So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

On Wine pt. 2

Ok, let’s backtrack a little, now that I’ve pounded home the idea that you need to deliver the proper wine.

There are a few things that you should do, depending on how your restaurant is set up. If you use a single glass for all wines, and they are preset on the table, then all you have to do is bring the bottle to the table. If the glasses aren’t preset, and you have time, it’s best to bring the glasses to the table first, unless you are only serving 2 people. Normally I preach saving steps, but you want to be as smooth and suave as possible when serving a bottle of wine and it can be awkward to place the glasses while juggling your bottle of wine. So, unless you’re just getting hammered by doubleseats and the like, try to make a separate trip with the glasses. Also, if you’re going to decant the bottle, make sure you bring the decanter with you. You might even bring it when you bring the glasses so that it’s at the ready. And this is the time to make sure you have your winetool handy. It’s awkward to dig around in your pocket while holding a bottle of wine at the table. Have it where you can quickly and seamlessly get to it. You’re shooting for smooth and suave, not bumbling.

When you bring the bottle out, don’t hold it by the neck swinging it like a billy-club. You should cradle the bottle in the crook of your arm with the label facing out. It should be nestled in a folded white napkin, which serves a dual purpose – it frames the bottle nicely and it will allow you to wipe the opening of the bottle after opening (plus, you can place it under the neck as you pour which prevents the random spotting on the tablecloth or table).


Don’t carry the bottle by the neck, swinging it in your hand like a billyclub. Don’t carry the bottle by it’s body. Nestle it in the crook of your arm.

You always present the bottle to the person who ordered it, whether they be male or female.  As you show them the label, you will point to and say the name of the winemaker, the vintage, the region and the special name of the wine if applicable. When they give the ok, you’ll proceed to open the bottle. Take your winetool’s knife and the capsule (the name for the foil) cut below the rim. Never just cut just under the top of the foil off horizontally, always go under the bottom of the rim of the bottle. Slip the capsule top in your pocket, don’t leave it on the table.

I’ve already covered the physical act of getting the cork out of the bottle in a previous post. You can find it by searching for it.

When opening the bottle, don’t spin it. Always keep the label facing the guest. You’ll have to twist your corkscrew-holding hand a bit to accomplish this.

When the cork is removed, in most restaurants, you’ll give the cork to the guest. I do it simply by putting it on the table in front of them and let them decide if they want to sniff the cork. In a selected few (somewhat snobby) restaurants, you will have brought a small metal plate for the cork, because some people believe that the cork should never actually touch the table. This “giving the cork to the guest” routine serves little purpose really, but seems to have become an expected part of the ritual. Very few people can tell anything substantial from squeezing the cork or sniffing it that they can’t tell by the ritual of swirling, sniffing and tasting. Here’s a contrary view of that though:

Besides the “judging the wine aspect”, one reason over the years that you presented the cork was to assure the purchaser that the bottle was indeed what it claimed to be. That’s why, other than marketing, the vintner’s name is usually on the cork (and an aside about this in a moment). Obviously, this isn’t very much of an issue these days, unless you’re buying very rare old wines at auction (there have been some high-profile counterfeiting schemes uncovered recently). 

You’ll then proceed to pour a small amount into the glass. When I say small, I mean small. Don’t pour more than a decent sized sip. A little more than a dash of the bottle will do fine. (I’ll talk more about the actual act of pouring in the next thrilling installment).

Stand there patiently while the host studiously studies the glass, making faces as he or she spins the glass, looking for legs, makes comments about his or her extreme level of wine erudition, talks about the wine that they have in the cellar and the vacation that they took to Napa two years ago. Let them close their eyes while they make a pruneface slurping the wine between pursed lips.

After the host approves the bottle, go around the table and serve the wine – but don’t just pour. Always give each person the chance to turn it down. The best etiquette is to serve the ladies first. 

Don’t forget to fill the host’s glass! I’ve seen the host get forgotten, believe it or not.

If the host has ordered wine and red, make sure that each guest has two glasses. When presenting the wine, present the white first. Always present from lightest to heaviest wine. If someone has orders, say, Tempranillo and Cabernet, both of which are reds,  you’d present the Tempranillo first.

I don’t know if there’s specific etiquette on this, but you might want to offer the first bottle to the table before you present the second bottle to the host. It can be a little awkward trying to offer a choice to each person because you’re dealing with two different bottles. And if you do this, don’t just skip people who already have wine when presenting the second bottle. In fact, I like to encourage people to try both wines by asking “Would you like to do a little mini wine tasting”? Not only will you sell more wine, but you help educate people who might not be that familiar with wine or judging the quality of wine. Any kind of side by side comparison of wine helps people learn more about wine.

Unless someone wants to keep it, the cork can be removed at any time after the glasses are poured. I like to leave it until I return the next time (perhaps when I bring the salads). It shouldn’t be on the table by the times the entrees have arrived, that much is certain. However, if you live in a state that allows un-drunk wine to be taken home by the guest, make sure that you either save the cork somewhere or that the bar has some used corks available (most do keep a small stockpile of them).

Also, one little detail that most people probably won’t notice, but unconsciously might absorb, is if you take the time to arrange the cork so that the vintner’s name can be read by the guest. It’s the accumulation of such small and “trivial” details that creates the “perfect” dining experience, even if the guest doesn’t consciously realize that they are there.

In part three, we’ll wrap this topic up with pouring issues, both at the table and at parties.

sniffing the cork

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