Issues With Restaurant Wine Service

You’re out to dinner, enjoying a bottle of wine with spouse or friends. But your server’s attention becomes a matter of feast or famine—he either doesn’t notice when your glasses are empty, or he excessively and constantly tops them off. Either way, it’s annoying. But, you’re going to drink the wine anyway, right? So, what’s the problem?

Neglecting to re-pour is generally a lesser problem, though you are paying the restaurant for wine service, either by buying a bottle from its wine list, or paying corkage to bring your own, so it’s their responsibility. But at least you can perform the task yourself, assuming the bottle is close at hand.

Over-pouring is generally more irksome. First, many diners who bring their own wine prefer to do the re-pouring. Someone in their party may drink less, or they may want to let the wine breathe in the glass a while. Also, it’s very difficult to swirl and sniff a full glass. You run the risk of sloshing wine on the table or your clothing. Of course, you can sip without swirling, but that’s for glasses of water, not wine. More importantly, with a constantly filled glass, you end up drinking more, and probably at a quicker pace than you’d prefer. Fast drinking can result in over-consumption and a larger dining bill.

So, where does this leave us, and how do you deal with these situations?

After the initial wine service (opening the bottle and giving you a small pour to sniff and taste), allow the server to finish pouring for you and your group. If you wish to take responsibility for the balance of the service, explain by saying, “We’ll take care of pouring our wine for the evening, thank you.” If you want the server to take over, say “Please don’t fill our glasses up very much, thanks.” When you feel the server is not sufficiently attentive, say, “Could you check on our wine from time to time? Thanks.” If your server doesn’t check on you at all, it’s time to talk to the management, and/or reflect this in the gratuity.

In all fairness, you can’t always put full blame on the wait staff. For some inexplicable reason, many restaurants neglect wine service training, leaving staff to interpret it in the same literal sense as “keeping a water glass filled.”

And all restaurants are not created equal. There are different levels of service as well divisions of labor, both of which impact the experience. For instance, if the restaurant employs a wine steward (someone dedicated entirely to wine service), you’re unlikely to encounter these problems. But being prepared to discuss the issues with your server at the outset goes a long way in improving not just your wine service, but your overall dining experience.

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