Waiter's Guide: How to Perform Wine Service
Wine service is the presentation, uncorking, and pouring of wine. It takes place when a customer orders a bottle of wine for the table.
The following is a step-by-step description of how you, the waiter, can successfully perform wine service.
All restaurants are different. Follow your restaurant's procedure for procuring the bottle that the customer has ordered, as well as the number of glasses required.
The process begins when a customer orders a particular bottle of wine for the table. Make sure you heard them correctly by repeating the selection back to them. If you don't understand which bottle they are requesting, ask them to point it out on the menu.
Less formal restaurants will allow you to ask how many people at the table will be drinking the wine, so that you will know how many glasses to bring. For example: If you have a table of four and some of the people have other drinks, ask the person who ordered the wine “will you need four glasses?” More formal restaurants prefer you err on the side of caution, not ask the customer, and bring a glass for each diner. They will signal you when you are pouring out the wine if they do not want any.
Bringing Wine and Glasses
NOTE: The bottle should NEVER be opened prior to service, nor should any labels or foils be removed.
The wine glasses should be SPOTLESS. If they are not, clean them. Holding them top down over a steaming cup or bowl of hot water works well. Another helpful hint: use a coffee filter to polish the glasses dry...coffee filters leave less lint than bar rags or paper towels.
If the customer ordered white wine, make sure you have a wine bucket with ice in it (not too much...remember the bottle will go in the bucket, displacing the ice. Ice melts: you don't want water pouring over the top of the bucket). Don’t put the bottle in the bucket yet…you don’t want the label to be wet.
Bring glasses, wine key (corkscrew), wine, and wine bucket (if needed) to the table. (Again, each restaurant is different. Some put the wine bucket on the table, some have stands that go near the table. Follow the procedure at your particular restaurant).
Give each person a glass.
Present the wine to the person who ordered it: This means you hold the wine, label out, with one hand on the bottom and one on the top, to the customer. You say what the wine is. For example: “The "07 Linea Caliente Malbec.” The customer will either nod their approval or tell you that you heard them wrong and send you off for a different bottle.
Now the Hard Part: Uncorking the Wine
Use the blade on your wine key to cut the foil top. Put the foil top in your apron or pocket, not on the table.
Remove the cork with your wine key and put it wet side up, on the table, in front of the person who ordered the wine. A double knuckle wine key can make the process easier.
Two things to remember:
- Never put the bottle on the table. You must learn how to open a bottle in the air, not on a flat surface. Practice at home. You can also ask the bartender or wine steward if you can practice before the dinner shift by opening bottles of house wine.
- You’re supposed to keep the label pointing the person who ordered the wine the whole time you are uncorking the wine. Again, this takes practice.
TIP: Make sure you check the type of closure the wine bottle has. Wine bottles are closed now with corks, zorks, and twist off bottle tops. Nothing says "inexperienced" like a waiter putting a corkscrew into a metal twist off cap!
Pour a small amount in the glass of the person who ordered the wine. Do not touch the wine glass with the bottle while pouring. The person will try the wine (this can involve looking at the color, swirling it, smelling it, and sipping it). They will then either nod their approval or tell you there is something wrong with it. If they say there is something wrong with the wine, follow your restaurant's procedure for dealing with this situation.
HINT: Using a linen napkin during wine service is helpful. With the linen wrapped loosely around the bottle while pouring you can wipe away any errant drips before they spoil the tablecloth or tabletop.
After approval, the wine will be poured clockwise to the right, ladies first. The host's glass will be topped last. Make sure you don't put too much wine in the first few glasses...you need to pour the same amount for each diner.
You’re Not Done Yet!
If it’s a red wine, you may leave it on the table with the label facing the host. If it’s a white wine, now is the time to put it in the wine bucket.
Also, it is your responsibility to return to the table and refill glasses.
Note: Some white wine drinkers prefer to keep their wine room temperature and do not require an ice bucket. Also, some customers prefer to refill their own glasses. They will let you, the waiter, know if that is the case.
Holding Multiple Glasses
When you’re carrying multiple wine glasses, turn your hand palm up and slip the glasses (upside down) in between your fingers, so that the bulbs are hanging down below your hand and the base of the glass is resting on your palm. Layer the glass bases in your hand so that each base is either touching your fingers or interlaced with other bases. You should be able to carry at least four glasses this way.