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Waiter's Guide: How to Perform Wine Service

Updated on January 24, 2017

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.

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

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 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.

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:

  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 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.

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    • profile image

      Adam 23 months ago

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

    • Francis Huddy profile image

      Francis Huddy 3 years ago from Exmouth, Devon

      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 profile image
      Author

      bpotter 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      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 menu...it'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!

    • profile image

      triabmt 5 years ago

      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

    • profile image

      mgNff224 5 years ago

      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 profile image
      Author

      bpotter 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      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 profile image

      Brupie 5 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      pflpfl 5 years ago

      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 profile image
      Author

      bpotter 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      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.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Welcome to HubPages, interesting article

    • rjsadowski profile image

      rjsadowski 5 years ago

      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 profile image

      bingoinfo 5 years ago from East

      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.