A Good Service Can Never Be Noticed. It Just Happens
In conversation with Ronan Sayburn MS, the CEO of Court Of Master Sommeliers Europe and Head of Wine at the Prestigious 67 Pall Mall.
Ronan Sayburn is a decorated professional in the wine and hospitality industry with an experience of more than 25 years. Currently, he is the CEO of the European Court Of Master Sommeliers and head of wine for 67 Pall Mall London, which is considered the Mecca of Wine for hospitality and wine professionals. 67 Pall Mall is now a global wine club with branches in Switzerland and Singapore.
Ronan grew up in Yorkshire, the North of London, a beer-dominated arena where wine was neither produced nor consumed. Aiming to become a chef, he joined the university to study hotel catering management, and that’s where he discovered wine and immediately fell in love with it. He landed his first job as a Chef Barman at a local restaurant in Yorkshire, and during that time, the barman was supposed to handle the wine list. It used to be a small wine list as it was not in demand. This is when he started discovering wines and took a deep dive. He encapsulates this ocean of knowledge through a simple analogy: "Wine is like an onion, you peel away the layers, and you realize there’s more to it.”
Ronan has an army of talented sommeliers who work on the floor and deliver excellent service to the guests. 30 people work at the 67 Pall Mall London, constituting 19 sommeliers, barbacks who do the glass polishing, replenishing the glass inventory, two wine buyers, and six people in the cellar team that manages the glorious wines. They receive the wine bottles, barcode them, and adequately stock them in the cellar, and during the service time, the cellar team delivers them on the floor for the sommeliers. Ronan manages the entire team and coordinates with the global CEO, Grant Ashton.
Grant Ashton is the brain behind the concept of 67 Pall Mall. He decided to open a wine club in an empty bank. Ronan explains, “Grant is genius, he is a visionary, his brain is amazing and the things he comes up with. So he was here in this empty bank with loads of blueprints and with this big idea to make it a wine club, and he spoke to me if I was interested to be involved. I said absolutely.”
The original premise of 67 Pall Mall was to start as a supper club where businessmen who have a vast wine collection can relax, enjoy and drink their wines with some excellent food to pair with. The idea was well accepted, and more people wanted to connect. Thus, the wine club became a member-only club with fixed membership plans that could generate revenue. Apart from this, the club makes margins on the wine that it sells but with low markups.
The membership plans are listed on the website, and for all the wine industry professionals, the plans are half-priced. Moreover, if an individual lives more than 50 miles away from the club, he or she is considered an overseas member, and the membership plan is half-priced. Ronan further explains, “If we have a visiting winemaker, they would be paying a quarter of the full price.”
This explains how concerned the club is regarding the wine industry, and the way the club cherishes these individuals is applaudable.
The main bar serves every wine available on the menu by the glass. The wine collection is too deep and a good mine for wine enthusiasts. The club uses only Zalto glassware, and actually, they bought the production for the Zalto glasses for four months. So 19,000 glasses just for the London Club. They always use Coravins to open wine bottles, and they have found out that each bottle is pierced with the Coravin needle 127.5 times a day! So that is 25-30 Coravin capsules every day. This reflects an unimaginable number of wines sold by the glass and the flood of club members that visit the club every day.
The wine library offers an immense collection of premium wines that too available by the glass. In addition, the wine library has an island table with apparently the whitest marble on the earth from Greece. Members, wine merchants, and winemakers can visit it, have some food and enjoy their wines.
The entire wine list is electronic and can be controlled from an iPad. Once the member orders the wine, the wine disappears from the list until it is restocked. This is an efficient and convenient way to organize the wine list rather than a traditional list on paper. Moreover, apart from the convenience, the electronic wine list also offers filters to sort the wine collection based on the country, style, parker points, sommeliers pick, by the glass, and even the sub-region. This list is also a great way to train young and enthusiastic wine sommeliers to learn more about the wines at the club with just a single tap on the screen. The members can also take a look at the list sitting in their office or home and decide which wine they will drink before even arriving at the club.
Image source: Instagram
For the staff, the list looks different. All the wine bottles are barcoded and are mentioned with their location, in which rack they are kept precisely in the restaurant. A well-curated wine list with exact details helps the sommeliers and the cellar team, works incoordination, and leaves no room for errors.
Ronan is constantly on the go. He has no fixed schedule that he sticks to. He might come late in the afternoon and stay till midnight or vice versa. He appreciates the mobile technology that allows him to talk to the Singaporean sommelier team via a laptop or What’s App groups. He prefers to work on the floor rather than in a cushioned office. He explains, “I do have a desk across the road in our office which is kind of covered in cobwebs.”
A good sommelier, according to Ronan, is someone great at hospitality rather than being in the wine trade. A sommelier should focus more on hospitality skills, the ability to welcome people and make them feel comfortable. Being friendly and sociable are some of the most important traits a good sommelier must-have. Apart from this, the constant hunger to learn more about the world of wine and dive deep into it is a sign of a good sommelier. The ability to pair such a vast collection with the food available in the club is one more added point when looking out for an ideal sommelier for the club. He further says,” a sommelier’s role is a niche part of the catering industry that is multifaceted and involves different disciplines. I think that is why it is so interesting.”
There is a saying in the catering industry: "You never notice a good service. It just happens”. Thus, the role of a sommelier on the floor is to elevate the guest experience and not let it be defined by the sommelier tag and individual possesses.
“A sommelier should never give the wine list to the man or the woman, and he should give it to the table” Never assume that the lady or the man will look at the wine list. Always ask, “who would like to look at the wine list?” Let them ask you for your advice on a wine selection, do not hover around them and make them feel uncomfortable. Notice the food they are ordering and recommend accordingly. If their tab is heavy, then suggest a premium wine to increase your revenue, which makes a sommelier a good sales professional. A good sommelier should always ask the guest, “what kind of wine do you like.” A sommelier should not suggest his choices but should keep the guests’ preferences as a priority. Thus, establishing that you are there to look after them and not impose your will on them.
What does it look like to be in a job interview with Ronan Sayburn? The 67 Pall Mall is something all wine professionals aspire to work at. Ronan says,” everyone can pick up a book or go online and learn about wine, but the most important thing I look for in a candidate is the attitude” Ronan mentions that the right kind of attitude is necessary for him to hire someone. The team of 19 sommeliers at the 67 Pall Mall is carefully selected, even if some do not have any qualifications in the wine industry. Integrity honestly is something Ronan looks for in candidates aspiring to work there.
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Once a candidate is selected, he/she is accompanied by a senior sommelier. Basically, the new joiners do basic jobs like pouring water, topping up their glasses, filling out the ice buckets, cleaning down the bar, and learning the maximum. New hires are not required to go to the guest, which eventually will come once they build confidence with their knowledge which will come if they shadow the seniors for a couple of months.
Some well-reputed organizations offer wine qualifications. Ronan heads the European Court Of Master Sommeliers. This is a good way to learn and take a deep dive into the world of wines, meet and learn from the master sommeliers, and travel the wine regions across the globe. Thus when an individual passes the Master Sommelier Diploma, it indicates the hard work and dedication that individual has over the last 10-15 years. Ronan has witnessed a snowball effect in the Asian countries regarding the CMS. More and more young sommeliers want to get into this qualification.
Ronan gives a piece of advice for such a young enthusiast wanting to make a career out of this. He says, “accept the fact that you are going to work long hours on the floor and have a limited social life because you will have to study, taste, travel. You will have to pay attention to what you eat and drink and whether that works or not, but the most important thing is to stay humble. Remember who you are doing this for, and you are doing this for your guests.”
Here is the full interview of Sid's visit to 67 Pall Mall.