Wine lovers, aficionados, and sommeliers can tell you that wine service is an art, and vitally important to the overall experience of enjoying fine wine at a restaurant. From the selection process all the way through pouring wine and practicing proper etiquette, there are certain things that the patrons at your restaurant have come to expect, so it's important to train your staff to do everything the right way.
Helping Guests Choose a Wine
Proper wine service starts with a well-balanced, diverse wine list, but that service is primarily carried out by your wait staff or bartender. It’s important for your staff to know a great deal about wines—particularly the ones on your wine list—so that they can help your guests select the right wine for any occasion, whether that be finding the perfect white wine to pair with fresh seafood or choosing a particularly special wine for celebrating an anniversary.
Server tips for providing better suggestions:
- Find out what brought your guests to your restaurant. You might find out that they are celebrating something, in which case, you can start your recommendations at a higher price point. For first-time guests, it might be a good idea to talk about a wider array of options to help familiarize your new customers with what you have to offer.
- Try to gauge your guests’ wine knowledge before you start making recommendations. If you find that your guest is something of a wine expert, you can speak more conversationally about the wines, as there will be less explaining to do. Conversely, you must be ready to go over the basics with someone who knows little or nothing about wine.
- Find out what kinds of wine your guests prefer or have enjoyed in the past. Knowing what kinds of wine your guests like can give you a starting point. Knowing that your guest enjoys sweeter red wines, for example, can narrow your focus considerably and help you to streamline your service.
Once you've helped your guest select the perfect wine, the focus shifts to serving and etiquette. When it comes to wine presentation, there are a few practices and traditions that your guests will have come to expect. First and foremost, however, it's important for your staff to understand how to properly pour wine.
How to Pour Wine
When pouring wine, wrap the bottle in a clean linen napkin to protect it from the warmth of your hands. This isn't essential for serving red wines that aren't as cold, but your guests will probably appreciate the extra effort you're putting forth to ensure perfect conditions for their wine. Waiter's gloves can serve the same purpose while also projecting professionalism.
With the bottle wrapped up for temperature control, it's time to make the first pour for the person who will taste the wine for approval. Pour so that the glass is filled only about half an inch, just enough for your guest to know if it's acceptable. Once tasted and approved, pour each glass about half-full or a little less than half-full. This can vary depending on the number of servings.
Some wines need to be poured slightly differently. For example, a sparkling wine should be poured along the inside wall of the glass rather than directly into the center. However, one mark of an experienced server that applies to all wines is minimal dripping. To prevent extra drips and spills, turn the bottle with a slight twisting motion at the end of each pour. You can use the clean linen napkin to dry the mouth of the bottle if some wine does spill.
Wine Presentation Etiquette
It's important for your staff to be aware of the etiquette associated with different types wine service. For example, does a bottle of wine need to be decanted? Are multiple guests partaking of a bottle? Or, perhaps your guest only ordered a glass of wine with dinner.
This is the process of pouring a bottle of wine into a decorative decanter before serving in order to separate any sediment that has formed (primarily in older reds) and to aerate the wine, which can help give the wine a boost in flavor and aroma. This process is typically saved for red wines that have been stored for more than five to ten years, but some guests might specially request that their wine be decanted. Start by making sure you have everything you need:
The flashlight or candle is used to help you see the sediment in the bottle so that you don't dump it in with the wine by mistake. By pouring slowly and carefully, keeping the light under the neck, you should be able to tell when it's time to stop when the sediment reaches the top of the neck. Remember to pour slowly and continuously until all that remains in the bottle is the unwanted sediment. Discard the remaining residue and serve.
The aeration process is not an exact science. The type of wine and the preferences of your guests are just two determining factors in how long you should let a wine sit out uncovered. Generally speaking, play it safe and try not to let wines decant for more than half an hour to an hour at the maximum before serving. You can also conduct your own research or have your sommelier experiment with how long to decant different types of wine.
Wine for the the whole table (Bottle)
Let's say a party of four wishes to share a bottle of wine. Unlike decanting, where the bottle is opened and poured away from the table, your wait staff will need to be able to professionally open and serve the wine right at the table in front of the guests.
- Start by showing the wine to the person who ordered it, no matter who is paying the bill. Do not open the bottle until you get confirmation that the wine is, in fact, what your guest wants, and that everyone who is partaking has a glass. It's poor etiquette to retreat to the kitchen for another glass after you've already poured wine for the rest of the table.
- When opening a bottle of wine at the table, make sure you have the right tool. A waiter's corkscrew with a foil cutter built in is ideal. Remove the cork with purpose and control, keeping movement to a minimum. Then present the cork to the guest who selected the wine by placing it on the table. Some guests feel the cork to make sure it's not dried out, while others will smell the cork to take in its distinct aroma or examine the color of the cork to ensure that the bottle has been stored properly on its side.
- Allow the person who ordered the wine to taste it for approval. Once approved, begin pouring for the rest of the table. A common practice is to serve the women at the table first, going from eldest to youngest, and then serving the men the same way.
- If your guests agree to it, you can keep white wine on the table as long as it's sitting in a wine bucket with ice. Red wines are typically fine to leave on the table as is, but always check with your guests to make sure.
A glass of wine with dinner
What if a guest merely wants a single glass of wine with dinner? This patron is not interested in buying the entire bottle, so it's perfectly acceptable to put the bottle back into storage after serving. Remember that it's always good etiquette to show the bottle to your guests, even if they only order a glass. This just allows your guests verify that they are drinking what they ordered.
Providing excellent wine presentation at your restaurant is about doing all the little things right and, above all, making sure that everything goes off without a hitch. Many customers will notice superior wine service, but poor service is even more noticeable. Train your staff to treat proper wine service as a serious and important part of their jobs, and you'll see the positive results in your customers' satisfaction and your restaurant's bottom line.