life post lockdown as it is usually about corkscrews and glasses. Here Mattia Scarpazza shares his experiences on going back on to a restaurant floor as a sommelier post lockdown.
A few months back I wrote an article on The Buyer about the life of a sommelier in lockdown where I gave some of my personal suggestions on how to get through it along with some ideas and feedback from my fellow sommeliers.
This article is meant to be a follow up, from the perspective of going back to work. I have now been back on the restaurant floor for just little over a month. It has given me enough time to gather my personal thoughts about some of the things that have helped me get back to my new routine, along with the technical considerations we have needed to make to ensure the work environment is Covid-19 safe. I have also asked, again, my fellow sommeliers for their stories and suggestions.
It was July 4 when the hospitality sector re-opened its doors across England, after nearly three months since the lockdown started on March 23. But when I reached out to to other sommeliers to see how they had reacted to this news, it was clear it was not a clear picture and many were going through different experiences.
This was either because their restaurant was yet to re-open, or had no plans to do so. Some had ventured into other businesses, using the free time on lockdown as an opportunity to launch something new or follow a new opportunity. Unfortunately, it’s clear there will be an absence of some familiar faces when tastings and wine events eventually restart.
For those who have been able to go back to work they have found many things have changed. It’s why it is even more important than normal to try and maintain a good mental and physical health.
For a lot of sommeliers furlough was the perfect time to rediscover some passions that may have been lost over the years, or pick up some new skills and knowledge. Oliver Espersen, head sommelier of Kerridge’s Bar & Grill says: “I took on sourdough bread making while spending my lockdown in Denmark my home country. I also planted 15 vitis vinifera vines in my back garden as an experiment – Sauvignon Blanc, Lemberg and Kerner.”
I wonder if in a few years we will be tasting his Danish wines. He says he is continuing his new found passion for sourdough now he is back in the UK. Kerridge’s bar & Grill, situated in Charing Cross, re-opened on the fourth of July.
Sara Rossi is now back on the restaurant floor in her role as head sommelier at Trinity Restaurant in Clapham Common which re-opened on August 4. She says enjoyed her time away by really getting into her running and reading and is keen to continue now the restaurant is back open again.
I, too, have picked up some new hobbies whilst in furlough. Yoga and meditation were completely new to me and I am continuing with them now that Petersham Nurseries in Richmond has re-opened. I have also picked up cycling, and now commute to work every day on my bike. I have found it really helps me transition from a work to life mind-set. Many work places offer cycle to work schemes, you can find further information here: https://www.bike2workscheme.co.uk/.
Mental health, has always been a major issue for the hospitality industry and it is essential we look to maintain and nurture our health, especially now that our natural daily rhythms have been lost and new worries and concern come to us far faster than ever before. With such so many uncertainties, companies may lose focus on their values that they upheld prior to lockdown.
New ways of service
From a restaurant point of view there have been many things we have had to alter in terms of the way service has to be done in order to follow the new social distancing rules imposed by the government to ensure the virus spread is kept at minimum.
It’s clear, though, that restaurants are interpreting and adapting the rules differently. Here below are some of the procedures some of my sommelier contacts are using.
Noémie Favrat, assistant head sommelier at Le Gavroche says: “The wine menu it is now on an iPad, which is disinfected after every us . We tend to serve with further distance than before, and pour the wine in the glasses on the side of the table out of reach of the customers. When we serve we also wear face masks.”
Espersen says the Kerridge Bar & Grill has placed hand sanitiser on each table and around the bar. “The menus are not printed, but we use QR codes, customers can download the menu onto their phones by scanning these codes. I have found that we are saving on paper printing which is a good thing, but for customers it can be a bit tricky to navigate the extensive list,” he explains.
He says the biggest challenge he has found so far has been dealing with out-of-stock wines: “As we have suspended all our orders, we are utilising our holdings in the cellar. I’m looking for alternatives for the wines by the glass and removing wines form the list almost on a daily basis. Finding wine substitutions for the customers is now normal, but when we explain why the guests are understanding”.
This is also something we are doing at Petersham Nurseries to make sure we are using our stock much more effectively, which means be far more flexible and clever in the wines we can offer.
Rossi says Trinity is taking temperatures of customers as they arrive, using a ‘non-invasive machine’ at the entrance. “We want to show the company is taking all the necessary procedures to safeguard our customers,” she adds.
I also found that customers are more aware than before that hospitality outlets have to be more assertive and controlling over the way consumers move and act whilst in their premises in order to ensure the health and safety of everyone within their site.
Is this a new future for hospitality service where stricter rules and more control is required for customers? As sommeliers we have to be far more considerate of what we put on a table and how close customers can get when they sit down. We need to make sure we regularly exchange and clean items such as ice buckets, service tables, trays and, most importantly, our personal mask. If you are wearing one in service then make sure you are washing it regularly and change the filters.
What is going to happen in the next few months is difficult to know. All of the hospitality workers that I have spoken to have given me positive feedback on the attitude of customers, their better understanding towards them and overall there is a sense of happiness to just be able to go and visit their favourite dining places – which in itself is encouraging.
- If you would like to share your experiences as a sommelier or restaurant manager working back on the floor then please contact Richard Siddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.