As someone who has worked their way up in the wine industry for 18 years, I know the look of discomfort (or even fear) on someone’s face when they walk into a wine bar and are out of their depth. Wine bars and wine-focused restaurants are a great way to explore and enjoy vino, especially if you know about the culture, common language, and etiquette of wine service. Allow me to shed some expert light on the topic; learning the cues of wine service will ensure you drink an awesome wine and avoid the common (and embarrassing) faux pas.
- Assess The Environment (And Yourself)
Assess the bar.
A quick scan of the area will tell you a lot about how to approach the situation. Is it busy? A simple question to the server, somm, or bartenders such as “What wine do you like?” will tell you a lot. Warm responses and engaging questions show they care, and that they have time to help. Short or evasive responses can mean they’re too busy or that they may be lacking familiarity with the wine list.
Communicate your mood.
A big responsibility of restaurant and wine bar staff is to take care of you, so let them! Whether you’re feeling adventurous, shy, stuck, annoyed, indecisive or like geeking out, let your bartender or server know. Not all servers will be intuitive enough to know what you need before you tell them, so don’t expect any mind readers taking your order. If you want to brush up on your wine lingo to make communicating easier, Vivino has great guides to help.
Stick with what you know (if you want).
Don’t hesitate to stick with what you are familiar with. There’s no need to be adventurous if you’re not specifically in the mood.
- How To Choose
Size of the list and start a dialogue.
If you’re not in the mood for a particular wine and the wines on the list are unfamiliar to you, the solution, once again, is communication with your server. Talk about your wine interests and gauge how well they communicate with you. If the server seems apathetic about the wine or if you want an extra expert eye on the wine list, use the Vivino Wine List Scannerto rating and price details on all the wines in an instant.
Once you determine you can talk to your server or sommelier without feeling belittled, here is one of my favorite tips: Say something along the lines of “I always have a hard time finding a balance between ‘gimme something white I guess’ and being a picky wine snob”. Express your curiosity and see where that takes you.
Ask for samples.
Any wine bar that cares about their clientele will not let them drink something they will not enjoy. Never hesitate to ask for a sample of wines your are curious about—as long as they are available by the glass, you should be able to get a taste. Just don’t get carried away if the wine bar seems busy.
Get the best bang for your buck.
If you are in a place with an extensive bottle selection, it’s absolutely worth your time to investigate the options. They probably have some cool offerings they don’t offer by the glass. Plus, bottles of wine typically have a smaller markup than those by the glass.
Being indecisive is okay! Own it!
There is a certain pride many wine professionals take in helping someone find a wine they enjoy. Even the most difficult somms will find this hard to resist. Use it to your advantage as you might end up trying several wines before landing on one you really like.
- The Corkage Question
Can you bring your own wine?
Have you ever wondered if bringing your own bottle makes you look like a jerk? This is perfectly acceptable in many spots, just check about their corkage policy in advance. Whatever the policy is, do not argue it. Bringing in your own alcohol is hard enough on the business’s bottom line, similar to bringing your own popcorn to the theatre, so be extra polite.
Respect the list.
Many places pour their heart and soul into their wine list, make sure to give it a chance if this appears to be the case. Whatever you do, don’t ask the restaurant to open a bottle you brought that they already sell. Poor form. Don’t do it.
Getting your corkage fee waived.
Whatever you do, never ask. But there are some things you can do to make it more likely. Make an attempt to understand the concept of the wine program. Perhaps order a glass to start while your server opens the bottle you brought. Communication and curiosity are once again your best tools.
Another tip: Offer the server a sample of what you brought. Most of us are in the industry to learn. Bringing something new or exciting for the server to try could be your ticket to getting the fee waived
- Wine Bar Socialization
Beware of wine snobs.
Don’t be fooled by grandiose displays of knowledge. Truly experienced and committed wine people aren’t so desperate to prove it.
Insider warning: Some wine professionals do have the tendency to be, ahem, eggplant-emoji-swinging wine snobs. As a fellow professional, it disappoints me as wine should not be pretentious. It is a beverage with vast amounts of culture and history to celebrate and share. A passionate dialogue can happen naturally if nobody is trying to show off.
Don’t be the wine snob.
If you are well-versed in wine you likely won’t need any help navigating the list, but keep in mind neither the server nor your fellow patrons want to see you flex your wine knowledge if it’s done in an arrogant way.
Mingle with the regulars.
A lot of wine joints will have a great sense of community. If you are solo, look around for other solo drinkers or communal tables. Just don’t be pushy. Wine is the ultimate icebreaker all on its own.
Keep it together.
Wine is supposed to be classy, don’t let yourself be the one reenacting Miles’ famous “spit-bucket chug” from Sideways.
- Settling The Bill
The best way to pay the bill.
Ideally, one person pays and everyone else settles up with person while the server runs payment. Servers will love you for this. If you need to split the bill, try not to mix up payment too much. If you have a mix of cards and cash, offer the cash to the people with the card to consolidate.
Included gratuity is commonplace for large groups; expect 18-22%. There’s no need to tip on top of this unless you had an extra incredible experience. Keep an eye out for included gratuity to make sure you don’t double tip.
Tips make up the majority of a restaurant employee’s income, so if you were happy with your service, 20% should be the minimum. If service was terrible, don’t go back. The ultimate power as the consumer is your business.
By: Joel Anthony Caruso
***Grabbed from: https://www.vivino.com/wine-news/wine-bar-etiquette-tips-dont