Top 5 Wine Service Peeves

Dear Restaurants:

Can you please stop seating me without a wine-list.  This is wine-country.  THIS IS RIGHT SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF ONE OF THE FASTEST GROWING AND HIGHEST-ACCLAIMED WINE AREAS IN THE WORLD.  From where I’m sitting in your restaurant, I could hit 10 wineries with a 5-wood.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent by tourism boards and commerce groups to promote wine and this region.  Large portions of incoming revenue depends on wine-country.  The hotels, restaurants, transportation and hundreds of satellite industries depend on wine-business.  Everyone CONSTANTLY promotes wine country.  So WHY DO I GET SEATED IN YOUR RESTAURANT WITHOUT A WINE-LIST?!?!?  Explain this to me!  Lunch-time: I can kinda-kinda *almost* somewhat give you a teensy-weensy pass because maybe fewer people drink wine with lunch, but I hate asking for it.  But DINNER?!?!?  If I come to your restaurant, in the evening, with a date or another couple, dressed for dinner, and get seated without a wine-list?  You have failed, period.  This happens over and over and over and over here on the Central Coast and is easily one of the saddest–and most important–things on this list.

Why does a table get seated with ONE winelist? WHY is this still a rule? WHY is ONE person seemingly responsible for wine at the entire table? I don’t go to dinner with morons and everyone wants to look at the list. Seat us with at LEAST two lists.

“What kind of wines do you normally drink?”  “Do you like reds or whites?”  There’s nothing wrong with either of these two questions directed toward someone who is having trouble with selection–and that should be obvious to even a moderately-experienced waiter.  But querying without any prompts immediately upon–OR EVEN BEFORE–the customer opens the list?  It’s insulting.

Coming for drink order when I am LITERALLY 2 pages into a 20-page list.  There’s only two kinds of huge-list wine-ordering people in the world, those who splatter around, fumbling through lots of pages deer-in-headlights not really seeing anything on page, bouncing around, and they are going to ask for help OR order the first familiar thing they see; and those who are going to read the whole list–and need 15 minutes to do so.  How about “While you look at wine-list, is there anything I can get you from the bar?”  “Glass of bubbles?”  SOMETHING besides can you hurry up and pick out a wine:  “Have you selected a wine yet?”  I’m reading as fast as I can, but there’s 4 pages of Pinot Noir, ma’am–not that you would know, because you have never opened this list once in your three years of working here.  I’m not sure what the perfect solution here is, obviously a resty can’t let someone sit with a list for 45 minutes, but if someone is hurried with a list, they are looking at two parts of a line:  The first item (winery, variety) and the last item (price).  That’s all they’re seeing.  With a little more time, the center portion comes alive (region, vineyard, vintage) and a more informed selection will take place–a selection which will raise the price they are willing to pay for their choice: Every. Single. Time.

How about this: I go to lunch and ask for the wine-list.  I receive a curt one-or-two-page printout with comfortable local quaffers, BTG selections and crowd-favorites.  I leave the resty thinking you have a horrible list and stupid wine-director.  I tell all my friends and put in my blog, “The wine-list STINKS, man!”  Later, I visit for dinner and am handed a 12-page hard-bound work of art spanning many varieties, styles, countries, and price-points.  Now if I’m your boss?  You don’t have a job anymore.

If there’s six pages of Napa Cab spanning 40 years in the catacombs of the restaurant and the wine-director has the night off, I’m perfectly okay with the wait-person reiterating the selection with my point or a bin number.  But “Can you show me?” ON A ONE PAGE LIST or a short row of by-the-glass selections is unacceptable training, plain and simple.

READ THE LABEL ON WINE SUBJECT TO CORKAGE.  More often than not, a waiter will reach for and begin cork removal on a bottle brought in WITHOUT so much as glancing at the label.  This obvious statement of *lack-of-curiosity* always makes my jaw drop.  IS IT LOCAL?  Many restaurants in wine-country have policies about either local wines or wines purchased at certain or near-by shops which will eliminate a corkage fee.  Having to point either of these qualifications out AFTER the bill arrives is embarrassing and awkward.  IS IT ON THE RESTAURANT’S LIST?  There’s nothing 99% of restaurants do about this, but an experienced wait-person will instantly know how much of a douchebag they are dealing with.  IS IT OLD?  THIS is the one which will bite a waiter in the ass over and over and over.  First they destroy the cork, THEN they turn the bottle around and go, “Oh.  Wow.  This is 20 years old.  Oh my!”  If someone would have only introduced themselves to the wine before-hand, appropriate steps to safeguard the cork could have been taken:  Get the somm.  Get an Ah-So or Durand.  Offer to let client open it.  If the wine was made before you were old enough to legally drink, STOP.  Get help.

What to do with the stupid cork.  Don’t ask if the customer wants to smell it.  Don’t shove it at them.  Don’t hand it to them.  Don’t set it at edge of table where it rolls off onto floor.  Don’t put it in your pocket!  Don’t do this.  Ever.  I don’t have to tell you why.  This conversation is not about starred-restaurants where the cork will merit its own saucer or cocktail napkin.  This conversation is about casual dining with wine.  Just set the damn thing down near the orderer–somewhere near their plate towards the center of the table.  Just somewhere convenient.  If I want to smell it or feel it, I will.

While we’re on the subject of closures, TEACH your staff how to open screw-tops.  Yes, there IS a proper way.  There is a right way.  It is not a beer bottle.  A stripped-out Stelvin is a hilarious offence, so please, as these closures become more and more popular, spend 5 seconds and show your staff how to open them.  Most people can’t believe there actually is a right way!

On the subject of closures–or lack of them–more and more establishments are using wine-on-tap for their by-the-glass program.  Don’t bring a glass of wine to my table with foam on it.

“Let the wine breathe”  “I’m just going to set this over here to breathe.”  “Do you want this to breathe for a while or do you want to taste it?”  This is, of course, immediately after extracting the cork on a completely full bottle.  Why do they teach this?  Do they?  Where do waiters learn this? Is this taught in somm-school?  It’s 2023 and I STILL get this constantly.  This statement seems to be quite often THE badge of wine-experience a waiter shows.  “Wine breathing” is literally the ONLY thing they have absorbed about wine in their career and they take great pride in influencing this pro-tip on their subjects.  If your resty has a decanter-program or a price-point for decanter-policy, decant it (or ask).  Otherwise just pour the sample already.

“Who is sampling the wine tonight?”  ONLY acceptable if a somm/manager/stranger brings the actual bottle table-side and the answer should have been cleared up anyway when the bottle was presented.  Holy wow, people:  Do we still need to be going over this?!?!?  I get asked this WAYYYYY too often.

POURING ORDER:  This one seems to be one of the bright points being taught and waiters are absorbing.  This is done properly almost without fail.  I can only think of a couple screw-ups on this in the past half-decade or so.  Congratulations.

ENJOY THE WINE!  There’s only a couple more things:

Don’t constantly fill my glass.  ASK before you pour.  Never ever EVER drain a bottle into ANYONE’S glass at the table.  Do not pick up my glass or allow customers to hold their glass while pouring unless the glass is absolutely impossible to reach in large seatings.  NEVER TOUCH THE RIM OF MY GLASS or grasp bowl.  A gentle bowl *cradle* is acceptable if and ONLY IF it is absolutely necessary to pour two-handed WHICH IS NEVER.  Teach your staff how to pour sparkling wine and Champagne.  Straight into the bottom of the glass sitting on the table.  IT IS NOT BEER.  Oh and no restaurant serious about wine-service should put lemon in their water.  Restaurants who serve by-the-glass with sidecars get massive props. You know who you are and I LOVE YOU.
POP QUIZ: What do you do when you’re not polishing wineglasses? POLISH WINE GLASSES.

A lot of people reading this list will be like, Why are you making wine all difficult and snobby? and to you I say: Great!  MAKE WINE SNOBBY AGAIN.


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