Andrew Connor, head sommelier, the Lanesborough hotel, London

02 November 2006
Andrew Connor, head sommelier, the Lanesborough hotel, London

Andrew Connor, 31, is head sommelier at the Lanesborough hotel in London, part of the St Regis Hotels & Resorts group. It's a role that involves wine tasting at strange hours of the day and visits to expos and shows.

Working in a team of three means at least one of them is always in the hotel's 100-seat Conservatory restaurant during service.

The New Zealander believes his role is not just to have a strong knowledge about the product, but to be able to tell a story with each wine that fires the imagination, bringing the customer along for the ride.

"You need a passion for wine, of course, but you also have to be a bit of a politician. The key to selling wine is being a good host," he says.

Connor took on his role at the Lanesborough in April this year but first travelled to the UK in 1998 to work behind the bar at Corney & Barrow's Lloyd's of London site.

Although he had a relative with his own vineyard back home, the drinks industry was not a family affair, and he landed his role at the wine bar with no real experience.

"I remember getting the job and needing some black trousers," he says. "After asking where to go, I then had to ask which way the West End was."

Connor progressed to bar supervisor at another of the company's sites, staying with Corney & Barrow to undertake training with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust.

He had never thought of becoming a sommelier, in part because he had never worked in fine-dining restaurants. On returning to London after travelling around Europe he got in touch with a recruiter who used to be a regular at Corney & Barrow, and through him embarked on his wine career as commis sommelier at Conran's Le Pont de la Tour in August 2000.

His role meant that he served the wine after the restaurant sommelier had advised and taken the order. He also cleared away glasses. However, it gave him his first experience of fine dining and the basic skills he needed.

"The advantage of the London restaurant scene is that if you're hard-working and able, you can progress quickly, as there are always plenty of opportunities," he says.

Inspired by this thought, he progressed through the ranks at Conran to assistant head sommelier before joining Cecconi's in the capital in August 2003, where he became head sommelier in January 2005.

Roles at London's Butlers Wharf Chop House and the Bentley Kempinski hotel followed.

"The first rule to getting on is: get to know the wine merchants," Connor says. "They visit all the top restaurants and hotels, so if there's a plum job going, they're always first to know about it."

The lowdown

The St Regis Lanesborough has…

  • Bedrooms 95 (43 suites)
  • Staff 260
  • Rack rate £315 plus VAT and up
  • Occupancy 85%
  • Customer mix 70% business, 30% leisure
  • Connor's key duties Manages two members of staff and a wine list of 400 bins; looks after wine available in hotel F&B operation; advises customers in Conservatory restaurant; meets suppliers
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