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Dining Out: Wine Service Pet Peeves

"All four elements were happening in equal measure - the cuisine, the wine, the service, and the overall ambiance. It taught me that dining could happen at a spiritual level.” ~ Charlie Trotter

We've all most likely experienced what I call the "little-dance" known to others as ordering a bottle of wine. We have all seen it from one vantage point or the other. The wait-staff or in some cases the Sommelier standing table-side, the ritual of ordering, presenting the bottle, opening it, the first pour, sniffing, swirling and finally the first slurp; and they waiting for that knowing nod of approval or in the few rare cases, a head-shake of disapproval.

Often it's this little-dance between the customer and the service staff which can inadvertently give some folks a bit of angst in the process and it's precisely that angst-factor, many folks would like to avoid. Dining-out is like a mini-vacation; a chance to away from the hum-drum of everyday life. So when the average, garden variety dining-patron encounters obstacles ordering a bottle of wine, leaving many think why bother. For some this precisely why some would rather avoid the whole ritual all together. They tend to opt-out; by simply ordering a cocktail or in some cases asking for a can of soda or two, with a straw [I actually saw this one recently].

It has been said, "that you only have one chance to make a good impression" and often the first one, will be the last. I’ve long said and often repeated to as many folks as who will listen; "that many eating establishments or other related businesses need to do more, much more, to make this process more friendly". Because if restaurant's [sit-down dine and wine] collectively expect to capture a larger share of the market and turn more of their patrons into the "repeat"  or the "regular" customer, then they may want to streamline the process.

I recently took a poll or a mini-survey on my Facebook page to see if wine-service issues were the "HOT" button issue I imagined them to be. Oh boy did I ever get a boat-load of comments, far more than any other topic I've brought up to date.

As a result of the poll I took, I received some interesting suggestions on how restaurant's can improve the customer experience. So below are some the answers I got to the question I posed: "I want to know what are the "top wine-service pet-peeves". Some of answers needed to be edited; if you have some of your own please don't hold back, just let it all out here and now, you'll feel better, I promise.

1. Customer Service: The lack of customer service is the number one complaint. Folks wanted to be treated like a welcomed guest and not an interloper, who has come to spoil their day.

2. Stemware: It's amazing how many restaurants with $30 and above entrees or bottles of wine averaging over $40; who don't offer appropriate stemware. The thick libby-style wine glasses, while being great for the dishwasher, it's not the best vessel for enjoying a quality bottle of wine. Secondly, if it is your policy to only give "nicer-stems" to folks who order a bottle; umm could you please stop doing that, it's just bad form.

3. Not Wine Savvy: Servers who know nothing about wine, wow this one issue really "bugged" many of the poll takers. I mean c'mon you're running a restaurant with a decent wine-list and if you expect “return” customers, then it would behoove you to train your staff to be wine savvy. In some cases a distributor could be convinced to help with this issue, with little or no cost.

4. Italian restaurants: This issue surprises me every time, a so-called Italian restaurant with NO Italian wines on menu - just Merlot and Chardonnay. Howard Hewitt ~ "yes, I've had that experience more than once" Italian restaurants with no Italian wine, it's just a shame.

5. Inconsistent pours: This issue is ripe for creating distrust and dissatisfaction with customers and may lead to needless confrontations between customers and the wait-staff. I've personally experienced this on more than one occasion and I don’t complain, but of course I won't be back either.

6. Restaurant mark up: Most folks don't mind paying reasonable mark-ups, but paying three times the retail price, well that’s beyond the pale in terms of respect to the customer. The average wine-drinker has a fair idea what the retail prices on those wines and seeing a big mark-up is a real turn-off. This issue alone has inspired many folks to start BYOB and skip being taken over the coals with ridiculous mark-ups.

7. Pouring: Pouring more wine into the glass before asking, uhh no, please stop. I could be the driver, I could want something else, or maybe I just think that last sip in the glass is the best because it really had time to aerate....none the less...don't just...sneak behind me and pour me more wine.

8. Bottle Purchase: I think we have all seen this before; pouring too much wine in the glass is a serious faux pas with many vino-sapiens. The Traveling Grape had this to say "PLUS I HATE-HATE-HATE when purchasing a bottle, that I get this big ass pour in my glass, so much so I can't swirl and let the wine breath, just offer a decanter instead."

9. Champagne: Bubbly served by the glass, huh? If you're a restaurant is doing this please stop. It is recommended that you should just order splits, it's better for the customer and for the reputation of the restaurant.

10. Wine List: Nothing is more frustrating than the out-dated wine list; and then getting the shoulder shrug of "oh sorry sir or ma'am, we no longer offer that vintage" or "oh-sorry, that wine is sold out".

11. Corkage Fees: Encountering unreasonable corkage; wow this one can be quite irritating, which will most likely mean, I won't be back. In my opinion, charging more than $20 is highway robbery. If the fee is waived with a bottle purchase from the menu, that is a sign of smart thinking and good customer service.

12. Proper Storage: Nothing is more frustrating than finding nice collection of wines, which are not stored properly; most vino-sapiens don't like to drink warm [talking above 70 degrees] red wine.

13. Ice Buckets: If you offer Champagne by the bottle, you should have ice-buckets and the customer should never have to ask for it.
14. Wine Flights: This may sound like an odd one, but I've experienced this situation more once, the same wine is served in each glass, because they think most folks can't tell the difference.

15. Decanting: I think the best policy for decanting a clients wine, which they brought in, is to make sure, it's done table-side and to leave the bottle on the table.

16. Thank You: There seems to be a lack of politeness in the service industries today, thanking the customer is paramount in delivering good customer service and this point cannot be overstated enough.

Most of the time my dining out experiences are fantastic, but every now and then you go to a place that either doesn't get it or they just don't care if you ever come back. If you could think of any other Wine Service Pet Peeves; which I didn't cover please feel free to leave a comment and I will get them posted as soon as possible. Check out this video from Wine Speculator, where a few Sommeliers, share their thoughts on what Wine Service should look like. It's short but insightful segment, good stuff. Until next time, sip long and prosper my friends, cheers!


Michaela said…
Totally disagree with your comment on champagne by-the-glass. Give it to me from a real bottle, show me the wine being poured, and make sure your staff is trained to sell it once the bottle is opened (although properly stoppered it should be fine the next day). Splits (quarter bottles) have a huge carbon footprint and age way too fast; quality is often chancy.
Bill Eyer said…
Hi Michaela,

Perhaps, I didn't state the opinion about the issue with Champagne by-the-glass correctly. I agree with you I rather have the full 750ml bottle myself, in the restaurant environment.

What is not desired is to have a 750ml used to serve Champagne by-the-glass; over a number of days. Thus choosing to have “splits” available is actually much better for the consumer, desiring to have a great Champagne experience.

The concern over the carbon footprint of a “split” is relatively negligible. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment, cheers!

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