Customers that order wine, whether or not they are educated wine aficionados, usually appreciate professional wine service from their bartender or server. Casual restaurants may not focus on this aspect of service as much, but any restaurant environment can benefit from improved wine service. It makes a statement, demonstrating to the guest that the servers know what they are doing, are knowledgeable about what they are serving, and know how to care for the customer in the appropriate manner. In upscale restaurants especially, guests will recognize when they receive wine service with sophistication and grace, and that makes all the difference.
Taking the Wine Order
Many diners rely on their servers to suggest a wine they would enjoy. When the guest has a good experience, the guest tips well, the server is happy, and the restaurant is successful. When taking the wine order, be prepared; have an understanding about the wine your restaurant offers, how it pairs with the entrées, and what you can do to assist guests in their decisions.
Be knowledgeable about the wine list. Restaurant servers are obliged to have a basic knowledge of the restaurant’s menu. If the restaurant has a wine list, it is even more important that the server understand the wine on the list and be prepared to discuss it with guests. People often want their server to provide direction, and a server is doing a disservice to their guest if he or she cannot provide insight to the wine list.
Help guests decide on a bottle of wine. When assisting a guest in a decision, ask about what wine they have enjoyed in the past. If a guest has a memory of a wine they enjoyed in the past, it makes it easier for the server to suggest something similar. Conversely, if there is a wine they remember disliking, this can also assist the server in helping select something the guest is more likely to enjoy. Another technique is to ask about what the guest wants to order for dinner. Basic wine pairing etiquette suggests pairing chicken, fish and pasta dishes with white wines, while red meats, duck and tomato-based dishes often taste great with a red wine. These provide guidelines, although an experienced server will tell you that the best wine pairing is the one the customer enjoys the most. The important thing is to open the dialogue. The server should never make a negative remark on the guest’s selection, his or her pronunciation, or anything else that could suggest a lack of wine knowledge. In the end, a happy and satisfied customer means results in increased gratuity, and hopefully repeat business. >> Learn more about wine pairing
Provide a sample. When a customer is unsure what to order, but only wants a glass, he or she may ask for a sample of the wine. If the bar has a bottle of the wine already opened, they might pour a small taste in a wine glass for the guest to try before ordering a full glass, or even a bottle—although this is less common. The more common technique is for the server to help the guest decide on something they are sure to enjoy rather than risk losing the sale on a glass or a bottle.
Determine if the wine should be decanted. Decanting is the process of pouring a bottle of wine into a glass wine decanter before serving it to guests. Decanting may benefit the wine by allowing the flavors to open up before it is served, and can also reduce the amount of sediment that could transfer from a bottle to a glass. Decanting essentially increases the surface area of the wine that is exposed to oxygen, which can improve the bouquet, or the overall aroma of the wine. At a fine dining restaurant, older red wines are almost always decanted, due to sediment that may have formed over time. However, younger reds and whites can benefit from decanting too, helping to reveal additional aromas and flavors. A guest may even request that a wine be decanted, so if the restaurant has the freedom and ability to offer all guests the choice, it is best to offer it. Decanting is done in the back of the house and out of site of guests. To decant a wine, be sure the bottle has had time to rest in an upright position so any sediment can settle. Gently open the bottle, then pour the wine slowly down the side into the decanter.
Presenting Wine to Guests
Presentation is important in many aspects of the restaurant and beverage industry, but especially important when it comes to serving bottles of wine. When a customer orders a bottle, there are certain steps to follow that offer the guest the best of service, attention to detail and overall experience. In general, handle the wine bottle with care, as shaking it could agitate any sediment in the bottle, and approach the service professionally. Be sure all the guests who will be partaking have wine glasses at their table settings.
Show the bottle to the guest who ordered it. It does not matter if the guest who ordered the wine is an experienced patriarch or a 21-year-old woman. When bringing the wine to the table, show it to the person who ordered it, who will be the initial taster. If a man and woman are dining together, and the woman orders the wine, it is considered insulting to the woman if the server immediately presents the wine to the man. If a group at one table collectively negotiates the type of wine they would like, it is appropriate to ask the table which of them would like to taste the wine when you return to the table with the bottle. Be sure to hold the bottle so that the guest can verify the label and communicate their approval.
Open the wine at the table. Before opening the wine, be sure each person who will partake has a wine glass at their table setting. When opening, hold the bottle in one hand and the corkscrew in the other hand. Use a waiter’s corkscrew—also called a wine-key—or t-shaped corkscrew to open the bottle. If available, use the foil knife on the corkscrew to remove the foil from the mouth of the bottle, and place it in your apron or pants pocket—never on the tablecloth. Wipe the mouth of the bottle with a clean napkin to remove any dust. Insert the spiral of the corkscrew into the cork. If using a waiter’s corkscrew, secure the arm on the lip of the bottle to provide leverage. If using a t-shape corkscrew, removal will require a bit more force. Pull the cork out quickly, but try for as soundless a removal as possible.
Offer the cork to the taster. After opening the wine, twist the cork off the corkscrew and place to the right of the person tasting the wine, wet-end toward the guest. The guest may want to feel the cork to ensure that it feels moist; a dry cork may signal a spoiled wine. Other guests choose to smell the cork. Even if the cork is made of rubber, or if it is simply a screw-cap, the server should still place it to the right of the guest and continue service.
Pouring Wine at the Table
The moment of truth really comes when the server pours the wine, and the guest tastes it for the first time. The guest will no doubt pay attention while the wine is poured, and will be eager to try a taste. The server should be skilled pouring wine gracefully and without drips.
Hold the bottle properly. If serving a white wine, wrap the bottle in a clean, white linen napkin to keep the bottle chilled against the warmth of your hand. Some servers prefer to hold the bottle at the base, and others hold it closer to the neck.
Pour a small amount for the taster first. The initial pour is always for the person tasting the wine. Sparkling wines should be poured slowly against the inside of a wine glass, while still wine can be poured into the center of the glass. Pour enough to fill about one half inch up from the bottom of the glass. Be ready with a clean napkin or other linen to wipe the mouth of the bottle in case of drips. Roll the bottle slightly when finishing the pour to minimize dripping. Be sure that the bottle does not touch the wine glass. Once the sample of wine is poured, it is proper to allow the guest time to swirl the wine, view it in the glass, smell it, and finally taste it, before deciding to accept it.
Pour the wine for other guests. Once accepted, move immediately to the other guests at the table. Some operations suggest servers simply move around the table clockwise, while others insist that women should be served first, starting with the eldest lady and ending with the youngest. Follow with the men at the table, and finish with the person who ordered the wine. The pour size will depend on how many guests are seated at the table, but the server should aim to fill each glass no more than half full.
Place the bottle on the table. If the wine is a white wine, ask the guests if they would prefer the wine be left on the table. If so, be sure to keep it in a wine bucket with ice to maintain the chilled temperature. Red wines can typically be kept right on the table.
Wine service is often looked upon as one of the more important serving techniques in the industry. Especially in a fine dining establishment, servers should be well versed in the etiquette of discussing, presenting and pouring wine. Many guests perceive the wine service to have equal if not greater importance than that of the food. Delivering polished, elegant service when it comes to wine helps leave guests with a positive impression regarding the restaurant as a whole.
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