Most Common Misteaks Guests Make in Restaurants Part I

This is the first part of a series in which I hope to educate some readers, reinforce the knowledge of others, and hopefully make the experience of dining out more pleasant for all parties involved.  I have started with the most common wine mistakes.  This is adapted from a class I have taught for years but is far from an inclusive list.


Never Order A Bottle Of Something That Is Offered By The Glass 

The cost equation for wines by the glass (BTG) is “whatever is paid for the bottle, that is what is charged for the glass.  The glass price is multiplied by four to calculate the bottle price.  Wine that is only offered by the bottle is normally a three times mark-up.   Therefore by comparison, these bottles generally produce better values.

            Random Bottle X sold BTG – wholesale price = $10, BTG price = $10, bottle price = $40

            Random Bottle Y sold only by the bottle – wholesale price = $10, bottle price = $30


Never Use the Phrase “Table Wine”

Guests when consulting with restaurant staff will commonly indicate that they are seeking a bottle of “table wine” using that phrase as a euphemism for inexpensive.  That is a categorically incorrect usage of the word and may brand you an amateur diner.  Table Wine is defined as a wine that is made from a blend of grapes rather than a single varietal and has NO reflection on price.  The bottle of 1982 Petrus on the list for upwards of $15K is a table wine in the same manner that the 2005 Caymus Conundrum on the list for $40 is a table wine.


Stop Sniffing Corks

The purpose of presenting the cork to the guest who ordered the bottle is for the guest to see that the bottle was stored properly – on its side*.  If a bottle is subject to cork taint** the smell will be obvious to anyone at the table.  If the bottle is simply “off***”, the cork will still smell like wine soaked cork and tell you nothing of the condition of the wine in the bottle.  Smelling cork is a affectation of the uninitiated.  The best route is to simply feel the end of the cork with your thumb.  Damp is good, dry may or may not mean anything.


Stop Tasting the Wine When a Taste Is Poured

The purpose of offering a taste is to ensure that the wine is not suffering from cork taint.  As discussed, this can be accomplished with a simple sniff.  Smells like wine – good; smells like wet cardboard left in Tupperware for four weeks – the wine is corked.  By simply swirling and smelling, you have subtly but clearly indicated to the staff that you understand wine better than most.


Taste the Wine When A Taste Is Poured

This seemingly contradictory statement applies when a suggestion has been made by a member of the staff.  In this instance, the restaurant has recommended it presuming you will enjoy it and this makes them responsible for your satisfaction.  So taste it.  If you went through the wine list on your own and selected a bottle and don’t like it, that choice is on you.  Consider this comparison:  you walk into a record store (I know, I know – who does that anymore) and buy a CD that after listening realize you don’t like – you wouldn’t return it.  However, if after talking with a member of the staff about other artists you dig, they recommend something you eventually hate – you would feel entitled to return it.


Talk to the Staff

In an era of heightened appreciation for and sensitivity to the enjoyment of wine, most restaurants have a staff member that is tasked with being the resident provider of wine advice.  High end restaurants will have a Sommelier or Wine Director, in other cases it may be a manager or even a server with great wine experience.  Utilize their services.  I am a wine expert, yet I still consult with Sommeliers when I dine out because no matter how much I know about wine and food in general, I expect them to know their menu and wine more specifically.  I usually ask “is there someone with whom I can discuss the wine list available.”  To indicate my price preference, I will usually refernce a bottle on the list with the phrase “I am looking for something in the same ball park as Random Wine X, that will compliment the meal.”


Ask About a Reserve List

This tactic should only be used in restaurants that have tablecloths.  95% of restaurants do not have a reserve list, those that do, however, place their favorite bottles (usually in a range of prices) on this list.  It is another subtle indication that you are a more experienced diner and sends a clear message to the staff that you are to be taken seriously.


* this is not really important for bottles that are served within four years of vintage, however, restaurants that have a strong wine program will do this nonetheless.  There is a more detailed explanation for this but I am only willing to give away so much information for free.

** Cork Taint is another area that requires more extensive discussion.  It can be caused by a number of factors but the smell is still the same.

*** Wine that is “off” is a catch-all term for any of the numerous things that can affect the taste of a bottle of wine.  Wine is a living organism and like any other some times it just ain’t right.


22 Responses to Most Common Misteaks Guests Make in Restaurants Part I

  1. Dara says:

    People also need to be a little adventurous. It is so boring to go out to dinner with someone who won’t venture outside the Merlot and/or Chardonnay box.

    I completely agree with you but… baby steps, there only so much information per post. Part II will have more along those lines.

  2. Aileen says:

    Uh oh. What about those of us that don’t enjoy wine? I tend to prefer something very sweet, and it often ends up being the tackiest kind available. Any suggestions for me?

  3. freckledk says:

    I’m going to start swirling and sniffing my Miller Lite.

    See? Snarkasm!

  4. zipcode says:

    Thanks for posting this – kind of with Aileen. I am not much a wine person, I would tell you what I drink but you would smack me.

  5. Red says:

    Great post!

    I like to drink wine and have some favorites but never know what to do at restaurants.

    I’m anxious to hear more. What about when swirling and you can see the trail of the wine on the glass. Doesn’t that give some indication as to quality?

    “The Legs” on a glass of wine provide you with a wee bit of information. It is only useful in the context of about 25 other pieces of information.

  6. LivitLuvit says:

    This is fantastic, and refreshing. Thank you.

    Nothing worse than when someone orders a bottle, tastes it, and has the audacity to say, “I don’t like it. Could we try…” Yeah, sure, and while we’re at it, why don’t I bring you the filet, the salmon, AND the pork tenderloin? Try a bite of each and see what you like?


  7. JoJo says:

    I had to laugh when I read this. I just got back from a dinner where the host made a HUUUGE deal about sniffing the cork.

    Besides, some of the best wines I’ve had recently have had twist tops.

    I started to include something about “stelvin closures” (the snobbish way to express twist-off) but figured I would address that in another post. Some of the best wines on the planet are coming with closures other than cork.

  8. gilahi says:

    My wife and I almost never order a bottle because A) we rarely drink that much at one meal and B) we rarely agree on wines. She was shocked the first time I ever sent a glass back because it was corked. This is very rare, but it’s happened on two or three occasions. Since I don’t always trust myself, especially with “oaky” wines, I’ll usually ask the sommelier to confirm my belief that the wine is corked. The good ones give it one sniff, confirm it, and bring me a fresh glass with profuse apologies. I always ensure them that I realize that it just happens sometimes and it’s not their fault.

    You didn’t mention it, but I have often noticed that corked wines may be cloudy. Another thing I do with the first pour is to hold it up to the light to ensure that it’s crystal clear.

  9. […] but then, I don’t buy name brands, either — YMMV), Restaurant Refugee offers some guidelines for proper restaurant wine ordering behavior.  If and when I have discretionary income again and can afford a 3x markup for drinking in a […]

  10. gilahi says:

    And by the way, love the “misteaks” title.

    I actaully wondered how many people would get that joke. Oddly I received two emails from people indicating that I need to correct the spelling error in the title.

  11. Average Jane says:

    I have had many awkward moments over wine… like when my date ordered a $245 bottle (mama calls that a “car payment”) and I hated it. Hated. It. *sigh* That being said, I am grateful for this post and THRILLED that I haven’t made any of these mistakes. I hate that look I get from waiters when I do something wrong. That knowing “oh, poor uncultured girl” look…

  12. Shawn says:

    Not drink wines by the glass? Well, of course, if you know that you’re fond of Pinot Noirs, say, one in particular, and you know you’re going to stick with that one throughout the meal and well afterward, then, yes, order the bottle by all means.

    However, I drink — and enjoy — wines by the glass, especially in restaurants with good wine selections, because you can actually find out what you actually like, rather than what prescription, tradition, or your neighborhood wine snob *tells* you should like. It allows you to discover for yourself whether or not a Tempranillo or a Malbec would be better suited with the meal. I’m often dining with a partner, and quite often we’ll order different glasses of wine and switch off in the middle. Plus it’s also fun to discover just how much the taste of the wine changes over the course of the meal as it gets oxygenated. The wine you began the meal with is never the wine you finish with. If we discover we prefer one glass over the other, we’ll order the bottle.

    It would be good to remember that Robert Parker became Robert Parker by paying no attention at all to experts, drinking whatever the hell he liked and then telling people about it. We would all do well to do exactly the same thing, without apology. And, while I’m at it, that also goes for novels, plays, music and art in general.

  13. Shawn says:

    Sorry. Completely. Misread your recommendation above. Yes, a wise recommendation. Apologies.

  14. not sure if ive ever sniffed a cork or not …but im pretty sure i sniffed a server/chef or two in my day….

  15. lacochran says:

    So, you’re not talking about the places where the conversation goes like this:

    Me: I’d love a glass of wine with my meal. Is there anything particular you’d recommend?

    Waitperson: We have red and white.

    Me: Er, yeah…


  16. And another thing, please refrain from asking for the ‘house wine’ when in an eatery that doesn’t use posters for art. I’m just saying.

  17. Lisa says:

    I love this! Totally helpful! Thanks very much.

  18. Matt says:

    While I do agree with every scintilla of the sage wisdom above, I gotta say that I’ve never care what waitstaff thinks about me. It’s their job to provide good service – – not my job to impress them 🙂

  19. […] if she would like to see it as well. Do not attempt a pronunciation with which you are unfamiliar. Read this if you want some more detail about ordering wine in a […]

  20. […] if she would like to see it as well. Do not attempt a pronunciation with which you are unfamiliar. Read this if you want some more detail about ordering wine in a […]

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