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How to Run a  Proper Wine Service

How to Run a Proper Wine Service

Last updated on 3/14/2018

Delivering an elegant and sophisticated wine service for guests is crucial to the success of any bar or restaurant. It's important to educate servers on the way to serve wine, as this conveys attention to detail and care for the needs of guests. Whether your restaurant's customers are wine experts or casual enthusiasts, a polished and elegant wine service is sure to impress them while also elevating their overall experience and increasing the likelihood that they will return. Our advice on how to choose, present, and serve wine at your restaurant will not only benefit your business and improve revenue, but will also help your servers earn better tips.

Helping Guests Choose a Wine

Regardless of whether your guests are aspiring sommeliers or boxed wine drinkers, providing gracious advice and guidance as they choose a wine is essential to a successful service. Your employees should know and understand the wine list and be able to easily identify and describe several wines customers might enjoy.

Build a Great Wine List

Proper wine service starts with a well-balanced, diverse wine list. It’s important for your staff to know a great deal about wines, and particularly the ones on your restaurant's list. This allows them to help your guests select the right wine for any occasion, whether that be finding the perfect white to pair with fresh seafood or choosing a particularly special red for celebrating an anniversary.

Keep these important details in mind as you build your restaurant's wine list:

  • Organize your wine list in a logical manner using geography, grape varietal, body, food pairings, or some other classification. Regardless of the categorization method you choose, make it clean, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to read.
  • Ensure you're offering bottles at a wide range of price points. Highlight your more expensive and rare wines, but mix in plenty of high-quality and affordable options, as well. However, make sure you never organize your list based upon price, as doing so can discourage your guests from taking a thorough look at your list.
  • Spell out food pairings clearly, as they’re one of the most important factors that determine which wines your guests select. Even if you don’t come up with pairings for every wine, the majority of your selections should have a suggested food accompaniment.
  • Have different styles of whites, reds, and sparkling wines on hand to meet each individual customer’s tastes and provide variety.

Assess Your Guests' Tastes and Knowledge

Servers should begin by determining what brought the guests to your restaurant. For example, they might find out that the table is celebrating a special occasion. In that case, waitstaff can start their recommendations at a higher price point. When it comes to first-time guests, it might be a good idea for your employees to talk about a wider array of options to help familiarize new customers with what your business has to offer.

Similarly, your employees should try to gauge your guests’ wine knowledge before they start making recommendations. If they find that the patron is something of a wine expert, they can speak more conversationally about the wines, as there will be less explaining to do. Conversely, servers must be ready to go over the basics with someone who knows little or nothing about wine.

Finally, waitstaff should find out what kinds of wine your guests prefer or have enjoyed in the past. Knowing what kinds of wine patrons like can give servers a more informed starting point. Being aware that the guests enjoy sweeter red wine, for example, can narrow the focus considerably and help you to streamline your service.

Opening a Wine Bottle

Opening the bottle of wine is one of the most important aspects of a proper wine service. If your employees don’t know how to quickly and quietly open a bottle of wine, it will negatively reflect on your restaurant.

Tools Needed to Open a Wine Bottle

Before bringing the bottle to the table, servers should be sure to have the following items on hand:

  • Corkscrew or wine key (electric, lever, twist, or waiter's style)
  • Foil cutter (if they're not using a waiter's style wine key)
  • Napkin or glass polisher
  • Coaster (optional)

Once these supplies are assembled, your waitstaff is ready to open and serve the guests' bottle of wine.

How to Decant Wine

Decanting is the process of pouring a bottle of wine into a decorative decanter before serving in order to separate any sediment that has formed. It also helps aerate the wine, which can give it 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.

As your waitstaff decants the wine, they should use a flashlight or candle to help them see the sediment in the bottle so that they don't dump it in with the wine by mistake. By pouring slowly and carefully and keeping the light under the neck of the bottle, employees should be able to tell that it's time to stop when the sediment reaches the top of the neck. Remind your servers to pour slowly and continuously until all that remains in the bottle is the unwanted sediment, and then discard the remaining residue.

How to Open Wine at the Table

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 waitstaff will need to be able to professionally open and serve the wine right at the table in front of the guests.

To open a bottle of wine, employees should follow these steps:

1. Cut the foil around half an inch from the lip of the bottle using a foil cutter or the small knife in a waiter's style wine key. This ensures the wine doesn't touch the foil and can help prevent dripping.

2. Place the corkscrew directly into the center of the cork and unscrew it straight into the air. Once the cork is three-quarters out of the bottle, finish it quietly by hand to avoid a loud popping noise. One way to do this is to gently wiggle the cork back and forth until it's all the way out of the bottle.

3. After the cork is removed, wipe it and the top of the bottle off. This helps remove cork debris and dust from storage.

When opening and serving a white wine, employees should place part of a napkin between the bottle and their hand to keep the warmth of their body from affecting its temperature.

How to Serve Wine

Following the proper protocol when serving wines to your restaurant's guests is central to enhancing their overall dining experience and can also help your establishment sell more wine. Your staff will also seem more professional, which can help you gain return customers and improve your reputation as a business who knows their wines.

Things to Do Before Pouring Wine

Your employees should begin by showing the wine to the person who ordered it, no matter who is paying the bill. They should frame the label with their hands and announce the vineyard, grape, location, and vintage to your guests. Make sure your servers know not to open the bottle until they get confirmation that the wine is exactly what the guest wants. It's also essential that everyone partaking has the right style of wine glass. It's poor etiquette for waitstaff to retreat to the kitchen for another glass after they've already poured wine for the rest of the table.

How to Serve a Sip of Wine for Your Guests to Taste

At this point, it's customary to present the cork to the guest who ordered the bottle for them to sniff or examine, allowing them to verify the condition of the wine. 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. If they decline, employees should simply place the cork on a coaster to the guest's right.

When pouring wine, servers should wrap the bottle in a clean linen napkin to protect it from the warmth of their hands. This isn't essential for serving red wines that aren't chilled, but your guests will probably appreciate the extra effort you're putting forth to ensure the perfect serving conditions for their wine. Waiters’ 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. Make sure your employees know to pour so that the glass is filled only about half an inch, just enough for the guest to know if it's acceptable.

Wine Serving Styles

Your servers should always pour in a clockwise pattern and serve women first (even if this means going around the table twice). They should finish serving with the guest who ordered the wine, regardless of their gender. They should also always pour from the customer's right. Your waitstaff must judge the appropriate amount of wine to serve each guest based on the number of people at the table but never pour more than half a glass. An average 750 mL bottle of wine will provide approximately five pours.

How to Finish Pouring a Glass of Wine

Employees should finish each pour with a twisting motion and wipe the lip of the bottle to avoid dripping. When they've finished serving your guests, they'll place the bottle to the right of the host with the label facing outwards and ask permission to remove the cork from the table.

If the guests are enjoying white wine, the server should ask them if they would like the wine left on the table. If they would, make sure servers provide them with a wine bucket or cooler. Since white wine is usually served chilled, your guests might also opt to have your waitstaff return it to the underbar refrigerator until they are ready for a second glass.

Different Wine Pouring Styles

Some wines need to be poured slightly differently. Additionally, you may be asking yourself: what is a serving of wine? Here are a few basic guidelines for servers to keep in mind:

  • Sparkling: Pour in a trickle to avoid over-stimulating the bubbles. Pour a small amount in the flute, let the bubbles settle, and then finish pouring the glass until it's three-quarters full.
  • Red: Slowly pour the standard wine pour (4 oz.) into the center of the glass until it's around half full.
  • White: Slowly pour the standard wine pour (3 oz.) into the center of the glass until it's around one-third full.

Regardless of the type of wine, servers should always hold the bottle with both hands and leave the glass on the table as they pour. Additionally, they need to make sure there's 6" to 10" between the bottom of the wine glass to the lip of the bottle as they pour, as this allows the wine to aerate as it falls into the glass.

How to Serve a Single Glass of Wine

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. Your waitstaff should remember that it's always good etiquette to show the bottle to your guests, even if they only order a glass. This allows your guests to verify that they are drinking what they ordered.

Ensuring your servers know how to pour wine at your bar or restaurant is crucial to creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for all of your customers, regardless of whether they are enjoying a fine wine. Many guests rely on their waiter or waitress to suggest, present, and serve the perfect wine for their tastes, making it crucial for waiters to know the pertinent facts on each wine and how to serve it accordingly. Wine presentation etiquette is crucial to serving vino, and an outstanding experience can generate return business and improve tips.

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