So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Tips for free-pouring wine in a large party

First of all, if your host has entrusted you with pouring wine at-will for his or her large party, this is a trust that should not be abused.

Having said that, you want to pour the absolute most wine you can.

So, how do you balance these two imperatives?

Here are a few tips.

Don’t pour more than about 4-5 oz per glass. “Why?”, I can just hear you ask. First of all, it sends the message to the host that you aren’t going to gouge them. But there’s a more insidious purpose. If you pour too much, some people will hoard their wine, just as they would when they dine out.  Old habits die hard. They forget that they aren’t paying, or they are worried about their host thinking that they’re freeloding and being greedheads. So, if you normally pour 6 oz pours in your restaurant, pour 5 oz or less. If you already only pour 5 oz and have those shitty little generic 8oz wine glasses, then pour 4 oz, especially if you’re pouring red wine into such a small glass. What you are trying to do is get some people who are normally fairly fast drinkers to drink down to the bottom quickly. At that point, you can bring them back up to the original level and recharge the other glasses, even if they’ve only drunk an ounce or so. If you wait until someone is almost empty, this gives you license to bring everyone else up as well, unless they wave you off, of course. If you do it this way, and keep your levels at the 4 or 5oz level, you’re almost guaranteed to sell more than if you give everyone a full 6 – 8oz pour up-front. There are few people who really slam their wines, so it will probably be 10-15 minutes before you really have the chance to refill an empty glass. If you pour less, the glass looks emptier quicker. This, of course, means more work and attention, but a little more work can mean that extra 2 or 3 bottles of $75 wine. Who wouldn’t like to build their check by another couple of hundred bucks?

The more small pours you do, the more likely that people will continue to drink rather than hoard. For people drinking white wine, I don’t always wait until the glass is almost empty. I like to give everyone a splash or two when it’s obvious that they’ve drunk some and it’s been a few minutes since you gave them wine. I do this to keep the temperature correct and I tell them that’s why I’m doing it if they seem to need an explanation. But I  am also working my way gradually to another bottle. You never know whether those last two splashes you did 15 minutes ago will be the ones that force you to open another bottle.

The last thing you want to do to a host is to pour so that most people have to leave a half-glass of wine when they leave. Sure, that’s another couple of bottles just in the glass. But you’ve just screwed your host. And, believe me, many of them will take note of this and realize how much wine that they paid for is wasted. This means that they might complain to management and they might not be so trusting the next time they book a party.


…it’s very important that you pretty much stop topping off by the first third of the entree course. Obviously, if someone is almost empty, by all means, pour them some wine. But don’t give them a full pour, and I generally ask them if they’d like more wine before I pour. Let people finish as much of their wine as possible as they finish their entrees. Don’t get greedy. Don’t try to pour more wine so that you have to open another bottle of wine right before dessert. This isn’t really cricket.

Most of the time, there’s going to be a few people who don’t finish their wine. That’s OK. As long as you’ve followed the above guidelines, you’ve done the best you can. What looks bad is when you end up with 20 half-full glasses of wine at the end. You haven’t served the guest very well at all and you’ve left as much as 3 bottles of wine in glasses. 

The position of waiter is one of trust. I guarantee you that you’ll make more money in the long run if you keep the guest’s interest in mind. And never forget the concept of Karma. Karma can be a bitch.

This is a pretty good wine pour for a 22 oz red Bordeaux glass. There’s more there than you think. That’s around 4 – 5 oz.  A 6 oz pour brings the level up to just short of where the glass starts to curve inward for this type of glass. BTW, a 750 ml wine bottle yields four 6 oz pours (give or take a tiny amount).


If you don’t know what 4 or 5 oz looks like in your house glasses, ask the bartender to pour you the amount by measuring it. Throw in a dash of grenadine to give it some color and then practice with a water-filled wine bottle. Get to know what it looks like from the pouring position, which is different than looking at it from the side.

This is a no-no:


Photo courtesy of The Wine Enthusiast. Their website is They are a wine accessory website and catalog store.

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