HOW TO ORDER WINE WITHOUT LOOKING LIKE AN ASSHOLE

I’m not a wine guy. I like whisky and beer. But I appreciate the artistry that goes into making wine and I respect people who have a good grasp of Oenology. However, since most people are dopes when it comes to ordering wine, I’ve assembled a list of tips to help you not look like a putz. It’s not an exhaustive list. (It’s not a knowledgeable list for that matter either. I’m sure the wine snobs are going to rip it apart.) It’s just a list of observations I’ve made over the years.

HOW TO ORDER WINE WITHOUT LOOKING LIKE AN ASSHOLE

1. Look at the wine list before asking, “What kind of wines do you serve by the glass?” The list at my bistro’s extensive. If I’ve got to rattle off all the wines, you’re wasting my time. Forgot your reading glasses? I’ll lend you mine.

2. Don’t ask, “What’s cheap?”

3. We love selling glasses of wine! The restaurant makes more money per bottle that way! Pssst! It’s usually cheaper to buy the bottle.

4. No, you can’t taste every wine on the list before deciding on something.

5. Read the wine list. Note the prices!

6. Remember the mark up – Most establishments mark up the price of a bottle from 1 ½ to 5 times the wholesale price. (At my bistro the markup’s pretty low.) Since you’re paying so much I recommend getting something you can’t get at the gas station or Stew Leonard’s. But that’s just me.

7. If you can’t pronounce the name of the wine, don’t. Just tell me the number. It’s like ordering in a Chinese restaurant. And don’t get all self conscious that “Brunello Montalcino di Biondi Santi” rolls off my tongue with the greatest of ease. I’ve had plenty of practice. You haven’t.

8. When the waiter presents the bottle LOOK AT THE LABEL! Sometimes waiters make mistakes. My bistro has several wines of differing vintages from the same maker. Sometimes a ’97 is a shitload more expensive than an ‘01! You drink it you buy it. Caveat emptor pal.

9. DO NOT SMELL THE CORK! – When I see someone do this I know I’m dealing with a complete amateur. Guess what you’re gonna smell? Cork! You want to feel the cork to make sure it’s intact. Is the bottom of the cork moistened with wine? Good. That means it was stored properly. Make sure the name on the cork matches the name on the bottle. Sometimes unscrupulous bastards put cheap wine in old wine bottles and re-cork them! Is there mold on the cork? That’s a bad sign. But smelling the cork, in the vast majority of cases, tells you nothing. (Full disclosure – I used to smell the cork before I was a waiter.)

10. DON’T SMELL THE PLASTIC CORK EITHER!- I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people do this. Lots of wine makers are moving away from natural cork to synthetics. Sniffing a plastic cork tells the world you’re a moron. Don’t smell the bottle cap either. (I never smelled the plastic cork before I was a waiter, so there!)

11. Swirl the wine – Now I pour some wine into a glass for you to taste. Most customers swirl the wine around in the glass to oxygenate or “open it up.” That’s fine. But SWIRL the wine! Don’t spin it like you’re trying to separate U-235 in a centrifuge machine! You’ve all seen these “connoisseurs.” They put the base of the glass on the table top and get a really good rotation going. Then they stop, smell, spin it again, stop, smell, spin, stop, smell, spin etc. After a few minutes they finally taste it and I have several new grey hairs. Maybe I can see that for 1975 Bordeaux. But for a $25 bottle you can pick up in the grocery store for $6? Please. You’re showing off.

12. Taste the wine – Now you take a sip. If the wine tastes like vinegar or smells like moldy cheese it’s bad.

13. Sending the wine back – If the wine’s bad send it back! It’s no skin off our nose. Usually we get a credit from the distributor. In most cases, however, people refuse a perfectly good bottle of wine just because they don’t like it. Whose problem is that? Mine? I don’t think so.

14. After you’ve tasted the wine and decided its acceptable say, “That’s fine,” or “Thank you.” That means you’ve accepted the bottle and will pay for it. Don’t wave, grunt, or nod. Tell me verbally you’re accepting the wine. This is a business transaction. Show some manners.

15. The Big Glasses – At my bistro we have very serviceable red and white wine glasses. However, some yuppies have a wine glass fetish and insist on sipping $6 Chianti out of a $50 Riedel balloon glass. Stop whining. The big glasses are for people who order older expensive wines that need to breathe. People who drink cheap wine out of the “big glasses” usually want the neighboring tables to think they’re drinking something pricey when they aren’t. Hey, Greeks and Italian’s drink wine out of water glasses. Get over it.

16. Finishing the bottle – Most people finish a bottle of wine because they enjoy it. But some people finish it because they think they can’t take it home. In the State of New York you take an open bottle home as long as the restaurant places it in a special sealed bag with a receipt. That way, if the cops pull you over, they know you’ve been drinking but not in the car! Good luck!

17. Know your limits – Wine is still booze! It can fuck you up just like tequila and usually faster. Pace yourself.

18. Cheap wine doesn’t mean its bad and expensive wine doesn’t mean it’s good. But expensive wine is usually expensive because it’s good and in demand. Simple economics folks.

19. If there’s cork in the wine that doesn’t mean the wine’s bad.

20. If there’s sediment at the bottom of the glass that doesn’t mean the wine’s bad.

21. Control your intake – My advice is to pour your own wine. That way you can control your intake and spending. Some waiters try and pour out the bottle before you’re done buttering your dinner rolls. They’re trying to make you buy another bottle! I hate that shit and don’t do it to my customers. When I go out, unless I know the waiter’s not a con artist, I pour my own wine.

22. Often the customer knows more about wine than the waiter does. (But sommeliers usually know more about wine than anybody.) Don’t try and embarrass the waiter by asking him whether the soil in a particular vineyard’s chalky or clay. We don’t know. But if you’re showing off in order to make me look bad – I have ways of exacting vengeance.

23.Tipping on wine. That’s always a tricky question. Here’s an example. I had a guy order a $500 bottle of Barolo and $100 in food. He left me $50 bucks. That’s fair. But I once had a guy order the same thing and leave me $200. Guess who I like better?

24. If you bring your own wine into a restaurant that has a liquor license you’re gonna pay a corking charge. Deal with it. We already let people carry in Starbucks coffee and breast feed their babies at the table. Next thing you know they’ll want to bring their own food.

25. Merlot is a perfectly good wine. Don’t believe all that “Sideways” crap. God I hate that movie!

26. Its wine, not the Blood of Christ. Don’t worship it. Enjoy it.

If you have anything to add to this list please feel free to email me or leave a comment. Maybe I’ll add it to the list.

Now I’m gonna get myself a beer.


Comments

HOW TO ORDER WINE WITHOUT LOOKING LIKE AN ASSHOLE — 48 Comments

  1. “We already let people carry in Starbucks coffee and breast feed their babies at the table.”

    I understand about the coffee, but breastfeeding? What’s the alternative? Do you have breastmilk on the menu?

  2. Pingback: How To Order Wine Without Looking Like An Asshole « My World

  3. LOL! you wont’ believe what happened yesterday!!! we stopped carrying fruit for breakfast because people almost never ordered it. We have a BIG sign at the door asking customers not to bring food into the restaurant (duh!)

    So a four top table asks me if we have fruit. I tell her we don’t but we have several other breakfast alternatives. She picks one, and orders an extra plate. She then goes out and returns with a box of diced fruit with yogurt. One of my waiters politely tells her that we have a policy about food… we do not allow food from outside. She then looks shocked and says “but you do NOT sell fruit!” No, we dont. and she continues eating her fruit. The waiter comes again with the rest of their order and reminds her, she goes all Carrie on him and -get this- YELLS at the waiter -”LEAVE ME ALONE! I DON’T WANT TO EAT ANYMORE! TAKE THIS AWAY!”

    No, we do not sell seafood, we do not sell tacos, but you are out of your F*mind if you think I am letting you bring any of those to my restaurant, either!

  4. Pingback: Living in the Gray » Blog Archive » Another home run

  5. Amen Bre!! I like this blog, but wtf was the breastfeeding comment about?? Should nursing mothers not go out to eat?? Or maybe we should have our little ones dine in the same room where patrons sh*t? Bad form Waiter!

  6. Um

    Has anyone else noticed that living in the gray is just trying to leech off this site for hits, or is it just me.
    Of course perhaps i missed the bit about Waiter ranting over abortion in his above wine stuff, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t.

    /boggle

  7. About the Sideway/Merlot thing. I think this was actually just a joke. The main character’s bottle that he’s been saving for a special occasion was a 60′s Cheval Blanc which is 40% Merlot!

  8. Breast feed at the mall, the park, bus or McDonalds but have some class and don’t do it at restaurant where people are trying to enjoy a fine meal. Get over yourself. Rules and laws are for people who don’t have basic common sense.

  9. Sometimes a ’97 is a shitload more expensive than an ‘01! You drink it you buy it. Caveat emptor pal.

    The rest of your advice is great, but this one is flat wrong. If we both fail to notice that you brought me the ’97, well sucks to be you.

    First thing, if I agree to pay this, I set myself up to be scammed by unscrupulous waiters purposefully bringing me the (slightly) wrong bottle to jack up the tab. No.

    Secondly, I might not pay huge attention to the wine. I might well pick a region and a price, and then I give you the bin number. If you give me the ‘gran reserva’ instead of the ‘reserva’, or the 1998 instead of the 2001, and neither of us notice, that’s your problem, not mine.

    If management stands by your short-sighted decision, it’d be a small, stupid and ultimately pyrrhic victory for you.

  10. I love all your posts, but this one is a favorite based on my experience as a waitress. I’d also like to add:

    #21-If you’d like to pour your own wine, great, but let the waitress know at the beginning of dinner. At most restaurants I’ve worked at it was considered bad service for the waitress not to pour the wine for the customer–I had an Italian owner who would shit a brick whenever he saw this and take it out on the whole staff. If you tell the waitress you’ll be pouring yourself, she can relay that to the manager/owner when he asks about it. In addition, if you don’t let us know you’ll be pouring yourself, WE DON’T KNOW YOU’LL BE POURING YOURSELF!!! Don’t freak out at me for trying to refresh your damn glass of wine, asshole!

    I also have to disagree with #22, somewhat. Working in San Francisco, I constantly had Napa Valley tourists coming in. These idiots maybe read a book in preparation for their trip, visited a few wineries, and then come and act like total douchbag wine snobs.

    I’d much rather work with a non-douchebag to select a decent bottle in their price range, than get an extra $10 on my tip by upselling some douchy, pretentious, “foodie” asshole who thinks they really know something about wine.

  11. Enough with the breastfeeding. Go to the bathroom, leave the baby with a sitter and bottles, come up with something – IT IS NOT APPETIZING for anyone, especially the table next to you.

  12. It is NOT disgusting for a baby to eat in the same room that others are eating. I wouldn’t ask any of you non-breastfeed at the table people to eat in the bathroom.

  13. Jeezum – I thought breastfeeding was the purpose of breasts – not to be toys. (Althought I do enjoy them.) Most restaurant breastfeeders are quite discreet, and after all – it is a place to eat!

  14. Here in america breasts are condidered sexual organs first, baby feeders second. most resteraunts i’ve worked in have a policy of No shirt no service this is directed towards men but it applies. Use the restroom, this is why womens restrooms are usually plusher than mens. I mean its kind of uncomfortable for the waiter and other patrons. I’m sorry if your hippie earth goddess barefoot and pregnant self can’t realize that your choices might make other people uncomfortable consider how much i might not think it is socially unacceptable to drop f-bombs around your children when they are ten. use the ladies lounge please.

  15. I’d bet that 99% of women who breastfeed are NOT “hippie earth goddess barefoot” selves and actually well-read women who know breastfeeding is obviously the best choice for their infants.
    Maybe, if American’s would grow up and realize it’s not GROSS to feed your baby. And, honestly, feeding my baby in the bathroom doesn’t bother me that much because of comfort/germs (they are plusher often times), it bothers me because I have to be socially isolated to feed my infant and not enjoy a nice meal like everyone else. Especially when I’m totally covered. I’m sorry that the “THOUGHT” of breastfeeding makes you uncomfortable! Good lord, people, breastfeeding a baby takes 20-30 minutes! Should I spend all that time in the bathroom while the rest of my party enjoys a meal? Seriously, they are just boobs and they are covered up. I bet Europeans are not having this discussion…

  16. I like when people tell me about their great wine selection at home then order the cheapest on the list. I don’t mind selling a bottle of cheap wine. It’s better than selling iced tea that I have to refill a million times. Seriously, do people go through that much tea at home. Why is it that when people go out do they drink 10 glasses of tea?
    I don’t mind the breastfeeding. Keeps the kid quiet.

  17. No one wants a fussy infant at the table next to them when they are throwing down cash for dinner. McDonald’s, Chevy’s? Fine, bring the kid. Elsewhere…please no! It’s one of the sacrifices you made when you decided to procreate…no meals out again unless you have a baby sitter or the child knows how to sit at a table without squealing loudly. Sorry folks. Don’t worry- the unconditional love you will get from your child will far outweigh the fact that you are delegated to restaurants with plastic banquettes from here on out.

  18. Good advice but I have to quibble a bit about how much you keep expecting to be tipped. Now, if someone spends 500 bucks on food, fair game they should leave you a decent tip cause that involved a lot of taking orders, fetching, carrying and schmoozing. But if they order a 500 dollar bottle of wine, and all you have to do is open it and bring a couple of glasses – where on earth do you get off expecting that that’s worth 100 dollars (or, as you imply, even more) of your labour?

    In fact, judging by your posts overall, you seem to rake in huge amounts of cash in tips. Now, I know the base rate isn’t enough for a pigeon to live on, but the expectation that people fork out big bucks to you regardless of how much work you have had to do is sort of irksome.

    • I agree. Also, tipping the same %10-20 on a meal does not include the discounted or coupon price. You need to tip more when there’s a special deal or you’re using a coupon/Groupon.

  19. Thea, learn to read. He said a $50 tip on $100 of food and $500 of wine was fair, he just said he liked the $200 tip better. Can you blame him? If you perform a service for two people and one tips better, they are the favored customer, that’s how life works. He did not anywhere say someone was obligated to tip that much to be a reasonable customer.

  20. The best one I had when working behind the bar at a luxury hotel was a woman, who came up the bar halfway through a staff night out and demanded that we gave her a different type of wine because the pinot gricio we had sold to her was horrible. Bearing in mind that by this point in the evening she was half-cut, and the ‘horrible bottle of wine’ in her hand was three-quarters empty…

    She didn’t get her new bottle. Oh well.

  21. I’m pregnant, and planning on breastfeeding, and in my not yet tired and used to it mom mentality, breastfeeding in public is weird. It’s not that it’s gross or unatural, it’s just indecent exposure. Seven year old girl pulled up her shirt while painting in my studio the other day and put her baby doll to her chest, the mom who was currently breastfeeding her infant gave the evil eye to any patron who happened to glance over to see she was freaking out at her child and yelling at her to put her shirt on.

    Use some common sense, wouldn’t it be better to feed the baby before going out to eat? No ones saying you should be banished to the bathroom, for the entire meal, just use your time management skills

    I will post in a few months and let you know if my opinion changes

  22. Sorry, I think you’re in the wrong classroom. This is the “How to order wine…” class. “Modern Breastfeeding” is across the hall.

  23. Вот вы – опытный человек. Подскажите, пожалуйста, как можно заработать немножко денег летом? Вот сейчас стараюсь раскрутить сайт. Но он приносит сущие копейки =( Помогите, пожалуйста :) Ах да – мне 16 .

  24. I take issue with #15, The Big Glasses. Even inexpensive wine tastes better out of a large glass. Large, not fancy. Large water glasses are fine. Pint jars are fine. Dinky 6 ounce wine glasses filled to the brim suck.

    We pay at least twice as much for wine in a restaurant as we would pay in a bottle shop. This is usually justified based on “service.” So pop 3 bucks for a serviceable 20oz glass ferchrissake.

    Note to restauranteurs: I am neither a snob, nor a show-off, and wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur, yet I occassionally spring for a for a fairly nice bottle of wine with dinner. But if I see dinky glasses in the front, I assume there’s a good chance the wine is stored behind the furnace or on a windowsill in back, and I’ll have a beer instead.

  25. Regarding breastfeeding – no, I will not feed my infant in a place where people poop, and I will not take him to the car that’s probably parked 4 blocks away. So I can either feed him or he can scream. Which would you like?

  26. I love how some of these commenters villifying people who don’t want to see them whip out a boob forget that we live in the age of technology, and something as simple as a breast pump would allow them to feed their kid while not giving strangers a peep show.

    As a woman, I vow to never use my baby as an excuse to expose myself in public.lol.

  27. i agree with the big glasses rule! though i hate when wine is served in those crappy tiny glasses, where i worked had great universals. they were 22oz! but still, people wanted to drink out of the very pricey glassware, which was limited in quantity. so sometimes (and yes, we shouldve had more, but you know how some restaurant owners are with buying glassware) the $25 cab would be drinking from crystals and the $200 would be stuck with universals.
    you get what you pay for!
    oh, and how about, “DONT SEND BACK WINE BECAUSE IT HAS A SCREW TOP. GET OVER YOURSELF AND YOUR PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS ABOUT CORKS!”

  28. Awesome article. I really enjoyed it. As a self proclaimed professional asshole, i wish you had Douche bag but that’s here nor there. I was wondering if i could use this on my Blog with full credit provided to you of course.

  29. I recently came upon your blog site and have been reading along. I assumed I would depart my first remark. I do not know what to say except that We’ve enjoyed reading.Wonderful website,I’ll keep browsing this blog quite generally.

  30. Great list. Since my experience is primarily in the mid west at a casual fine dining restauant, I’m always amused by some patrons who eagerly relay to me their recent trip to napa which imbued them with fresh wine tasting skills. But that’s where i generally stop. Amusement. Becaue i can empathize with the excitement of learning something knew and wanting to share my new knowledge. As long as they’re not jerks about it.

    Truly, however, my favorite is when a guest gets snobby about their white zin. “I’ll have beringers white zinfandale. You do have beringers, right?” “No ma’am. We only carry copperridge white zinfandale.” “Well I only drink beringers. What else do you have that’s sweet?” Love it. ;)

  31. I’m gonna add this post to my list of reasons why rich people suck. You make almost as much off one fat wealthy customer than I make in a week? Do me a favor and STFU; you have nothing to complain about.

  32. Wow, you would think dining in the bistro you work at is all about you. What do you care if someone wants to smell the cork or thinks asking about the soil might impress his date? And then you have the nerve to include “I like higher tips” in this list? You want to earn your tips? Let the paying customers do what they want and smile through it, and don’t “take revenge”. Or better yet, get a different job.

  33. I guess I was out of the loop – just discovered this blog, and it’s great. It takes me back to my former life as a server/bartender.

    Thank you for the comment about merlot and Sideways! I secretly roll my eyes whenever I’m out with people and they snicker about merlot. You’re not clever, you’re a douche.

    And to the commenters who think breastfeeding at a restaurant is disgusting – wow, I feel sorry for you. You must have a giant stick up your ass.

  34. Idea, why don’t restaurants have tabled areas specifically for breastfeeding mothers and families with children. That way baby eats with its parents and everyone else is happy too.

    (Admittedly I find it sad people can’t handle breastfeeding and I don’t think it’s the mothers that have to change, I think people need to grow up. I mean for me, I can’t handle kids, they make me nervous, but even I know who’s got the right of way in this situation.)

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