Waitress Wine Tips
You've just been hired on as a waiter or waitress at a restaurant that serves wine - and you don't know much about wine. How do you optimize your skills so that you provide the best service to your visitors, and get the best tips? Here's what you should do!
Learn the Favorites
Depending at the restaurant you're at, there could be only five wines on the menu - or over five hundred. Even if there are pages and pages to the wine list, it's still likely that most visitors tend to order a few favorites. Learn what the tastes of those favorites are. It's OK if you personally don't like them. Just learn how to describe them. Is one like raspberry and coffee? Is another like cream and peaches? Find one or two words for each one and memorize those. Most people just want a general idea of the flavor.
Get the Chef's Pairing Notes
Again, for each wine, the chef should know one wine to recommend with it. Find out what those are. That way you are relaying his vision for what the foods will taste like. If your chef refuses to help with this - which would be odd! - then go with general wine pairing ideas.
Verify the Order
I've heard many horror stories about restaurants pouring a bottle of $200 wine when the person ordering had asked for something much less expensive. If someone orders a bottle, always present the actual bottle for them to look at BEFORE you open the bottle. That way the person has an opportunity to speak up if it's not what they want.
Open the Bottle
Whether it's a Champagne cork, a regular cork, a screwcap, or any other closure, the waiter should open the bottle with a minimum of noise and fuss. His sole aim should be to get the cork off without letting the wine escape, the bubbles escape, or bits of cork fall into the bottle. Practice this at home so you're able to open bottles smoothly.
Depending on where you are, the "ritual" of presenting the cork can be done or forgotten about. The point of doing this was that some unscrupulous restaurants would have previously opened the bottle, poured out the good wine, and substituted in their own cheap wine. They would normally have to use another cork to re-seal the bottle because the original one would fluff out and not fit back into the bottle at this point. So by showing the cork - which often has the winery name on it - you prove that this really was the cork that came originally in the wine. Most people don't worry about this any more.
Pour Out a Taste
Wine can be flawed for a number of reasons. It could have been stored in super hot temperatures and turned into vinegar. A wine with a natural cork in it has a 5% - 10% chance of being "corked" - affected by natural molds that come with those corks. You need to give the person a chance to taste the wine and confirm that the wine is drinkable. Pour out a small portion to whoever ordered the wine and allow them to sample it. Note that they should NOT normally be able to say "Oh jeez it turns out I hate Syrah, send this back." After all, they ordered the bottle by its name. They should have been willing to drink it if it was what it claimed to be. They are only supposed to send it back if it's actually damaged.
Pour Out Each Glass
The waiter should then move clockwise around the table filling each glass. Pour fairly slowly so if someone doesn't want wine they can speak up before you put wine into their glass. Also, don't fill the glass to the rim. People need to be able to swirl their wine. Most glasses should be half-filled at most. While some old style restaurants go to the women first, and then the men, in my experience those are also the restaurants that don't allow women to see prices on the menu, so I am generally resistant to that whole "treat women like imbiciles" style :)
Keep the Rest on Ice
The remaining bottle should not be allowed to heat up to room temperature (i.e. 80F) no matter what type of wine it is. There's no wine that does well at 80F. So find out how your restaurant handles the icing of bottles - especially Champagne or white wine - once it's been poured.
Be sure to read through the rest of the restaurant pages to get familiar with how restaurant service and tipping works!
Wine at Restaurant Tips
Wine and Food Pairing Main Page