Serving Wine: The Professional Waiter'S Guide
Everything you always wanted to know about serving wine but were afraid to ask. A guide for service professionals who want to impress the boss and increase their gratutities.
So, you talked your way into a job waiting tables at a fancy restaurant, and now you’re getting ready to watch the tip money roll in. But hold on! A snooty couple dripping with furs and jewelry is seated in your section and immediately asks to see the wine list. This is your big moment! Will you know what to do?
Read, memorize, and get comfortable with the following instructions and you’ll never be at a loss when serving wine. More importantly, your self-assurance and attention to detail won’t be forgotten at tip time.
First things first. Get to know a little bit about wine. The knowledge that red goes with beef and white (generally) goes with chicken and fish may have impressed your high school prom date, but it won’t be sufficient in your new profession. The best (and typically most enjoyable) way to do this is to attend a wine tasting or seminar. If you’re lucky, your employer will have an occasional wine tasting to familiarize employees with the products they are selling. If not, don’t despair. There’s no need to drop your own hard-earned cash for some wine appreciation course. You need a general knowledge of a few simple terms and concepts; you don’t need to know if the ’57 Chateau Mouton Rothschild was especially tart because of a late frost that year. Talk to your fellow waiters. Pick the bartender’s brain. Go to the library and read some culinary magazines. A basic familiarity with the selections on your wine list (i.e., whether they are dry or sweet, what country they come from, etc.) combined with your easy-going attitude and winning personality will be more than enough to get you started.
Okay, lucky for you, your well-dressed patrons ordered a bottle without asking for a recommendation. You’ve found their selection and you’re bringing it to their table, cradling the underside of the bottle with one hand and holding the neck in the other. Drop the bottle on their table and say, “Enjoy.” Just kidding! This is where you start to show off your expertise, and start pumping up that tip percentage. First, show the label to the person who ordered the wine. This will almost always be the man, but in your profession, it’s best not to assume anything. He’ll make a show of reading it and nod his head that it’s what he ordered.
Always carry a sturdy bottle opener in your apron. This is something that your employer (or one of those friendly wine distributors you rubbed shoulders with at the tasting) should provide you with, but if you must buy it, look for one that opens like a Swiss Army knife and has three attachments: the corkscrew, a toothed metal gadget for levering the cork out of the bottle, and the all-important blade for removing the foil wrapper from the neck of the bottle.
After you’ve removed the foil, drop it discretely in your apron – don’t leave it on the table! There’s nothing tackier than a waiter who litters his patrons’ tables with little pieces of trash! Coolly remove the cork from the bottle. If you’re a total novice, it may actually be worth your time to practice uncorking a few bottles at home. Grunting and cursing while trying to open a bottle of wine held between your legs will not do much to increase your tips. Remember, your job is all about style and appearances. And, as a bonus, you’ll get to drink the wine you practice with.
Place the cork by the plate of the person who ordered the wine. Only the most uppity wine snobs will actually bother to sniff the cork, but that’s not the point. You’re on a roll now, and every action counts. Everything has its proper place.
Pour a small amount of wine in the glass belonging to the person who ordered the wine, and wait for him/her to taste it. You’re almost home free now. Once in a while, a bottle of wine will go bad, and the discerning customer will send it back. If this happens, simply take the wine back to your bartender or manager and discretely determine whether the wine is really bad, or if you just have some shmoe trying to impress his date.
Your guest has tasted the wine and has nodded his approval to you. Fill his glass the rest of the way, and then fill the rest of the glasses on the table. If you’re working at a nice place, each customer will have two glasses – a fat, rounded goblet for red, and a more slender glass for white. Know the difference! Leave the bottle on the table, by the person who ordered it.
That’s it! Now you’re ready to look like someone who’s been doing this for years, and you can start researching the more arcane details of wine drinking and its relationship to the culinary experience. Keep at it, and you may ultimately escape the unrelenting stress of the waiter’s life, and land the dream job in restaurant service: the wine steward. This person is in charge of only one thing: wine, and its tasting, ordering, and proper storage.
So good luck, and don’t spend all your tips on expensive bottles of wine!