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Wine ordering confusion

Interesting question posed on Michael Bauer's blog (link below): restaurant customer finds a bottle of Stoller Willamette Valley Pinot Noir listed for $50, tells the server "we'll have the Stoller pinot." Server presents the bottle, customers sees Stoller, accepts and drinks it. Next day, he finds he's been charged $85. Calls the restaurant, turns out he'd been served a different Stoller pinot that was also on the list.

Is the customer right to ask for a $35 refund? On the one hand, the server should have said, "we have several, which would you like?" On the other, the customer looked at the bottle and accepted it.


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  1. IMO if there was only one pinot noir from this winery on the winelist then the restaurant should honor the $50 price. Without reading the blog it certainly sounds that way inasmuch as the guy simply orders 'the Stoller pinot", as though there's only one.

    It's not up to the customer to verify that a single wine listed on the menu is the vintage listed. And, btw, if there's more than one Stoller pinot for cr*ssakes it's up to the waiter to ask the customer which one he wants.

    I had a not-exactly-similar situation occur at Emeril's steakhouse in Vegas several years ago... They had a 2001 Late Harvest Mosel riesling on the winelist which I ordered. When the bottle arrived it was actually a 2000 or '99, from a dramatically worse vintage....

    Most customers wouldn't have caught that, and IMO it's not my duty as the diner to catch these errors anyway...

    It's very irritating for the winelist not to be up to date, or the restaurant do a bait and switch with a different wine or a different vintage...

    After reading the blog I'm even more sympathetic with this diner. He says "it's the diner's fault because the sommellier presented the bottle..." COME ON, how many diners really know a pinot from a merlot anyway ? Yet they're out there ordering wine all the time. This guy clearly ordered "The Stoller Pinot"... now if there's more than one pinot it's up to the waiter to ask which one. Somebody along the line just made the decision (incorrectly) for the diner that they wanted the more expensive bottle. What if there were two rib-eyes or two filets or (as often is the case) 3 cuts of prime rib on the menu, would the waiter just assume the guy is ordering the biggest cut ?

    And to say "the sommelier presented it"... by the time the sommelier presents it, the winelist is probably no longer on the table and unless the guy memorized the year, the vineyard and appelation the grapes were harvested from, whether or not it was a reserve or not, etc. etc., how is he in the dark supposed to verify it's the wine he ordered ???

    6 Replies
    1. re: Chicago Mike

      * After reading the blog I'm even more sympathetic with this diner. He says "it's the diner's fault because the sommellier presented the bottle..." *

      Actually that's not how Bauer responded. What he said was:
      "After several more emails, the writer told me that both bottles were from the Dundee Hills; the difference was the vintage. Because the type was small, and the restaurant was dark, he didn't notice.
      Technically, the diner is responsible. The sommelier presented the bottle, and the customer accepted it. However, I think that when taking the order, the waiter should have clarified which wine the diner wanted.
      I'm not sure it's a bait and switch, but I think the restaurant was lax in its responsibility, and I think the reader was correct to protest and get the money refunded."

      I think that's exactly right. Technically, the diner is responsible - there is a reason that part of the "ritual" of wine tasting is that they present the bottle to you to look at before opening. It's so that you can inspect it and make sure it's what you ordered. Any time I'm paying $50+ for a bottle I will look at it and make sure it's right. The world is full of incompetent waitstaff and occasionally even unscrupulous ones. Plus, my wife says I mumble. 95% of the time it's the right wine, but sometimes it'll be a different vintage, and very rarely not the right wine. Plus, if you see on the wine list that there are multiple vintages of the same wine, it'd be a wise thing to be more specific than to say "the Stoller Pinot."

      Notwithstanding all of the above, it was irresponsible and bad service on the part of the restaurant not to request more clarity - and I agree w/ the columnist that "the reader was correct to protest and get the money refunded" (which the restaurant did).

      1. re: Chicago Mike

        Chicago Mike,
        For the first time, I think, I have to disagree with you. The bottle is presented for a very good reason. The producer, the vintage, the vineyard, etc., should be checked. That is also where the tradition of presenting the cork came from - producer and vintage "switches," which seem to have died out, except maybe at auction with old, rare wines. (Note: it does seem to be rearing its ugly head again).

        Now, it the wine list only had one, and a substitution was made, the server is obligated to inform the diner. As stated elsewhere, the server does have some culpability, regarding getting the order correct, but the client did accept the bottle.

        As for recalling what was ordered, I always make a mental note of what it was, even with a half-dozen different wines coming to the table. If there is a doubt, then consultation with the wine list - yes, I've had it brought back for verification on a few occasions - should answer the question.

        A good server should ask for specifics on a wine (and I like to give them the bin #'s, if printed to help), and then recite the specifics, when the bottle is presented.


        1. re: Bill Hunt

          I would agree, to a point, if there were more than one bottling from a particular vineyard on the winelist.... but it's not clear in this case that there is one.

          But further, how many diners really do scrutinize the wine that arrives. If you have 6 people at the table yucking it up, and they've had a couple cocktails prior to even sitting down, and the sommelier arrives with a bottle that's from the same vineyard they ordered, how many diners will scrutinize it any further ?? Honestly I'd think well less than half.... and even a fair number of "wine afficianados" could easily miss the vintage year if they're not concentrating.

          It seems to be the consensus of the board that if you order the 2000 Chateau Margaux and instead the sommelier brings out the 1990 Margaux, that it's on you to catch it, even if the sommelier just flashes the bottle then pulls it back to the decanting cart.... Now, if the sommelier says, "here you are sir, the exceptional 1990 Margaux", then that's a bit different to me...

          1. re: Chicago Mike

            I've had good servers who walk through each essential piece of information and even discretely point to the label to confirm. A bit patronizing but nonetheless shows a thorough effort to demonstrate it's the right wine. Even at restaurants without that kind of service, in my experience most will hold the bottle until you confirm it's what you want.

            From there it's probably legally cavaet emptor and the restaurant is not obligated to refund, but if they've delivered something the customer didn't order, the responsible thing is to refund the difference.

            1. re: Frodnesor

              Not patronizing at all to go over essential info. It's to make sure everyone's on the same page and that the server is presenting the correct wine. In places I've worked this was required, precisely to avoid the situation the OP talks about. BTW, it's the server's responsibility to present the correct wine or clarify if there's some confusion. The refund was entirely appropriate.

      2. Both the server and the customer made mistakes. But on the presumption that the server is/should be much more familiar with the restaurant's wine list than the customer, the customer is right to request a refund. If it were a sommelier who retrieved and presented the bottle, even more of the responsibility should fall on the restaurant.

        As an aside, a restaurant that would refuse such a request when the difference is $35 is one that probably needs new management. Most reasonable diners, realizing they had also made a mistake, would gladly take a gift certificate for the same amount.

        A more interesting question: what if the wholesale price of the more expensive bottle were much higher than that of the menu price of the less expensive bottle? I still think the restaurant needs to just bite the bullet and take the hit, but that may not be the best solution in terms of equity and fairness.

        3 Replies
        1. re: mengathon

          Oh, I think that's quite equitable and fair considering the onus is on restaurant management to adequately prepare servers about what is and isn't on the wine list. As was stated in the blog, " the restaurant was lax in it's responsibility."

          1. re: Gio

            I agree that the restaurant was lax in its responsibility, but the customer is not entirely without fault. And for the difference of $35, the restaurant should simply eat it for various reasons ranging from convenience to good will.

            But for the hypothetical difference of $135? Again, I think the restaurant still needs to eat it. But when both parties are in error, I don't think you can always place the entire costs of the mistakes on the restaurant and say it's equitable and fair.

          2. re: mengathon

            Whether it's good business for a restaurant to refuse the request is another question. There are lots of unreasonable or unjustified requests it would be foolish to deny.

            That's why I asked if the customer was right to ask fro a refund.

          3. Another likely mistake was that the two vintages presumably weren't right next to each other on the list. I've seen that at places where the wines are sorted by price.

            1. In the blog, it indicates tat the difference was the vintage, not a different wine from the same produceer. However, there is no information as to whether there were more than one vintage listed. If ther was only one listed on the carte, then it is clearly the restaurant's responsibility to notify the customer of the difference in both the vintage and the price. If there were more than one vintage on the list, I still believe that primary responsibility lies with the sommelier for not asking which one the customer wanted. The customer bears some responsibility under this scenario, as he should have looked at the vintage to make sure he was being poured the right one. Apparently the restaurant did recognize the better business practice and refunded the difference.

              2 Replies
              1. re: chazzerking

                "After several more emails, the writer told me that both bottles were from the Dundee Hills; the difference was the vintage. Because the type was small, and the restaurant was dark, he didn't notice."

                I have to assume from this that there were multiple vintages of the wine on the list - I don't think there's any suggestion that the restaurant simply substituted a different vintage and pulled a price out of thin air.

                RL, in response to your question - was the customer right to ask for a refund? I say yes. You don't have to be entirely blameless to be treated unfairly, and if you feel you have been, you should speak up. Though it would have been much better form to (1) notice it before the bottle was opened, or at a minimum (2) say something when you're paying the bill.

                The story reminds me a bit of one of my first (somewhat involuntary) high-end wine experiences about 10 years ago. My then S.O. (now wife) and I were on vacation in San Francisco and having dinner at the Grand Cafe. Both of us were relative neophytes as wine drinkers and it would be a splurge to spend more than $30 on a bottle (back in the days when you could actually find $30 bottles on restaurant wine lists!) Our waiter, after telling us the daily specials, added that they had a "wine special" as well - a 1/2 bottle of Ridge Monte Bello. Well, I didn't know Ridge Monte Bello from Ripple at this point, but I'm thinking "Hey, it's on special, and it's a half bottle - how expensive could it be?" (and I thought it would be uncouth to ask).

                Thankfully, both S.O. and I had one of those eye-opening, "wow that's good moments" when we tasted the wine, and knew we were in the presence of greatness. Nonetheless, I was absolutely floored when the bill came - $90 for our little doll-sized 1/2 bottle!

                I have learned to never order a "wine special" without asking the price - and at least got to try a great wine while learning that lesson.

                1. re: Frodnesor

                  I assume that the reference to type size referred to the vintage marking on the bottle ( although I cocede that it might have been in reference to the list, again illustrating the ease whith which we humans can miscommunicate information). A competent server who when faced with an order that is ambiguous, should have clarified at the time it was given; " Sir, which of the Stollers did you wish, we have several?" If he just made the selection for the customer or picked randomly, he should have remarked on it at the time of serving. I would assess resposibility at least 50% on the restaurant even if more than one vintage was listed.

              2. I'm not sure if "right" enters into it. Was he right to ask/wrong not to ask . . . neither one really applies, I think.

                He certainly can ASK for a refund of the difference between the price of the two bottles. Depending upon the restaurant, they have the option to refund the difference or to keep all of the money . . . But he has no right to it.

                Technically, since the server DID present the bottle, and -- presumably -- it was unopened at the time it was brought to the table, it was on the customer to say, "I'm sorry, I ordered the ____________." I presume the customer would not eat the filet mignon and, later, say, "I'm not paying for the filet -- I ordered the New York Strip steak."

                In the case at hand, he drank the wine . . . how is it any different?

                3 Replies
                1. re: zin1953

                  Were I about to try this in a court of law, I'd ask to see the wine list to determine how these wines were listed. Do we have a copy, say in a PDF?

                  Right now, I'm at about 80% responsibility of the diner, and 20% server/restaurant, but could change my mind with more data, say the wine list...


                  1. re: zin1953

                    The difference is that the average diner at a restaurant is able to distinguish between filet mignon and NY strip at sight. It's much more difficult to distinguish between the different vintages of the same wine in the glass, or even on the bottle if one is not looking carefully.

                    The more appropriate steak analogy might be the typical angus filet from Montana v. a kobe filet from Japan. If the diner ordered, "Filet, medium rare" intending to order the angus, and the server does not ask for a clarification and serves the more expensive Kobe, I don't think it's outside of the diner's right to pay only the listed price for the angus.

                    Nevertheless, I agree that the diner bears a good amount of responsibility for making sure the bottle opened is indeed the correct one he requested.

                    1. re: mengathon

                      I agree completely, and the printing of necessary info on wine labels was a recent mini-rant of mine. Trying to see the vineyards and vintages on Biale, or Turley, in a dark restaurant is a daunting task, and I have to turn the bottles opposite a broad, bright light source. Lovely labels to look at on the shelf of a wine shop, but heck, when in a restaurant. Still, I always take the time to look closely, especially as both those cited producers offer several different vineyards, and at wildly different price-points. Now, if the server wants to serve me a Hayne, and charge me for a lesser vineyard... nah, I'd tell them of their error.


                  2. In this case, the client had the opportunity to view the wine and accept it. The client did just that. The client should have noted that there were several (obviously single vineyard, or vintage offerings), and been specific. The server is not entirely blameless, as he/she should have clarified *which* Stoller the client wanted, but was correct in presenting the bottle for acceptance. Wine belongs to the client.

                    Some years back, I was hosting a group of 10. Having ordered several whites, I *intended* to begin ordering reds for the next few courses. I ordered a Cab, or Merlot (do not recall which) from a producer, that was well represented across the list. The server brought the bottle, and I glanced at it quickly, as I was deep in conversation with a guest. The server opened it, and poured me my taste - the wine was white! I then looked closely, and sure enough it was a Burg. bottle, not a Bdx. bottle. I explained that I wanted that winery's red, but insisted that I also get that particular bottle of white - my mistake totally. I had two chances, in this case, to pick up the error (when presented and bottle shape - the client above did not have a different bottle as a tip-off), and I missed them both. The wine did not go to waste, but I seem to recall offering some to our serving staff.

                    Another quick story on "who's fault is it." Bought 4 btls. of Acacia Carneros PN at Costco, along with 8 btls. of Acacia Beckstoffer PN. First was ~ US$20, the second was ~US$50. Got home to log these into cellar, and grabbed the receipt. All 12 were @ $20. The checkout person had seen the same capsule top, looked at one and assumed that all 12 were the same. Next trip back to Costco, I brought the register receipt and paid the difference for my 8 Beckstoffers. Now, had it been the other way around, I might have made the trip the next day, instead of a week later. Their mistake, but I caught it.


                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      "Next trip back to Costco, I brought the register receipt and paid the difference for my 8 Beckstoffers."

                      You're a good guy, Bill. I'd like to say I'd have done the same thing but I might have been tempted to chalk it up to karma for having overpaid for so many bottles over the years,

                      1. re: AlabasterDisaster

                        Nah, you'd have been there in the exchange line too. Actually, it was far more difficult, than bringing back a corked btl. and getting credit. It took three people to finally get it done, and I even brought in a btl. of each, the Carneros and the Beckstoffer, so they would have the UPC code to scan. There also seemed to be a great deal of incredulity, that someone would show up to "pay more," but that is the way it should be. It did take me a week, coincidental to my next trip.

                        Like I said, you'd have been in that line too. Aside from a personal religious belief system, there are two "gods" that I never toy with: the wine gods and the golf gods. They always seem to get "even."


                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          --there are two "gods" that I never toy with: the wine gods and the golf gods. They always seem to get "even.

                          Ha. Wiser words I have not heard. I'll drink to that.

                          But I do wonder how many people would have brought it back. I admit I certainly would not have. Although now that I've learned I shouldn't mess with the wine gods, and I mean this with all seriousness, I probably would return it if my local stores were willing to re-deliver and pick up since I get nearly all my wines shipped to me.

                          See what you've done Bill? You've actually turned me into a better person!

                          As for the golf god, I've got a bone to pick with him bout that time last year when my 5 from 168 or so hit the pin (pure luck btw) and wound up in the bunker. From an eagle to a triple. Nice. Just wonderin' when I'm going to get even for that one...

                          1. re: mengathon

                            Oh, you were already that "better person," but just needed an "affirmation!" As to the latter, I find that if I am not humble enough, that fluke eagle on #5 (home course), will be snatched away with a great second shot to the green at #10 (the signature hole), that rolls past the pin, off the green, through the deep "bunker of no return" and into the desert, for an "unplayable." NOTE TO SELF: always be humble!

                            See, if I had kept my mouth shut, the Beckstoffer would all have been corked, and I'd not have a receipt for it !!!! As it turned out, the first three, over the years, have been excellent, but you know those "wine gods."


                    2. Without reading the blog, I would say it is the restaurant's job to honor the refund. If there was only 1 Stoller Willemete Pinot on the list, and the server brought a different Stoller Pinot, it is perfectly understandable for the customer not to catch the SERVER'S mistake. On the other hand, if there are multiplewines on the list that matcher the customer's description, it is the SERVER'S responsibility to pin down exactly which wine the customewr wants as he, clearly, is not giving enough information and may not recognize the problem.

                      1. I've read through this thread, and thought that I'd comment from the perspective of one who drinks wine with dinner every night, but really isn't that knowledgeable about wine. This could easily have happened to me if for some reason I didn't notice that they had two vintages of the same wine on the wine list. I usually order the wine by both saying what I want and pointing to it on the wine list. I know this is sacrilegious, but I don't know much about which years are good or bad for a particular wine, and so don't make my choice based on the year - my choice is usually based on the grape, familiarity with the house and price. So the vintage might well not register in my brain when I order, such that I would then check the year on the bottle when it is presented to me. I would have noticed the price difference on the bill though.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: MMRuth

                          1) Presuming there are multiple vintages -- or multiple vineyards -- on the wine list . . .

                          2) Presuming it's the sommelier who is taking the wine order and not "Hi, I'm Jake -- I'll be your server this evening" . . .

                          * * * * *
                          There is no difference between -- for example:

                          a1) 2005 Chateau Cache Phloe
                          Russian River Valley
                          Pinot Noir
                          "X" Vineyard


                          a2) 2005 Chateau Cache Phloe
                          Russian River Valley
                          Pinot Noir
                          "Y" Vineyard


                          b1) Chateau Latour 2000


                          b2) Chateau Latour 1929

                          The difference between a1 & a2 is subtle, perhaps, and may be only $50, compared to the difference between b1 & b2, which might be hundreds of dollars, but it is the "same difference."

                          * * * * *
                          The sommelier KNOWS the difference(s) and should be attuned to them; the "server" may not. But either way, the bottle is presented to the customer to verify that it is indeed the correct bottle . . . .

                          I am not saying that mistakes never happen. Of course they do! And if the bottle were presented to me and I failed to notice it was not the wine I ordered, and that bottle was then opened and consumed . . .

                          -- I MAY ask for a refund in the price between the bottle I *thought* I ordered and the one I ended up drinking.

                          -- I would HOPE the restaurant would indeed grant me that refund, and presuming it's more like the "a" example and not the like the "b" example above, I think the restaurant would.

                          -- OTOH, if the restaurant decides not to (and the greater the price discrepancy, the more I understand their reluctance), I probably would understand, too . . . no matter how much I may not like it.

                          1. re: zin1953

                            Agreed - though if the difference were (b) as in your example, I'd be *a lot* more worried about getting the refund. As a counter point, the smaller the price discrepancy, the more comfortable I would be in covering it myself. I would generally think that the person ordering the 1929 Chateau Latour would specify the vintage - which was not done in the original example. Though if presented with a wine list that had a series of vintages of Chateau Latour, I would certainly know enough to specify the vintage I wanted and would, in such case, I think, check, since I would previously have been "alerted" to the wide price discrepancies in the vintages.

                            Edit - and, as a lawyer, I'm not unaware of the implicit contract etc. involved in their showing me the bottle and my accepting it.

                          2. re: MMRuth


                            I do the same, I order the wine by saying it and pointing to it as well. And I'll throw in the bin number too if they have it. And it's not sacrilege to order as you do. My choice is almost always based on the three criteria you've mentioned, as opposed to the year. I only remember that 1996 was a good year for champagne and that 2002 was a bad year for Rhône. That's usually good enough to get by.

                          3. Absolutely.

                            If the restaurant presented something different than what was described on the menu without first telling the customer, then in no way can the customer have "accepted" the substitution. Unless (and there's always an unless), the substitution was patently obvious; meaning that the customer ought to have known that he was receiving something different to what he had ordered.

                            For example, if the customer had ordered still water, and a bottle of Vintage Dom Perignon was presented (as his water), opened and consumed, the customer cannot argue to pay only the price of the bottle of water.


                            20 Replies
                            1. re: TexasToast

                              And if the customer ordered a bottle of Moet & Chandon vintage Brut Imperial Champagne, and was presented with a bottle of Moet & Chandon vintage Brut "Cuvee Dom Perignon" Champagne instead?

                              1. re: zin1953

                                As I understood the scenario posed in the OP, the customer ordered a wine that was on the menu by name.

                                The customer was given a different wine that was not on the menu.

                                The customer was not told, nor was it patently obvious under the circumstances, that a different product had been presented.

                                Then come all the variables:

                                Was it a case of the restaurant being sold out of one type and so making a substitution of a more expensive bottle?

                                Or did the waiter accidentally pick up the wrong bottle?

                                Did the waiter deliberately bring the wrong bottle hoping the customer wouldn't notice?

                                Putting all that aside, what I stated in my earlier post holds true. Essentially, it's the responsibility of the establishment to enusre the customer gets what he's ordered.


                                1. re: TexasToast

                                  I'm starting to get scared here ....

                                  From now on (seriously), when I order a wine of ANY significance at a restaurant I'm making sure the vintage year AND price appear on either the servers order pad or the elecxtronic booking system....

                                  Seriously.... there's just too much bottle switching and year-switching out there to not do this....

                                  You know what this is analagous to ???.... Ever brouse through the wine racks and there are those Wine Spectator / RP rating comment cards attached to the wine ?? And it reads "Spectacular wine, a classic..99 Points" and it describes some wine of vintage year 2002... and you look at the bottles in the bin and they are all 2003s... how many times have you seen that ?

                                  1. re: Chicago Mike

                                    All the time!

                                    Edit - I do know enough to notice that.

                                    1. re: Chicago Mike

                                      Maybe I've just been very fortunate with servers or the specific restaurants I frequent in NY, but I don't recall ever getting a bottle different from the one I ordered, in winery or vintage, in the last 5 years.

                                      I'm also a little surprised at how often everyone thinks intentional bottle and year switching occurs. Just how much bottle and year switching is there? And how much do you think is there? Do these two really match up? How many times have you experienced it in the last 5 years out of the times you've ordered a wine at a restaurant? 1 in 25? 1 in 50? Or are the odds really much higher because we tend to remember the poor experiences in service more vividly? OTOH, I would immediately stop going to any restaurant about which I had the slightest suspicions that they were doing something sneaky.

                                      It's been my experience that very few restaurants make even unintentional errors if they have a semi-serious wine list. Those with a small list have too few bottles to be confused, and those with a big, serious list are usually well organized with listed bin numbers and care enough about their program to not be lax in dealings with their customers. Again, maybe I've just been lucky.

                                      1. re: mengathon

                                        I think particularly in lower end restaurants it's not uncommon that they restock with a new vintage and don't update the wine list. Where I am in Miami, it's also not uncommon for upscale restaurants to have complete nincompoops for servers who are pleased with themselves just for successfully extracting a cork, and for whom a failure to notice a different vintage, or retrieval of the wrong wine, would not be remotely surprising. So I do think that unintentional errors occur.

                                        I think it is extremely infrequent for any restaurant to attempt to intentionally bomboozle a customer into getting a wine that is more expensive than what they paid for. However, and maybe this is just a Miami trend, a number of places (including quite high-end ones) are guilty of perpetual efforts to upsell and any number of different "hidden charges". One of the priciest places in town (apps $20-35, mains $35-75) still charges extra for bottled water, bread plates, and after-dinner petit fours (so I hear - I refuse to go). With this kind of gouging, often quite surreptitious, I wouldn't be surprised by a less-than-accidental substitution of a more expensive wine either.

                                        1. re: mengathon

                                          I've had the wrong wine presented (usually producer, not vintage), maybe four times. I caught three and had *every* opportunity to catch the fourth, but was too busy with my guests, so I "ate" my mistake. In the three other cases, the server/sommelier retreated to the cellar, often with my clarification of the bin #, and returned with the proper bottle.

                                          I've had maybe a dozen times, that the restaurant did not have the wine that I ordered, and I was notified. There have been a number of, "we'll gladly substitute the 19xx for the lesser 19yy, at the same price... " or "we only have the 19xx, but it's a mere $5 more per btl., " and once, when I ordered 2 btls. of a Syrah at about $95 and the server informed me that they were out, but the sommelier highly recommended another Syrah, that was not on the list. Placing my trust in this sommelier, I agreed. The "recommended" Syrah was $250/btl. x 2. I was not a happy camper, but as we were entertaining board members, I ate the difference, but have not dined there again. When one has established price point, all recs. should be similar, or a notification should be made. I take responsibility for not inquiring as to the price for the substituted wine, but again, we were entertaining, and I did not want to talk $s, at the table. I will handle THAT situation differently, next time.


                                          1. re: Bill Hunt


                                            In these instances, it sounds as if the 4 mistakes were innocent and not an intentional switch on the part of the staff?

                                            The situation of ordering a bottle that the restaurant no longer has in inventory does occur much more frequently. And as long as the restaurant provides notification, I think we can all agree it's harmless. But the sommelier's substitution of the syrah that's 150% higher in price, without informing you, is utterly unacceptable and indefensible. As a result, he permanently lost a good customer, and rightfully so.

                                            1. re: mengathon


                                              Yes, I believe that the first were just mistakes, especially as one happened at a favorite FR restaurant here, that we dine at frequently and the wine staff is excellent. They were horrified, that they had brought the wrong wine. The others were innocent too, in my appraisal of the situation.

                                              Yes, inventories do change, and even with laserprinters, it can be difficult to keep abreast of exactly what is left in the cellar. Just did a week in New Orleans, and the wine lists were truly works in progress, as many restaurants, even the ones that did not flood, lost most of their wine, due to power outages for weeks. I was not surprised to have to substitute on several occasions, as their inventories are really limited still. OTOH, the sommelier/server worked with me to get something to pair as well, and at a similar price point.

                                              The last situation was beyond my comprehension and I was totally blind-sided by it, especially as the sommelier is the ex-wife of the chef/owner (a James Beard Award winner), and known for her excellence. It was absolutely inexcusable, in my book, but a similar incident (without the substitution aspect) happened at the dining room of another JB award chef (resort, not privately owned), with a Master Of Wine sommelier. Big mistake to take advantage of a diner, as we canceled three upcoming candidate dinners there, and I have yet to return. I've even gone to the trouble of moving reservations for large meetings from there, to other restaurants. They nicked me for a few hundred, but lost 10s of thousands in future business. The chef is now gone, and the fate of the sommelier is in the balance, as the resort wants to go to a less formal, hipper dining scene without the pomp, etc. I'll miss the elegance, which I love, but do not mind seeing an operation that assumes that everyone is padding their expense account anyway, so why not grab a handful of cash, while the opportunity presents itself.

                                              OK, I'm getting WAY off-topic here - sorry!


                                      2. re: TexasToast


                                        Have we gotten a copy of the wine list in question? I thought that I had followed this tread, but maybe I missed it.

                                        If the list had the two different vintages of the wine (plus maybe more), then it should behove the client to choose the proper vintage. If there was only one vintage (as you seem to indicate), and another, higher-priced vintage was presented, opened and consumed, then I must change my stand on this issue. THAT substitution should have been noted by the server, and the price difference brought to the attention of the client for him/her to decide.

                                        I'll go back over the thread to see if I missed something.


                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          Yes - my understanding from the original link is that it was unclear as to whether the bottle actually presented was on the wine list or not. But I did think that the person in questioned ordered the bottle without specifying a vintage, FWIW.

                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                            Good point--if only one vintage was on the list, the restaurant would definitely be in the wrong to substitute a different vintage at a higher price without saying anything.

                                            The blog entry doesn't say whether both were on the list. Good ol' Michael Bauer.

                                            Here's a permalink:


                                          2. re: TexasToast

                                            1) You didn't answer my question.

                                            2) The BLOG to which Robert (the OP) refers provides very few specifics. However . . .

                                            2a) "The customer was given a different wine that was not on the menu."
                                            No one has EVER said bot hwines were not on the wine list.

                                            2b) "The customer was not told, nor was it patently obvious under the circumstances, that a different product had been presented."
                                            This presumes, does it not, that the restaurant KNEW they were bringinga different bottle of wine tothe table. I do not know that, nor am I sure how you do.

                                            2c) "Was it a case of the restaurant being sold out of one type and so making a substitution of a more expensive bottle?"
                                            That much IS clear, and the answer is no. The person who originally wrote to Michael Bauer (le blogiste) was quoted in the blog as saying, "they had two different wines with the same name at very different prices."

                                            2d) "Or did the waiter accidentally pick up the wrong bottle?"
                                            To my way of thinking, that's the most logical explanation.

                                            2e) "Did the waiter deliberately bring the wrong bottle hoping the customer wouldn't notice?" I doubt it. That said, I do not know the name of the restaurant, and I certainly have no proof for this doubt. Rather, I know few business people who deliberately set out to rip off a customer.

                                            Face it: yes, someone can rip you off once, but wouldn't you react not only by never going back to this restaurant, but also by telling all your friends how they ripped you off? Is $35 worth that much BAD publicity? I doubt it. And since the original diner writes, ""I was looking for a bottle of wine in the $60 range and when I found a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir for $50," I would think the mistake would (and obviously was) readily discovered.

                                            1. re: zin1953

                                              We don't know whether the vintage served was on the list or not. or whether they were sold out of the one ordered.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                My assumption from the story is that there were multiple vintages on the list. It would be bad form, but not entirely uncommon, to just substitute a vintage for one that wasn't on the list. It would be pretty darn outrageous to change vintage AND change the price to an arbitrary, higher price that wasn't anywhere on the list. They couldn't have just pulled the $85 price out of thin air; therefore I assume the vintage served was on the list at the higher price.

                                                1. re: Frodnesor

                                                  I made the same assumption, but given that the author is Michael Bauer, he might just have been sloppy in his reporting. I doubt he'd do that in print but he's really offhand about his blog posts.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    >>> but given that the author is Michael Bauer, he might just have been sloppy in his reporting. <<<

                                                    Good point.

                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                      It may be the time I tried law school and hated it, but I went back to the Bauer blog to read the original text and it does not seem clear whether the wine served was on the list or not. What is said is that it was dark and the type was small, so the diner could not see the vintage difference. It isn't specific about whether the type was on the wine list or on the bottle presented, or both. One might infer that, had there been two different vintages on the list, the diner would have had reason to check the vintage on the bottle, but that is not fully detailed in the blog, nor is it solely the responsibility of the diner (IMHO).

                                                      What does seem obvious is that, if there were two vintages on the list, the server should have clarified which one was being ordered (regardless of whether or not there was a price difference). If the less expensive wine was the only one on the list, the server is responsible for having served a more expensive wine without notifying the diner, especially given the presumption that the diner should served what was ordered.

                                                      1. re: Midlife

                                                        Thank you Midlife. That's what I said (sort of).


                                                        1. re: Midlife

                                                          Regardless of what was on the wine list, the entire reason the bottle is "presented" to the patron is to verify the bottle being brought to the table is what was ordered.

                                                          If I order Chateau Cache Phloe, and a quick, cursory glance in the direction of the bottle in the hands of the server reveals that he/she is indeed holding a bottle of Chateau Cache Phloe and I nod my head . . .

                                                          Who's fault is it that I said kab-er-NAY but the bottle brought was shar-don-NAY?

                                                          It's not just the brand name that needs to be verified, but the WINE: the vintage, the vineyard designation, the variety, the appellation, etc., etc., etc.

                                                          If I order a Burgundy, and I'm presented a Charmes-Chambertin but I ordered a Gevrey-Chambertin . . . .

                                        2. To add 1 more small thwack to a quite terminal equine, I would think that it would be quite certain that the server, be it sommelier or "hi, my name is Joe" would confirm the selection with the diner between the two Latours. Given that fact, we are then only haggling over price(differential) as the old joke goes. Even if the difference is $35, when the server undertakes to make the selection for the diner, he/she bears a significant responsibility for any resulting misunderstanding. The diner isn't without fault, especially if thee are 2 vintages on the carte, but more so on the server and consequently on the restaurant. At least that's what i think.

                                          1. My personal opinion, its the diner's fault. Ultimately it's up to the diner to check the wine, that is why its "presented". I was at a steak house about a year ago and ordered a 2002 vintage wine listed on the wine list. I had it before and enjoyed it. They brought out the 2003 vintage and presented it to me. I tasted the 2003 vintage before and didn't care for it. I told the wait person the vintage was not the same as the one listed on the wine list. I ended up ordering a completely different wine for dinner. Granted it was just a waitstaff person and not a sommelier. However, if I had accepted the 2003 and drank it then thats that. If I later saw it was the 2003 after consuming the bottle should I then ask for my money back? That's crazy.

                                            For the customer its a lesson learned. Next time they will pay closer attention. Thats a big problem with this country is no one wants to take responsibility for their mistakes. Its always someone else's fault.

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: Scott M

                                              the diner was not asking for a refund of the whole price. he requested a refund oof the difference in prices, which is quite different.No one on the thread has suggested that the diner is without fault here. If you had just glanced at the bottle presented while you were in converstion and failed to discern the different vintage, you would be somewhat disgruntled,especially if the 02 was the only one listed, and no one said anything about the price difference. Again, I'm not suggesting in any way that the diner was blameless, just that the establishment has some responsibility s well.

                                              1. re: chazzerking

                                                Well if the diner is not blameless then what negative impact does the customer suffer if he gets the difference refunded? He gets the better wine at the cheaper price. If the customer is refunded then the end result would be the customer being rewarded and the establishment being punished.

                                                The customer is given the responsibility of final approval. So you are suggesting the restaurant should eat the price difference and the customer should get the more expensive wine at the lower price?

                                                1. re: Scott M

                                                  >>> So you are suggesting the restaurant should eat the price difference and the customer should get the more expensive wine at the lower price? <<<

                                                  I can't speak for chazzerking, but that is EXACTLY what I am suggesting . . . BUT ONLY on a case-by-case basis.

                                                  To my way of thinking, the "blame" for the incorrect bottle being consumed lies more with the diner than with the waiter, as I read the original blog, but the responsibility is -- at best (worst?) -- shared. (If it were the sommelier rather than the "regular" waiter who took the wine order and served the wine, the scale might tip the other way, albeit still shared.) HOWEVER . . .

                                                  If the restaurant wants to keep a customer happy -- and keep him/her as a customer! -- then it is probably worth it to the establishment to "eat" the$35 difference. It's also worth it in order to avoid any negative publicity.

                                                  But this MUST be on a case-by-case (bottle-by-bottle?) basis. There is NO WAY that I would be suggesting the restaurant refund the difference if we were discussing the difference between the 2005 Château Latour and the 1945 Château Latour . . . to be rather blantant and obvious about an example.

                                                  Just my 2¢ -- worth far less, I'm sure.

                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                    Yes, a sliding scale of culpability is called for. The determination of % of blame (client v restaurant) would rest on data, that we do not seem to have available, i.e. position of server in the hierarchy, wine list itself, exact communication between the server & client.

                                                    In any case, I do agree that a refund, of some sort, would be a good move, and then the restaurant needs to do a post-mortem of the event, to see how they could do a better job. Happens all of the time. Maybe a bit more wine service education, maybe a better wine list, or maybe just a bit more communication between the servers and the clients.


                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                      I agree from a business sense the restaurant should take responsibility and refund the money. The possible bad blood over $35 would not be worth it. However, the original question was, "Is the customer right in asking for the refund." I myself feel the if I called to inquire the next day and was told I had the received the more expensive bottle I would have chalked it up to my mistake for not paying attention when the wine was presented and not demanded a refund. If the restaurant insisted on refunding the difference I would accept it.

                                                      1. re: Scott M

                                                        In all probability, I would have done the same, Scott.

                                            2. Something like this happened to me last night.

                                              I ordered a 2004 Müller-Catoir Riesling spatlese. Arrived, I checked the vintage but didn't read the whole label carefully, tasted good. After we were maybe halfway through our first glasses I noticed that it was actually Scheurebe. I flagged down the server and said, hey, this isn't the Riesling, it's good so we're happy to drink it but there should be a price adjustment. She goes off to talk with the wine guy, comes back and tells me it is Riesling. I say, no, it's not, Scheurebe's a different grape. Eventually the wine guy comes over, didn't want to adjust the price until I said, well, OK, then just take it back, since it's not what we ordered, at which point he agreed to reduce the charge.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                I guess that all worked out fine, but it does not reflect well on the restaurant. As has been stated, mistakes happen, and you were doing your best to be a good client. I cannot fathom the problem with the restaurant. Wrong wine, go with the correct price. This seems a no-brainer to me. If you order a Pinot Noir from me, and the Pinot Meunier, same vintage, etc. is delivered, you accept it, and consume some of it, then discover the mistake, I'd reduce the price to that of the PN, and apologize for MY mistake. If the PM happened to be more expensive, I'd thank you for your honesty and charge you the lesser cost. I assume that the Scheurebe was less expensive, than was the Riesling. Why attempt to charge a client for something that they did not get. The inventory will still have the Riesling in it for later sale. I cannot understand their reluctance to adjust the bill.


                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                  The main problem is that the extremely knowledgeable wine guy left recently.

                                                  The Scheurebe was the only Müller-Catoir they had. They just listed it wrong.

                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  RL, I hope this place is not one of your regular haunts ! That is just a ridiculous response to the situation.

                                                  1. re: TonyO

                                                    It doesn't surprise me in the least! Many places think their customers are idiots and don't know their Scheurebe from there Sauternes (yes I know it's not a grape, but it's alliterative)!


                                                3. For a somewhat different approach to customer service, see this (restaurant customer arrested for not paying $3 upcharge on large vs. small order of lentils):