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Interviews

Know Your Sommeliers: Tiffany Tobey

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10/12/2023 Meet Tiffany Tobey: Wine Enthusiast, Certified Sommelier, Hospitality Maven, and Industry Influencer. Explore her journey from Texas Tech to crafting award-winning wine programs and her role in the exciting world of SOMM TV.

Meet Tiffany Tobey, the dynamic General Manager, and Sommelier at Thirty-Eight & Vine tasting locations. Her journey began at Texas Tech University, where she pursued dual Bachelor's degrees in Restaurant, Hotel, and Institutional Management (RHIM) and English. However, it was her globetrotting adventures studying Wine Tourism in some of the world's most prestigious regions that ignited her deep passion for the world of wine.

Tiffany's quest for knowledge and excellence led her to attain certifications with The Court of Master Sommeliers and the International Sommelier Guild, solidifying her as a true industry expert. She honed her craft as the wine director at SER Steak + Spirits at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, TX, where she curated an award-winning wine program and collection.

But Tiffany's influence doesn't stop there. She has lent her discerning palate as a judge in renowned wine and spirits competitions, while also sharing her expertise with illustrious publications like Business Insider, Food & Wine Magazine, The SommJournal, and The Tasting Panel Magazine.

And she's not done yet. Tiffany is currently on a journey to deepen her knowledge through her Graduate Degree in Viticulture at Texas Tech University. Her ultimate dream? To one day own a vineyard and create her exceptional wines.

As if that's not impressive enough, Tiffany has also been selected as a contributor to the latest project by the creators of the Netflix documentary 'SOMM' – SOMM TV. In the upcoming series, "SommTV The History of Wine," she will proudly represent Texas, offering her unique insights into the world of wine.

Tiffany's story is a compelling tale of passion, expertise, and a relentless pursuit of excellence in the captivating world of wine. Stay tuned for more exciting adventures from this accomplished wine connoisseur and industry influencer.

Your current place of work.

Tiffany's Toast (Owner / Sommelier)

Tell us about yourself.

I am a sommelier in Dallas, Texas who works a regular day job in an upscale restaurant and owns my own private Company, Tiffany's Toast, on the side. A current Viticulture Graduate Student at Texas Tech University, I aspire to one day grow my grapes and make my own wine.

Why did you want to become a sommelier?

I fell in love with wine on a visit to Italy. The history, passion, and traditions of that country were electric. I had never experienced the symbiotic relationship of food and wine pairings, it can transcend an entire meal into an experience that is never forgotten. The joy that brought to my life made my desire to learn as much as possible grow and eventually I headed down the path of a Sommelier/Wine Director.

Questions you would ask a customer who doesn't know anything about wine?

What beverages do you normally enjoy? Would you prefer to explore white wines or red wines? What types of fruit juices do you usually like? Do you enjoy a high content of alcohol? What do you plan to eat so that I can make some suggestions that would complement your dish?

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

Your ability to adapt to your guest. Sometimes people want all of the pomp & circumstance of fanatical fine dining...and other times they want to relax and chat. The ability of the Sommelier to read the room and read the guest with the utmost level of hospitality is a must-have.

How I would train my new staff member in their first 7 days of joining.

I am a huge fan of having someone shadow every position before getting out of training. One of the biggest goals of a successful restaurant team is the ability to understand each other and how each piece works to create a dining experience that leaves the guest satisfied on all levels.

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

Your golden goose for a beverage program lies in your by-the-glass program. That should be a primary focus when building any program. I enjoy discovering new gems that have a rocking price point and deliver on quality and consistency. When you add in a few of these to each category, and then provide adequate staff training the wine should be very easy to move at a high return. For example, lately, I have been obsessed with white wines from Portugal...the quality and ability to pair with an array of dishes is amazing. Accompany the fact that the average price point is around $17 for a bottle of Rioja Blanco and you have a window to deliver on markup and quality satisfaction that people are willing to explore.

What methods do you use to grow net profits?

Staff education is everything. Sure, the bottles in the cellar are often referred to as "my babies," but if I don't share what makes them special and educate my staff to light the fire for selling them, then how can I expect them to be passionate on the floor, or even to be motivated to talk about wine...which in itself is intimidating to most servers. Education provides comfort and knowledge for your staff and will make them more comfortable doing their job.

How do you self-learn and improve your skills?

I think that I have an advantage in my field because I am constantly motivated to learn. I am continuously seeking out new regions and producers to learn about.

Image source: Tiffany Tobey

What's the best part of your job?

I interact with the guests and see the satisfaction on their faces when they trust me to give them phenomenal food and wine pairing. Helping to create a special experience for someone else is something that will be gratifying.

How do you elevate the guest experience?

Attention to detail is an absolute must. Going the extra mile can change things from a 1 to a 5. Hospitality is something special and it is part of the job to elevate everything involved with your guest. Some examples of that can include something as easy as a smile. Smiling might be the most important part of the job. Take the time to address your guests as "Sir" or "Ma'am," respect goes a long way. If there is a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary make sure you take the time to always acknowledge it with something special.

Your favorite TV show right now?

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has me laughing any time I get the time to watch it.

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

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to go to Israel during the COVID era and study their Viticulture practices & winemaking styles. While there I was allowed to take part in the planting of a new vineyard at a winery whose wines I fell in love with. I will never forget how amazing that felt and the anticipation of trying the first vintage from the vineyard I helped plant is ever growing. (Next year! Yay!).

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

People are insistent that the only wine that can be drank while eating seafood is white wine. I love showing people the flavor explosion when pairing a delicate burgundy from France, or a zippy Blaufränkisch from Austria.

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Any favorite food and wine pairing suggestions for drinks enthusiasts?

Champagne and French Fries all day!!!

Your favorite book?

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Long read, but worth every page.

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

I see myself in restaurants for quite a while, eventually, I would like to own my vineyard and make my own wine. I am currently a Viticulture Graduate student, Slowly but surely I'll keep learning the different sides of winemaking and one day when I am ready to retire I will have the full skill set I need to carry out my plans.

How can suppliers work with you to drive sales?

The number one thing I can suggest is having an established relationship with your suppliers. It blows my mind how often I encounter people who have no idea who their rep is, let alone who their supplier is. When you understand that bond you can work together to achieve goals.

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

A solid wine program delivers on quality, options, and diversity. It is important to provide options at a multitude of styles and price points and to have solid wines that deserve to be there.

What are the four main things you focus on daily?

I am used to running a pretty big wine program, so I am always focused on numbers. It is important to know what you have going on in the cellar so that you can understand your beverage costs, sales outputs, and how much you can budget when meeting with reps and trying new wines. Appearance of everything in the restaurant is also very important. A dirty glass, disheveled server, crumbs on the table cloth...all can make or break your experience in fine dining, so to me I feel the entire team must work together and keep everything beautiful.

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

I always ask myself...would I have one glass of this or two? Of course, in most cases, the price must be ruled so I analyze the cost and see if it is worth it to bring into the program if it will sell itself or would have to be a "hand sell," can I justify this purchase as a benefit to my wine program in the projected revenue. Oh and a huge one every smart wine director / Sommelier must keep in mind...Do I have room for this? Haha, storage space and room in the cellar are things that should CONSTANTLY be on the mind of the buyer.

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

Knowledge and people skills are the first 2 things I will analyze. I feel a good Sommelier has a breadth of knowledge and the ability to share that with guests without being condescending or unrelatable. When I was first getting into the wine world a high percentage of Sommeliers I encountered would make me feel so small when asking questions about wine, so it is important to me, as a Sommelier, and, as a Wine Director that hire my staff.

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

Of course, profit and loss is going to be the first thing I look at from a business point of view. From a geeky wine perspective I am going to look straight at the list and see if it checks all the boxes I feel are necessary for a cohesive program with diversity and style.
 

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