Percy Rodríguez (@percyjrodriguez) is the Beverage Director for Chef Laurent Tourondel‘s restaurants (L’Amico, The Vine) within the Hotel Eventi in NYC, (part of the Kimpton Hotels and Restaurant Group), along with Sag Pizza in Sag Harbor.
Percy is one of the most professional and likable Beverage Directors I have ever worked with. He also never seems to be in a rush, which is incredible considering what he is running in the day-to-day.
There are only a handful of Beverage Directors in NYC overseeing multiple concepts like Percy – check out the Bonus question on Spirits buying.
Which producer or area do you believe in that most people in the industry disagree with you on?
Domestic wines that aren’t from either coast. Y’all, Missouri makes PET-NATS NOW!! Y’ALL.
You run the beverage program for multiple concepts within a Hotel – What are the challenges, and what have you found that works to get past those challenges?
My biggest challenges are time and quality staff. I never have enough of either, and as far as I can tell, that is industry standard. We are busy enough at this property that there is never a moment where there isn’t something to do. And when I delegate to my leaders, I need to trust that their work will meet my standards, as I don’t have the time to double check everyone’s work (whether it be syrup production, staff education, stocking, cleaning schedules, etc). I’m now in my fourth year here, and, not to take away from the staff I’ve had work for me up until now, but I am only now getting to a place where I am happy with almost all facets of my team. It’s simply that difficult to find hard-working, dedicated staff. AND THEN, when you have them, you have to retain them. I believe a connection to staff, however small, is imperative to minimizing turnover. I always engage my beverage staff (polishers, barbacks, receivers, bartenders, etc) in small talk, their last shifts, any issues I can help with. It keeps everyone loose and they know I have their back. With my core team, I’m more invested. You have to push their education, you have to push and nurture their drive, you have to ride the waves of personal lives and relationships because at the end of the day, it all affects the bottom line (you can’t have a depressed sommelier on the floor).
With regards to time, it really is a lesson in discipline. Of COURSE, I’d love to go to all of the tastings and lunches and dinners and trips and taste all the wine and spirits and beers that are being hawked. But I also have invoices to allocate, inventory, BEO meetings, PNL meetings, hiring and training, and and AND. If you want any type of longevity in this game, you need to pace yourself and focus on the immediate tasks at hand. When things are consistently good at work, then you can go have an occasional, semi-indulgent lunch with a winemaker. You do it too much though, and people start to ask where you are.
If you could ask one question of another wine director, what would it be?
What are you doing to drive sales while increasing the visibility of your program(s)?
Which trend or trends do you wish would go away?
As a buyer: Rosé season. I like Rosé. I drink Rosé. I hate that every February I have to f**king decide what I’m going to pour in four months.
As a creative: wack garnishes in cocktails. I get that everything has to stand out from a social media perspective and I GET that people order with their eyes as the rum punch with pink sparklers and dehydrated micro production black mission figs gets run through the dining room or bar, but please stop. Please.
What do you want people to know about your program?
I want people to know that we will make time for them. What do I mean? I had this post-middle-aged couple come in the other day. L’Amico was packed and already on a wait at 6pm (any time Billy Joel plays MSG, this is the case). The woman mentioned they were going to the concert and were looking for a quick bite and a drink, nothing fancy, and didn’t look overly hopeful that we would be able to accommodate them. We didn’t have anything in L’Amico but I mentioned I had a few open tables in our other restaurant The Vine, which is through the hotel lobby. I walked them over, made small talk with them, introduced them to the host and got them settled, letting them know they were in good hands. An hour later, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and this couple was incredibly gracious, said they looked forward to coming back, and couldn’t have been happier. Had I just told them how to get to the other resto I doubt their experience would have changed much, but seeing someone take the extra 30 seconds to make their experience personal has a tremendous amount of weight with customers.
“ I like Rosé. I drink Rosé. I hate that every February I have to f**king decide what I’m going to pour in four months.
What advice do you have for to a wine director stepping into buying spirits, as well?
Always ask if there’s a bigger drop, deeper deal. Ask to be connected directly to the brand’s ambassador/mgr for activations, events, happy hours, etc. Don’t say yes to everything a liquor distributor tries to sell you on. And every now and then, when salespeople reach out for a favor (to hit a sales goal or get a trip, whatever it is), help them out if you’re able. Get that weird bottle of rum they need to move to get a bonus or something. You never know when you’ll be in the shits and you need cases of something ASAP. Playing the game a little bit once in a while goes a long way.
Are there any regions or wineries in Italy that are underrated? Which are overrated?
Amarone is overrated, and Fiano from Campania is underrated, by a freaking mile. I don’t care if it’s from Avellino or Paestum or Cilento or Irpinia or where ever: it’s almost always good if not great, ranging from clean and simple to nuanced and strikingly delicious.
Note*: All answers are edited for spelling and posted without cuts.