10 things you hate about wine service in restaurants and bars

It was a simple question: what do you hate most about buying wine in restaurants and bars.  We posed the question on our Facebook page (go on, give us a like!), and we were inundated with responses.  Here’s your top 10, with Wine Wanker Drew’s interpretation (he used to work as a wine waiter – so he should know!).

Wines by the glass that have been opened for days

The problem with wines by the glass – the unpopular wines don’t sell all that often.  Meaning the flavours can become dulled or are oxidised and off.  Ask your waiter when was the bottle open.  It it was open more than 24 hours ago – ask for a fresh bottle.

wine wankers èñïîð÷åííîå-âèíî

Really small wine glasses that are full to the brim

Restaurants do this because they think their bar staff can’t be trusted to pour the right amount of wine.  We hate this because it means you can’t swirl your glass around and appreciate the full flavour and aroma of the wine.  You’re also more likely to spill the wine over yourself!

wine wankers full wine glass

Waiters who don’t know anything about wine

If you ask what kind of wine they have, and their response is, ‘White and Red.’  Run!!

wine wankers Carla_Tortelli_waitress

Boring wine lists

You know the kind of wine list:  it look like it’s been plucked from the boring brands section of your local bottle shop or the restaurant owner is so lazy, they only buy from one supplier.  Either way, this snoozefest is probably going to be indicative of the restaurant’s food!  When you get the wine sales rep to design your winelist, you’re asking for trouble!

'Excuse his boring wine selection. You can't expect more from someone who has 'visiting a Walmart' on his bucket list.'

Obscene prices

Ever wondered why restaurants love to range obscure boutique wineries you’ve never heard of?  It’s so you can’t price compare to what you would normally pay in a bottle shop.  Most restaurants mark up their wines by 300%, many charge more than that, especially the top flight restaurants that sell super premium wines.

wine wankers cheap red wine

Crappy glassware

Forget the size of the vessel, let’s talk glass quality.  If the stemware’s glass is as thick as a vegemite jar, you aint gonna taste the wine’s flavour very well.  End of story.

wine wankers Vegimite glass

Low lighting and nothing white to see my wine’s colour

OK, even I’m calling this as a very tiny issue!  But this was a gripe for someone on Facebook.  Shelley loves to analyse a wine’s colour and she needs good lighting and a white tablecloth!  Me personally – I look better in low lighting!

wine wankers wine-label-magnifying-glass-

Wines by the glass – how much is in a pour?

Sue feels restaurants should tell patrons how much wine is served when you buy by the glass – 120mls or 150mls.  She also believes wine glasses should have a discreet ‘fill-mark’ so you know you’ve gotten what you paid for.

wine wankers good day marker level

Pouring your own wine

Whether it’s BYO and you’ve paid a corkage fee, or a licensed restaurant, waiters should pour your wine.  It’s called service!

wine wankers waiting

Not being given the opportunity to taste a wine before pouring

Just because your wine isn’t sealed with a cork doesn’t mean you don’t have to taste it before it is poured at a restaurant.  A corked wine is only one of the things you should be testing for.  You are also checking to see if the wine is oxidised or if the wine has been heat effected during transport or cellaring.  Did you know wines sealed under Stelvin capsules are susceptible to dings in the cap if they are bumped?  And if there is a ding in the cap, it breaks the seal and there is a chance it has become oxidised.  Worth checking if you ask me!

wine wankers badwine

We believe in everyone’s right of reply.  If you think we’ve left something out – or if you work in a restaurant and you’d like to leave your thoughts about customers, please use the comments section below.

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71 comments

  1. You pretty much nailed it. I rarely go to restaurants, and when I do, I don’t buy wine or other alcohol because the price per quality never jives — high prices for low quality. I never go to bars unless it’s somehow business related, like photographing microbreweries. I like wine at home where I can savor and enjoy it with a meal or while relaxing.

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  2. Great piece, particularly the point on not being given the opportunity to taste a wine before pouring. The presence of a screw cap doesn’t necessarily mean it is free from damage!

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  3. Well, in Japan, you can expect double if you buy by the bottle, and more by the glass in a restaurant. On the other hand wine by the glass in wine bars is a better deal and the bottles are on constant show. You can refuse a glass and have it changed without much fuss if the wine has obviously got too old. But service is so important here. Apart of that you pretty nailed it!

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  4. Those are accurate…and I’ll add what i love….Love when the staff says “oh, I have this expensive bottle of whatever open and you should just have a glass of it so you can experience it.” Then they tell you all about it and you learn something and then they offer something similar but in my price range…They’ve just made a leap of trust that will bring me back time after time…

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  5. You know, I often find myself disappointed with wine I order in restaurants, but never really put much thought into it, beyond wondering when it was opened. I’ve never thought to ask! Thanks for the tip 🙂

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      • This is excessive. Do you ask for a portion of every entree on the menu as well to be assured you’ll enjoy what you select? This is where communication between the sommelier and the guest should work, leading to a selection likely to be enjoyed. If something is not pleasing at that point, surely the sommelier should strive to fix the situation and find a better alternative, but the idea that a guest should feel entitled to a wine-tasting buffet to start their evening is unacceptably uncouth and irritating advice.

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  6. I live in BFE Kansas where our restaurants basically all serve “white” or “red” and for most of them the house wine is Barefoot, which I think tastes like actual feet. I hardly ever order wine in restaurants here because of the “red” or “white” choice. I was a server for many years and in the nicest restaurant I worked in, we certainly had the markup problem…but we knew how to pour a glass. I witnessed just last week a waitress walking every so gingerly trying not to spill (and failing at it) a glass of Barefoot white zin that she served to a poor paletted patron. Usually, here, I just stick to beer…it is much harder for them to screw that up.

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  7. nice one. i was a bit iffy about the last point, as a somm. and stelvin enthusiast, but i agree on the bumping issue now you mention it. i might also add that tasting the wine will also inform you of the temperature, a most important consideration in australia. with wines by the glass, i ALWAYS ask- ‘what was opened today?’ and then drink that.

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  8. Re: Pouring your own wine. There’s a problem with this. The wine guzzler at the end of the table gets half the bottle and the sippers either have to pony up for another bottle or settle for their first glass.

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    • I dont think this will ever change. The only way around this is if you make your intention known at the start of the dinner – “im not drinking much tonight so feel free to order the wine you like, but I’ll just put in for the cost of a glass. Hope you dont mind”

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I couldn’t agree more with all of them!!! I will never forget the day I went to a Italian restaurant here in Munich, and asked for a Chardonnay… the waiter brought me a Cabernet Sauvignon. Please!! Of course I never went back there!
    Great post!

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  10. Though I rarely drink wine, my parents consistently did and still do. If restaurants serve wine, then they should consider at least one staff sommelier. Everything on this top ten (I understand why a person would want good lighting and white tablecloth to check a wine’s colour and legs) is a valid concern.

    Thank you for this entry. Definitely a must-read for every restauranteur looking to generate repeat patronage. It’s apparently not hard to stand above the crowd with a full-service, five-star, fine-dining restaurant experience.

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  11. The only one I can debate is the issue of pouring your own wines. First pour? Absolutely the domain (and responsibility) of the server. But after that, I prefer to be asked if I’m ready for my glass to be re-filled. Sometimes, the wine has opened beautifully in the glass, and I would prefer to finish what I have. I have also been to restaurants where the server has made no effort to hide the fact that they are simply trying to kill your bottle so you’ll order another one.

    Everything else is spot on. Great post. Cheers!

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      • This is a good point, but when I waited tables there was a very standard pour tradition, unless if otherwise directed by the guest, the server pours when the glass is less the half and inch. I’m sure your server appreciates you letting them know your preference to pour for yourself. Cheers.

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  12. I always taste before buying since I’m a picky wine industry gal. While it’s true you pay a markup for wines by the glass I don’t think that’s the point. You pay for the experience. If you want a nice glass of crisp acidic white on a sunny porch at the seafood restaurant you are at, then you order it regardless of whether you can get it at a shop for the same price per bottle as you paid per glass. I get wholesale pricing on pretty much all the wine I buy for my house so it’s an even bigger discrepancy in price between home and restaurant or wine bar for me but if I always focus on this I ddon’t get to enjoy nice glasses of wine in good company at nice places when the occasion strikes. It works the best when I choose places with unique wine lists that offer wines you can’t just find anywhere. Then I don’t need to think about what they really cost and I just enjoy my glass:)

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  13. Whit-good point! I hate when wine is poured without my confirming I want it. I’ve had a server do this with a very closed wine that I really wanted to open up further. He poured the entire bottle (out of decanter) into our two huge Burgundy glasses before I realized what was happening.

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    • Me, too. Most servers get the hint after the first polite refusal, but with others, you have to really pay attention. I find it happens more often when I bring my own bottle to a restaurant. Which is stupid, because the only thing they accomplish is to dissuade me from sharing a glass of whatever it is I’ve brought. On another note, how often are you in Paso? My folks live on the South Shore of Lake San Antonio, and we spend a lot of time in the vineyards around there. Daou, Denner, and Herman Story are some favorites.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Re: price. When you buy anything in a restaurant it’s always more expensive than doing it yourself. We’re not trying to rip you off, we just have to pay for the things that you don’t associate with your supermarket bottle. How much of your rent covers the time spent in your living room drinking your bottle? Did you chill it in a fridge, powered by electricity, that you pay for? Nice fine crystal glasses? How much is your time worth to you? You might not charge yourself for serving, but I need to pay my waiters. Business rates? How much goes to VAT and duty? I need to insure my cellar. Is your wine rack insured?

    You really think restaurants charge too much for wine? I’m not so sure.

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  15. I suppose I am fortunate, the restaurants I do dine at where I order wine all have great wine lists, great service and aren’t to terrible on the prices. I don’t do wine by the bottle everywhere I dine out, for all the reasons above, but I have favorites I love and trust in many of the cities I travel to, them I sit back and relax, sometimes even letting them suggest a wine with dinner.

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  16. lovely article. So the ideal wine list would be well priced, not a snooze fest and good service from knowledgable staff with well flagged pours in decent glasses. Can’t be so hard?

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  17. Ugh I don’t like those thick heavy glasses! Luckily here in Chicago we have a lot of BYO restaurants, a few of which have even received Michelin stars which is nice. I do like being able to bring my own wine but I don’t search out restaurants specifically for that. However, when we are dining out I usually take a peek at their wine list and menu and do some homework to see what pairings we can make.

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  18. I always enjoy reading your blog, and I would give you a like on Facebook if I were on it, but I am not. I didn’t want you to think I was ignoring the request at the beginning of your post.

    Thank you for sharing that most interesting and often times funny post. There were several things pertaining to wine in restaurants, that I have never thought of. Next time I order a glass, I will definitely be cognizant of them.

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  19. I agree with a previous commenter who said they’re often disappointed with restaurant wine and weren’t sure why. I’ve often felt the same way, but next time I’ll know when to ask when the wine was opened if I order by the glass.

    Interesting point re: obscure wines. I never really thought about that before.

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  20. Tired bottles past their opened used by date – and so obviously manifested in Champagne of sparkling …but ignored, Not being shown the bottle – so no chance of doing the mental sums of bottle content and time of day/night to assess likely opened period….all too true.

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  21. Well, the dislikes here are quite a bit different 🙂 Like, no wine! or if there is a list, they don’t have what you ordered and don’t know until they go to look for it. Or! here’s my fav, they have the wine and they fill you glass to the rim!!!! Argh!, but mostly I’m just thrilled when I’m able to have a glass. Happy Happy Holidays, drink a glass of bubbly for me 🙂 ! peace to you, Abby

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  22. ps, As a retired waiter, these were my biggest wine irks. “I want a big, bone dry Chardonnay.” Translate,” flabby overoaked” So, basically pretentious novices were annoying. And those who would not allow me to pour! even hid their bottles. I always felt they thought I was trying to oversell them, which I wasn’t just trying to give good service.

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  23. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this, but we recently enjoyed a pub lunch and I ordered a large glass of “the cheapest red you’ve got.” The waitress looked a bit shocked, but I don’t appreciate the nuances of wine enough to buy the good stuff. Clearly I need to spend a bit more time here to educate myself!

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  24. My pet peeve is a lack of coordination between the food service and the wine service. I like to pair my wine with whatever I happen to be eating, which means that my wine order either follows my food order or occurs at the same time. What happens next has probably happened to many of us: the food arrives but the wine is nowhere to be found. I then have three choices, if the course is a warm one, I can let my food get cold while I wait for the wine to arrive; I can eat my food right away and drink the wine, when it finally arrives, (as an afterthought); or I can send the food back to the kitchen to await the wine. I don’t like doing the latter as I don’t want to be a pain to the waiter and the kitchen. I suppose I could anticipate this situation (it has happened many times) when I order, but then I think I am entitled to part of the tip for making my dining experience more enjoyable.

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