Familiarize yourself with the wine list. I tell my staff trainees, the first step in good wine service is to take the wine list home, and read it out-loud. If you think you sound funny saying those names - then how will it sound to the guest trying to order a bottle of wine? Guests often look to servers for recommendations since it is virtually impossible for the average consumer to be familiar with the 20,000 plus wine labels available in the U.S. market. You can’t make a recommendation if you don’t know anything about the wine. It may not be possible to taste the entire wine list, but wines by the glass should be tasted when possible and descriptions of wines by the bottle should be made available (most winery web sites have wine fact sheets available).
Recommend Wine. Wine lists should be presented to the host rather than being placed on the table randomly. Recommend wine and food pairings. Ask for the wine order.
May I suggest champagne or sparkling wine to start?
May I recommend a bottle to share or wines by the glass?
Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with the beef special. May I bring you a glass with your entrée?
May I pair a glass of dessert wine or Cognac with your dessert course?
Banish Wine Snobbery. Guests are often intimidated by wine and therefore either never order it for fear of embarrassment or simply pick a "default" wine they recognize or can say easily; pronunciations are difficult and tasting etiquette confusing. Help your guests feel comfortable with wine. Wine is a beverage meant to be enjoyed on many different levels, end of story! Some guests will welcome a little pomp and circumstance with a fine bottle of wine; others will simply want a great tasting beverage to wash down their meal. Learn to read your guest’s wine level and accommodate them accordingly. Never contradict a customer’s wine selection; everyone has different tastes and unless your opinion is solicited, don’t offer it.
A 25 year drinks industry expert, Brian has worked on just about every side of the beverage business, specializing in wine & spirits education, staff training, creative consulting, and of course service. He lives and works in Connecticut, where the number of working Somm's is limited, but he hopes through the effort of this site and its related events, that will change.