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Top 10 Wine Service No-No's for Restaurant Waitstaff

Thursday, March 18, 2010

This is a guest post from the creator of the Capitol Case Club, a consumer group that combines purchasing power to negotiate case discounts on premium wines.  A recent piece in The Chicago Tribune's "The Stew" blog about Restaurant Wine Ordering No-No's prompted this piece on the flip-side of the equation: No-No's for Waitstaff:

10.  Don't assume everyone under 40 is clueless about wine or that people over that age are automatically wine drinkers.   In fact, don’t look at age at all.  Ask a question like “which varieties do you normally enjoy most?” and most people will reveal their level of wine knowledge or passion in seconds.

9.   Don’t overfill each glass – in fact, generally, fill it no more than 1/3 of the way.  Let the wine breathe and give your customers room to swirl it a bit.   A generous 1/2 glass pour on a wine-by-the-glass is okay, but don’t go so far that the wine seems to be suffocating.  And when people buy a bottle, don’t drop by to “top off” glasses.  It isn’t coffee - let your guests pace their own alcohol consumption.

8.  If you offer premium ($75+) bottles, treat them as such.  Don't pop and pour bottles unless you're certain the wine is ready to drink.  Most restaurant wines are young and most expensive young wines just aren’t enjoyable early without decanting.

7.  Tell your customer what your corkage fee is upfront, and get your manager to waive it if they've spent more than it at your bar already.  You’ll often see that money anyway, but as an addition to your tip.

6.  Never pop and pour a bottle that a customer has brought without first offering to decant.  Ask those who bring bottles if they’d like to speak with the sommelier or wine manager – chances are, the guest will enjoy the interaction.

5.  Don't pretend to know about the wine list if you are only casually familiar - go get someone who does as soon as you're out of your depth.  And then learn what you didn’t know.

4.  Know a bit about the potential pairings based on your menu each evening.  It's not enough to suggest red with meat and white with fish.

3.  Know which wines from the list are out of stock before taking the wine order and certainly do not substitute without first presenting the customer with options.  This isn’t a case of 7-Up vs. Sprite.   Some diners may want to rethink their whole food order if a special wine is no longer available.

2.  Do not serve white wine ice cold!  It has no flavor or aroma when it’s yanked out of a 35 degree refrigerator.   Customers shouldn’t have to wait the 15 minutes after it’s served for it to reach the proper temperature. Regardless of whether the bar is in charge of storage, you are in charge of presentation.

1. Likewise, red wine is NOT to be served at room temperature!  55-60 degrees please, which can be accomplished with 10-15 minutes on ice if you're not already storing the wine at serving temperature.  Room temperature hasn't been 58 degrees since the invention of the radiator.  And the 80+ degree pours that sometimes result from wine kept too close to the kitchen is just totally unacceptable.

You can follow @CapitalCaseClub on Twitter. My thanks for sharing this piece.

Question of the Day: Any restaurant wine service pet peeves you'd like to add?

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