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A Waiter's Guide to Performing Proper Wine Service

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I'm a lover of fine food and a restaurant manager who enjoys writing about the industry.

A double-hinged corkscrew (or in waiter speak, a wine key) can make opening a bottle much easier.

A double-hinged corkscrew (or in waiter speak, a wine key) can make opening a bottle much easier.

Step-by-Step Process for Serving Wine

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.

1. The Order

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.

2. 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.

3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. You're supposed to keep the label facing 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 into 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.

4. You're Not Done Yet! Refilling the Glasses

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 at 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

Holding multiple glasses

How to Carry Multiple Wine 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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Tanjiru on October 07, 2019:

It really helped mo on my studies, especially at my bartending class.

LAUREN on March 14, 2019:


Lauren on August 29, 2018:

Nice article, am understanding culinary art this will help me

Isaac Bison on October 13, 2017:

A very helpful and educative article.

Adam on September 16, 2015:

What would you do if you spilt red wine on the tablecloth when pouring ?

Francis Huddy from Exmouth, Devon on May 17, 2014:

An excellent, very interesting article. I used to be a wine waiter (at the Hilton Metropole, Brighton; and the legendary, but now shut-down Café Royal, Regent Street, London). At the Metropole, my manager / head waiter was very good and taught us that you ALWAYS show the label. When you pour (at the right of the customer), the label must face the customer, so that they can read the wine's name, vineyard, etc.

However, at both the Brighton Hilton Metropole and the Café Royal in London, it was generally large-scale banqueting (500+ people, on many occasions) and, usually, the wine was ordered by the hundreds / crate! You might work 5 tables of 12, but no customer you served had actually ordered the wine. It would normally be a big annual do for one particular company. There was therefore no need to be too formal when serving wine. But we still observed the 'show the label' rule.

I only worked in hospitality for about 3 years (and all about 20 years ago, alas). Happy days, looking back.

bpotter (author) from Massachusetts on July 06, 2012:

Hi Triabmt,

I'd say the number one thing restaurants test is whether or not you know the menu. Did you study it? If so, you should be fine. If not, and you fail, they may give you another chance as they don't want to lose the money they put into training you. Or, that may be it! Totally depends on the restaurant. Have people quiz you on the's best if it's someone who works there so they will know if you forgot a modifier question. I always made my staff go through the menu and identify all of the items that required follow up questions. For example, if someone orders wheat toast, there is no follow up. But if they order Filet Mignon, you better ask how they want it cooked. Learn the menu! Learning it will lead to better tips. And good luck!

triabmt on July 06, 2012:

hi there,

am writing my first waitressing test tomorrow i just wanna know what they usually ask and if it so happens that i fail am i going to lose my job or is it just a procedure ...please help am stressing

mgNff224 on June 10, 2012:

I took culinary, banquet, baking and pastry arts when I was in high school for 3 years. They were very thorough on making sure we very "to the T" with literally everything. But, they never trained/taught us anything about wine/beverage serving. Which sucked because after getting a great job at a very popular restaurant as a "experience waitress", it made me look completely inexperienced and improperly trained when I had to ask for assistance in that area. This article helps out so much!!! Thank you so much. :-D

bpotter (author) from Massachusetts on January 19, 2012:

Hey Brupie - It's true...Especially in big cities! Hiring managers want "career waiters" who have all of the skills. But there is no way to get those skills unless someone let's you in the door somewhere. At my last restaurant I hired a lot of beginner waiters, with the goal of training them the RIGHT way. I found myself writing manuals on cocktails, wine, service, etc, for them to learn from. That is why I am writing these hubs now! Thanks for the comment!

Brupie on January 18, 2012:

Thanks for pointing out all the considerations. Restaurants often expect their staff to know how to do everything, but fail to train new employees without prior experience.

pflpfl on January 14, 2012:

Excellect article - every wine server should know this, and very few do, except at very exclusive establishments.I would add, it is very bad form for the server to hold the bottle between his/her knees in front of the customer to extract the cork - been there, seen that.

bpotter (author) from Massachusetts on January 14, 2012:

Thank you everyone! A note on the Champagne opening, since you mentioned bad experiences. The key to opening champagne (or any sparkling wine) is NOT to aim for the movie-style loud pop with bubbly explosion. Always point the bottle away from other people, and simultaneously apply pressure on the cork while wiggling it loose from the bottle. Pushing down on the cork while easing it free keeps the champagne from spraying everywhere. Also, pour slowly! Or it will quickly spill over the glass and all over the table.

Luis E Gonzalez from Miami, Florida on January 13, 2012:

Welcome to HubPages, interesting article

rjsadowski on January 13, 2012:

A good article. Many waiters in restaurants don't even know how to open a bottle of wine. No one trains them. Many, many years ago, my mother waited on the famous prize fighter, Jack Dempsy. He ordered champagne and when she opened it, it went all over things . She was embarrased. He took pity on her and left her a $5 tip. In those days,that was probably more than the champagne cost. Today, customers aren't that understanding.

bingoinfo from East on January 13, 2012:

good article. i had a bad experience to open a bottle of sparkling wine once a time. after that?i joined a wine course. yes?wine is something we need to enjoy. thanks for your job.