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Interviews

Know Your Sommeliers: Lisa Selman

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13/10/2023 Meet Lisa: Art Enthusiast, Sommelier, and Director of Operations in Hospitality, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art History, dedicated to enriching the beverage experience for guests.

With a degree in Art History from Wayne State University, Lisa’s profound love for art is reflected in their active involvement with institutions like the Art Institute Chicago and the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation. As a sommelier, she derives great satisfaction from their relentless pursuit of knowledge and the joy of sharing the rich heritage and craftsmanship of beverages with their guests. Additionally, she brings a wealth of experience as a Director of Operations in the Hospitality industry, showcasing a diverse skill set spanning events, payroll, creative direction, social media team management, and expertise in wine, craft beer, whiskey, and craft cocktail development. Her background also encompasses areas like HR, training, finance, and the cost of goods. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree in Art History, Criticism, and Conservation from Wayne State University, all while maintaining a cheerful demeanor.

Your current place of work.

Breakthru Beverage Illinois, Cicero, IL, United States

Tell us about yourself.

I bring 20 years of hospitality experience to the table. Prior to joining Breakthru Beverage, I had the privilege of serving as the Director of Beverage at Hilton Chicago, where I managed over $10,000,000 in beverage revenue.

In my quest to further my knowledge of the beverage industry, I've dedicated myself to earning several certifications and accolades. These include becoming a Certified Specialist of Spirits, achieving Court of Master Sommeliers level 1, mastering the art of Mezcal as a Master Mezcalier, and obtaining certification as a Beer Server. I've also earned the titles of Single Malt Scotch Expert and Whiskey Emissary.

My passion for all things beverage-related has taken me to over 50 distilleries, wineries, and breweries across five continents. This journey has allowed me to not only develop technical skills but also immerse myself in the heritage of a wide range of spirits and cultures. I've even had the pleasure of crafting my beer and wine!

My educational background includes a degree in Art History from Wayne State University. I've always had a deep appreciation for art and have enjoyed volunteering at the Art Institute Chicago and for the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation.

Why did you want to become a sommelier?

I am an avid seeker of knowledge. There is so much to learn in the beverage sector.  I love sharing the heritage of how alcohol came to be, the people that make and passing that information along to guests to enhance their experience.

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

Relatability 

Finding an approachable way to explain wine.

Kindness + Patience

How would you train my new staff member in their first 7 days of joining?

Fostering a relationship where employees feel empowered. As much tasting as possible. Tasting several products helps your staff learn how to apply flavors to the guests so we can help them pick what they will enjoy. Knowing what you do not like when tasting helps develop a large vocabulary.

What methods do you use to grow wine sales - top line?

Constantly training our staff so they can upsell. We run a mix frequently to see what is selling and what is not and replace anything that is not selling until we pick the right wines for our customers.

What methods do you use to grow net profits?

- Very strict beverage cost-controlling

- Properly pricing out beverages to make sure they align with our beverage cost

- Finding a few powerhouse wines that are at a great price point that are not sold off-premise

How do you self-learn and improve your skills?

Constantly tasting, visiting bars and restaurants regularly to see what is trending, books, online courses, and being around other people can help expand my knowledge.

What's the best part of your job?

Training/mentoring people to help them grow and watching them become successful. Elevating a guest's experience to improve their day. Having the right drink is truly a pleasure. I also love consulting. I love helping people become profitable so they can stay open for however long they want to!

Image source: Lisa Selman

How do you elevate the guest experience?

- Anticipating your guest's needs

- Creating a unique experience. If you hear a guest talking about wanting something they did not end up getting we send out it as a gift.

- Always going to find the answer to something if I do not know the answer.

- Treating your guests, the way you want to be treated

Your favorite TV show right now?

Wednesday 

An unforgettable wine experience for you - tell us the whole story!

My now husband and I went to Freixenet winery in Spain and when he proposed he snuck a bottle into our hotel room.  That was when I had a feeling he might propose. We also made sure it was on our bars for our wedding :)

What are the biggest faux pas that customers tend to make when ordering and drinking wine?

It is not necessary to sniff the cork

Any favorite food and wine pairing suggestions for drinks enthusiasts?

Chablis + King Crab legs 

Your favorite book?

I am enjoying the author Abby Jimenez's books, part of your world, and yours truly.

What's your personal career goal? And how are you investing or planning to get there?

I am at the point where all my hard work and goals have paid off and I am content with where I am now. My goals now are to create SOPs for our department and keep improving it. Give us one good story that you remember of a customer and you. When I worked at the Ritz Carlton a proposal was meant to happen outside but the weather did not cooperate so we were able to give them an amazing suite for a few hours.

How can suppliers work with you to drive sales?

Finding gaps in your menu and proposing those solutions along with data.

Bringing in wine at a great price point that is not found on off-premise.

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Can you share with us an example of a solid wine program?

Joe's Seafood 

What are the four main things you focus on daily?

- Being prepared

- Not wasting anyone's time 

- Helping establishments learn how to make the best cocktails 

- Staying current on trends

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

- Making sure I have several different grape varietals. 

- Various price points 

- If a wine is cool or showing well

- Wine Label

According to you, what makes a good sommelier, and what qualities do you look for when hiring a sommelier?

Kindness, knowledge, Team Player, Work Ethic 

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

- Are my guests happy drinking what I have selected or do we need to pivot

- What is the wastage 

- Does the beverage program reflect our food and what is our overall beverage cost.

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.