It shocks me how few people can confidently and competently serve a bottle of wine to a table. As a manager, I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone tell me that they don’t know wine service. As a bartender I’ve had a lot of servers openly admit to me -whilst looking over their shoulder for the manager- that they have no clue about wine service and that they’ll actually push guests away from bottles so that they don’t have to partake in that dreaded ritual.
Wine service is an essential piece of knowledge and something everyone should be comfortable with. If your servers aren’t willing to offer wine service they’re taking money out both of your pockets. Here are some ways to start your staff down the road to being comfortable with wine service and a step by step guide of how it should be done.
Ask The Question
Make wine service an interview question. If the interviewee stumbles, tell them it’s OK. Unless someone has worked fine dining it’s unlikely they’ve been taught proper wine service. Tell them you’ll teach them. Maybe do a dry run with them on their trial shift, then you know you’re getting the truth.
Ask your current staff individually. Don’t ask them as a group. In that setting they’re more likely to lie due to social pressure. Again, tell them it’s OK and that they’re not the only one. Tell them that you’ll work on it together and that they’ll have it down in no time.
– When business is slower have your bartenders give servers the bottles of wine they need opening for practice.
– Save some empty bottles and jam the corks back in them so that they can practice opening a bottle properly. (i.e. without putting it up against their thigh)
– Wrap the trial bottles in tin foil or saran wrap so they can practice foil cutting.
How To Serve Wine
- Present the bottle, label up and held along the forearm, to the person who ordered it. Ask them if it’s the correct one.
- Open the bottle. Place the cork on the table in the vicinity of the taster.
- Ask them if they would like to taste the wine. If they answer “no,” you can skip to step four. If they answer yes, pour an ounce into their glass. Stand back until they’ve approved.
- Serve the woman to the tasters left first and work clockwise around the table, serving all the women then the men. The taster always has their glass filled last.
- Place the wine on the table where you can easily reach it. Come back periodically throughout the meal and top off their glasses unless instructed not to by the guests.
Expert Tip: Rotate the bottom of the bottle away from you as you stop pouring for a clean finish that prevents any dripping.
Everyone’s Bottom Line
The lack of desire to push guests onto a bottle of wine is hurting your business. On paper, wine by the glass is more profitable, but wine by the bottle has less slippage associated with it; you can’t over pour it and it won’t oxidize on the back bar. You’ll also increase your average check.
From the servers point of view: add that $50 dollar bottle of wine onto the check and that’s another $10 tip at 20%. The two, maybe three, glasses a guest might order would only add up to about $30; and who knows maybe they’ll go for a second bottle rather than second glass (that’s $20 in your servers pocket). Tell your servers this and, once everyone is up to speed, maybe even have a wine bottle sales competition to see what they can really do!
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