Love wine enough to make a career out of it? That’s what 29-year-old Kaitlyn Caruke has done as a sommelier. After getting a degree in nutrition and food science, Caruke got her start in New York City in 2012, maintaining the wine cellar at Pearl & Ash.
Since then, she’s worked her way up to become head sommelier at Walnut St. Cafe in Philadelphia.
While she doesn’t need to go to work until 2 p.m. most days, she does work through the night, and isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and help the rest of her team with taking orders, running food and clearing tables.
Do you have what it takes to make wine a full-time job? Read on about a busy day (and night) in the life of sommelier Kaitlyn Caruke.
What time do you wake up?
Typically, 9:30 a.m. — occasionally later. I usually have breakfast and fresh coffee at home and hop on my work email immediately. I like to get through them before I get to work. I usually have the news on and try to go for a run before going in — maybe fit in an errand or two in. Then I shower, drink a smoothie and head into work!
How do you get to work?
I’m super lucky, I walk to work every day. I live on Walnut Street, so it’s a straight shoot about 10 minutes to the restaurant. I never had the luxury of walking to work when I lived in NYC, so it was a priority for me when I was moving last year. I get into work at 2 p.m.
What’s your workplace like?
The restaurant is gorgeous — high ceilings, tons of natural lighting, beautiful interiors. It’s pleasant. Like most somms, I do have my office in the basement. It’s the restaurant industry standard, but there’s something oddly comforting about it. I suppose the wine cellar is also a workplace — two separate red and white cellars filled almost to capacity.
What are three things on your daily to-do list?
I do wine sales daily — monitoring the sales that occurred the day before and how that affects the month and wine purchasing. I prepare for our staff meeting by taking inventory of what we have. During pre-shift meeting I need to inform the staff of specials, events and items we could possibly run out of. Answering emails, scheduling tastings, researching new wines that have made the list and adding those to the list, all occur daily as well.
What do you love most about your job?
What I love most are the people I have met along the way — really interesting, driven people, in all sorts of fields. Restaurant folks of course, but also sales reps, winemakers, people in public relations, writers and entrepreneurs. It’s been rewarding to collaborate or learn from these people. Some former colleagues have become lifetime friends of mine. It’s pretty amazing the more people you meet, the more connections you have to the rest of the world. I feel very fortunate for that.
Give us an overview of an average workday.
I arrive at work, do sales reporting, make menu edits, print menus and get ready for pre-shift meeting and service. I stock things where they’re needed. I often schedule myself a couple of tasting appointments throughout the day, tasting with the sales reps that I work with, determining what’s needed on the list, what wines I want and should purchase. We receive all of our orders on Fridays, so prepping for those orders occurs throughout the week as well. We often have operational meetings with management, going over events happening within the restaurant. Pre-shift meeting is at 4:30 p.m. where we get the run down on the evening. At 5 p.m. we open for service. During service, I focus on wine service mainly, wine sales, assisting guests with their options. I also do what I can to make the night go as smoothly as possible — run food, clear tables, polish, take orders where needed. Service running smoothly and maintaining the right pace of each service step is a goal for every night.
What time do you finish work normally?
We finish up anytime between 10:45 p.m.and 12:30 a.m., depending on the night. It’s early when compared to some other restaurants.
Advice to people who want your job?
Don’t be afraid to start from the bottom. Be patient. Everything takes time. Find the right group of people that can help you grow and want to see you succeed. Do everything you can for those people. It’s hard to stay focused sometimes, but people with such focus will separate themselves from everyone else. It’s about constantly refocusing your energy on what you want.