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How do you feel about NOT ordering wine at $$ dinners?

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I'm Asian, and tend to turn beet-red when I drink small quantities of alcohol. I do like tiny glasses of wine, but I tend to prefer to not drink wine with my meal at restaurants.

I find that at higher-end restaurants, is it considered "ok" to not order wine with the dinner? I'm always amazed at how a little bit of wine will literally double the bill - but I do feel somewhat strange when I get various offers for the wine list, and I turn them down.

Just wondering - I know wine's one of the prime moneymakers for restaurants, even the high-end ones.

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  1. Don't feel strange. I hardly drink anymore and restaurants understand (or should understand) that people abstain from alcohol for various reasons -- pregnancy, former alcoholic, health, religious, don't like the taste of alcohol, etc. Nobody has ever treated me poorly or said anything snide to me for this behavior.

    1. I feel fine not ordering wine if I'm eating at a restaurant, even if the food/restaurant is in the upper echelon. I find it's important to distinguish between the restaurant and the server. If the restaurant is worth its salt, they should treat you the same. Unfortunately, I have encountered waiters being noticeably colder and ignoring of my party if wine is not ordered. This is unprofessional, childish and implies that the server has not acquired manners or proper training. However, you have NO OBLIGATION to order wine if you do not want it. Dining out is an experience for the customer. How do they know you don't have a health condition or a religion preventing alcohol consumption? And before someone complains that this reduces the tip, I have worked in food service and have always graciously accepted what my guests ordered--because it was my job not to be a jerk to patrons.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bookmonger

        Good point about the distinction between the restaurant itself and the server.

        My husband is a non-drinker and i rarely order more than one glass of wine. We've run into attitude from servers because of this. We find it to be mostly in the mid-range. Never once at a high end establishment has there been any issue however. This is one of a few reasons we tend to avoid most mid range options these days and stick to inexpensive ethnic and the occasional splurge on the high end.

      2. I don't really have a taste for wine at all. I wouldn't hesitate to order water in a fine dining restaurant. Or any restaurant, really.

        1. You should order whatever you want, or don't want.

          You're there to enjoy your dinner -- not to please the restaurant owner.

          1. I was a waiter for years, including in a four star restaurant. I never expected my parties to order wine. Sure, it can drive up the check, so it was good when it did happen, but expected it? Never.

            When I want wine, I order it -- but when I do it's usually just a glass. If I don't, I never give it a second thought.

            1. I occasionally dine out with someone with whom I used to split a bottle of wine. For health reasons that is no longer a good idea for my friend, and we now just get one glass each. On rare occasions we will split a second glass between us. No waiter, even ones who know how much we used to drink, has ever mentioned it, regardless of what type of restaurant it is. They graciously accept the fact that for whatever personal reason, we choose to drink less.

              1. I think it's also going to depend on the circumstances. Where I grew up, we would often have 10 course Chinese banquets where ordering wine was very rare.

                1. Just do it ( not ordering wine or other alcohol).

                  Order a nice bottle of plain "flat" water. do not put lemon in it.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Maximilien

                    >>is it considered "ok" to not order wine with the dinner?

                    Your meal, your money, your choice.

                    My drink of choice is a Manhattan, and I nurse it through the entire meal. Hubby has a glass of wine with dinner. We've never had a reaction.

                    1. re: dolores

                      Actually, dolores brings up an excellent point. Question: Do you also turn red when drinking small quantities of beer or mixed drinks? These days, great restaurants usually have great bars and great bartenders. If you want a bit of indulgence, find a good mixed drink or beer that works for you and pairs well with your cuisine, and try that instead. Don't know what pairs well with what you're ordering? Ask your waiter, and if they don't know, have them ask the bartender. Bartenders are VERY busy creatures, but they are usually also VERY smart and love to offer advice! At least, that has been my experience. Try it!!!

                      1. re: Thefoodczar

                        I always order a Coke at high end restaurants...

                        1. re: Thefoodczar

                          The OP mentioned being asian. While far from all asians are like this, those who do get like this are reacting to the alcohol itself - so it doesn't really matter what it is they're drinking.

                          1. re: jgg13

                            Anglos too. The English/Irish/Scotish are prone to a condition called Rosacea which causes capillaries to burst in the center of the face and thus creates a "red face". Certain foods and alcohol are triggers. I have the condition. Interestingly, I drink wine often and rarely does it cause a "flare up" of my rosacea.

                            Maybe I built up a tolerance? ;-)

                    2. I don't drink, and have not ordered wine or anything alcoholic at any restaurant in the last 20 years.

                      1. I've seen this question on here a few times and I never get it. I can't imagine why anyone would feel weird about not drinking alcohol with a meal. Any server who gives you an attitude is being rude, period. You're there to enjoy your food and eat and drink what you want. Confidence, people!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Kagey

                          I suspect this is really a "what can i expect" question rather than an "is it ok" question.

                          1. re: psb

                            Actually, it's both!

                        2. Echoing many posts; you have no obligation at all to order wine or anything else you don't want.

                          With regards to the wine list, though, its easy enough to take the list and avoid any repetition of offers for the list. Also, some restaurants will list special drinks and sometimes non-alcoholic drinks in the wine list. It might be interesting to peruse if so.

                          1. I havnt touched alcohol for some years now. Doesnt stop me enjoying high end eating - although, truth be told, I enjoyed it more when I drank ;-)

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Harters

                              For me, I can taste the food better when I don't drink. I don't have a high tolerance and my tastebuds get numb when I drink. A couple of months ago, I ordered a lemondrop at an expensive restaurant and started to feel numb after finishing 1/4 of the cocktail. I gave my drink to somebody else because I wanted to be able to taste my food, especially at those prices. The only exception is to have a nice red (and even then it's a few sips) with a steak.

                            2. My meal, my $$, my way! I rarely drink anymore, and if I do I'll generally stick with one glass of wine. No matter the restaurant I almost always order iced tap water, soda, or iced tea with my meal. And if a waiter has a problem with that, I've never seen it. And I had better not. *G* One benefit of growing, well, more mature is that I no longer give a rat's behind what other people think of me and what I choose to do.

                              1. My husband and I don't drink so we never order wine or other alcohol.

                                1. It's your money, ergo, it's your choice. But it amazes me that people will drop scads of money on a fantastic, expensive dinner and basically kill the flavor of it with a Pepsi or iced tea. The idea of soda and fine food together literally repulses me (and I like soda). So maybe, just maybe, the displeasure you sense from your waiter is less about a lower check and more about pairing two things that seem really strange together. Who knows?

                                  18 Replies
                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                    Pardon me, but I doubt anything I enjoy drinking is going to "kill the flavor" of fine food. And if my waiter feels the need to be judgmental about my choice of beverage, he can keep it to himself, no matter what his reason.

                                    1. re: Kagey

                                      You're entitled to your opinion, but as someone who has studied food and beverage pairings for years, I'll politely disagree.

                                      I DO agree that a good waiter should show no sign of displeasure at your choice, but not all waiters are good.

                                    2. re: invinotheresverde

                                      Iced tea with little or no sweetener is a perfect accompaniment to many many foods.

                                      1. re: Karl S

                                        I completely disagree, but you're entitled to your opinion, of course.

                                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                                          Yes, and there are vast cultures that drink tea instead of wine with their foods...

                                          1. re: Karl S

                                            Yes, and the range of teas can vary as much as wine, not counting the number of infusions or the temperature.

                                            1. re: limster

                                              Yes, I recently visited a teashop in NY where I referred to the owner as the "sommelier" of teas. He said that he's been called that before.

                                              And having my share of bad wines before, I would rather have had can of pepsi with my meal than to have bad wine.

                                              1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                Try an eight treasure tea with Sichuan food, have a dragon well with small dishes from Hangzhou, finish a Cantonese meal with and aged Pu-Erh from Yunnan. They're classic pairings that one would have, often in banquet settings. While there are bad teas just like there are bad wines, I wouldn't generalize all teas as trashy, especially since wines can be as complex as teas. When you get the chance, do try teas like a pre-Qingming dragonwell, silver needle, gyokuro, a scarlet robe.

                                          2. re: invinotheresverde

                                            I'm really surprised that you are talking about iced tea and Pepsi like they are the same. Frankly, I think it's a shame to drink syrupy cola with a subtly prepared meal, but tea is a whole different story.

                                            Once in a while you hear about restaurants providing their own nonalcohlic drinks/pairings but it never seems to take off as a trend. I wish it would.

                                            (By the way, are there really a lot of people who order Coke or something with a fine dining meal? Nobody in my family does that. I have to say that when most or all of us are not drinking alcohol, we do get a bit of attitude, but in mid-range places. This has nothing to do with our drowning the taste of the food in sodas, because we don't. We get water.)

                                            1. re: bibi rose

                                              I get water, too.

                                              1. re: bibi rose

                                                We both don't drink, so we don't order alcohol. Ironically enough regarding your question... we WILL order Coke and/or iced tea (or take turns ordering) out of some unspoken obligation because we don't want the waiter to feel like we're cheap (I don't know if that's phrased correctly though - it's almost 1:00 a.m., and I'm done thinking clearly). What we really want is plain ole tap water.

                                                Sometimes I hate eating out. I know I don't NEED to explain, but I'd probably feel more confident if I was able to say something so that the "attitude" that perhaps, I think I see, doesn't come out, like nipping it in the bud before it come out. Any great ideas? :-)

                                                1. re: boltnut55

                                                  I don't think you should feel obligated to order any drink that you don't feel like drinking. Water is just fine; I often just have tap water with my meal regardless of restaurant type. If you're getting attitude about this, then it's reflective of the restaurant in that they're really trying to make their margin off the alcohol. And if their margin is so dependent on the alcohol sales, then in my mind they really should just be a bar that happens to serve food and not the other way around.

                                                  1. re: ekandgh

                                                    Guess I should just have more self-esteem about this. Thanks.

                                                2. re: bibi rose

                                                  "I'm really surprised that you are talking about iced tea and Pepsi like they are the same."

                                                  bibi rose has obviously not spent time in the South. It has been only recently that "unsweet tea", as it's called, has been commonly offered as an alternative to "normal", or ghastly-sickly-sweet iced tea in most family restaurants...and the only reason they offer it is so the customer can put eighteen or twenty packets of Sweet'n'Low into it.

                                                  Okay, SLIGHT exaggeration...

                                                  1. re: Will Owen

                                                    But tea can be served chilled outside the South as well. For delicate and fragrant teas such as certain white or geen teas, one can also brew them by putting a bunch of leaves in cold water in the fridge. One advantage of this type of brewing style is that the aromas hang around longer, probably because of the lower temperature.

                                            2. re: invinotheresverde

                                              Unless you're doing something offensive and rude in a resto, what one pairs with their "fine food" should never be anyone's issue. It may repulse you & whatnot, but what if someone's an alcoholic? Or allergic? Or anything else? Its no one's biz what a patron orders to drink except the patron.

                                              1. re: amanda3571

                                                Why is this even an issue? Some want tea, some want hard liquor, some want wine.

                                                It's the diner's money, the diner's meal, and the diner's choice.

                                                Sheesh.

                                                1. re: amanda3571

                                                  Agreed. I said the waiter has no business commenting on it.

                                                  Just my own preference.

                                              2. I'm also Asian, and have a very low tolerance to alcohol, so I can typically finish at most 1/3 to 1/2 of the glass, and to pay $10 a glass is high enough, but for me, the cost ends up being double or triple, so most of the time, it's never worth it for me to order wine with the meal. If I am not driving, then I might order wine on rare occasion, but usually, the combination of my having to drive and not being able to finish even half the glass, I don't order.

                                                I would rather spend the $10-$12 on an appetizer or dessert that I can fully consume. :)

                                                1. I am of Asian decent as well, but I do enjoy a drink, albeit I will be quite red after one glass of wine, drink, etc (ot-sometimes it depends on the type of liquor/wine i am drinking the degree of red-ness) However, if I go out to a restaurant, I rarely order wine only because I'd rather spend that 10 dollars on dessert or a starter, or try to save a little, honestly. If i'm spending 30-35$ on an entree and 10 $ on a dessert, I usually don't think I need that additional $10 glass of wine. My exception is when it's highly recommended.

                                                  ps: aga- (and other asians who share that special glow)- I was told by my cousin (who is a pharmacist) that if you pop a zantac 80 or 150 a n hour before you drink it decreases the redness. I've been doing this for almost a year and it works for me.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: teamuse

                                                    Just wanted to mention that my mom (who was also a pharmacist) said that alcohol and Zantac aren't meant to be taken together. As Karl S said about Tylenol, Zantac is also metabolized by the liver. I shudder to think of all the damage I did to my liver in college where people told me to take a Tylenol before drinking as it was going to prevent me from having a hangover. That was a bunch of baloney! I still had nasty hangovers.

                                                  2. I don't feel strange in the least. If I have alcohol within 2-3 hours before going to bed, I will very likely wake up halfway through the night and become unable to return to sleep. And my sleep is vital to my good health for reasons I won't go into here. Plus, if I am taking any medications that are processed through the liver (like any acetometaphin-based meds), I won't have alcohol.

                                                    If the restaurant does not have a food-friendly unsweetened non-alcoholic alternative (iced tea being perfect), I let the restaurant know.

                                                    Some fine dining restaurants, sad to say, need to be smarter in dealing with issues like this.

                                                    1. Jfood is a non-drinker and always orders water with the meal.

                                                      He does see some servers give him "that look" when he does not order a cocktail or wine but that's not jfood's issue. But if "the look" becomes "the attitude" then the line has been crossed.

                                                      It has come to a point where some bottled water is now >$10 and jfood just won;t pay that price, so it is either natural water or sometimes a club soda with lime.

                                                      1. I dont like wine, so I dont even think about ordering it. I drink beers, and top shelf tequila neats, and by the time pre dinner, and dinner drinks are done I have spent $60 - $100 on these drinks so I dont think the servers mind.

                                                        1. Look on the bright side. If you find that the server neglects your table or gives you attitude because you didn't order alcohol, that justifies lowering his/her tip. More money saved!

                                                          1. Order what you want. If the server gives you an attitude, talk to the manager, send an email, and let the tip reflect your displeasure. I guess I'm lucky, I've never been on the receiving end of "server-tude."

                                                            1. Well I'd feel deprived, because I love red wine with my meal, particularly fine dining type meals. If you don't enjoy it, it's perfectly fine not to order it. If you do enjoy it and you're just not ordering it to save money at a high-end place you might want to consider going to a lower-end place instead, the overall experience might be better. But as others have said, it's your $ and your dinner so you should do what you want. You're not there for the restaurant to make money, you're there to dine and have a pleasant experience.

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: hsk

                                                                My dining experience is determined by 1) Company, 2) Food, 3)Atmosphere...

                                                                I don't understand the people that say "If you do enjoy it [wine] and you're just not ordering it to save money at a high-end place you might want to consider going to a lower-end place instead, the overall experience might be better.".... I do enjoy wine, but I go to restaurants for....THE FOOD! Why should I eat at a lower-end place and get inferior food simply because I'd rather save money and not order wine? The markups are *outrageous* and unless it's a very special occasion, I can't enjoy my meal knowing that the wine is marked up 300%+ I know food is "marked up"...but I am paying for 1)freshness and potential food waste, 2)Food preparation and innovation 3) Service. A bottle of wine won't spoil the way a fillet of salmon will and there's no great skill opening a bottle of wine and pouring it in a glass. Don't begrudge people a fine dining experience because they want to save money by not ordering ridiculously priced wine.

                                                                1. re: QSheba

                                                                  I don't, I was just replying to OP's question. I dine out for the overall experience, and I don't skimp on wine due to pricing. If you dine out just for the food then obviously you won't want to consider, that's your prerogative. I don't think I was maligning OP, not like it seems you're maligning me.

                                                                  1. re: hsk

                                                                    hsk, I think you and I believe that great wine is a major part of the overall experience. I can't imagine enjoying a fine dinner without wine, since wine + food= more than the sum of their parts. Sauternes and Roquefort is simply the most magical taste my mouth has ever known, for example. Dining without wine is just...food.

                                                                    I, like you, I assume, have a wine budget and take the enjoyment factor seriously. I know what I'm willing to spend and I know a good deal.

                                                                    That being said, I refuse to eat at restaurants with ridiculously high wine prices. I know what restaurants are paying for their bottles, and if there's a 400% markup, I'm eating someplace else, no matter how good the food is. I refuse to get ripped off.

                                                                    So, hsk, I'll raise a glass (or three) with you over a lovely meal anytime. With all these teetotalers, there's just more for us! :)

                                                              2. One thing I really do appreciate is when a restaurant offers some interesting non-alcoholic beverages that pair nicely with the food...beyond your basic soda or tea. Earlier this week we ate at Topolobampo and they had several such options- a margarita for me and a hand squeezed limeade with soda for my husband.

                                                                1. It looks like there are two issues here:
                                                                  1) there are plenty of people who don't drink (b/c they're teetotalers, former alcoholics, people on meds that can't be mixed with alcohol, etc.) so not ordering off the wine list even when offered to you is no big deal and you shouldn't have to explain yourself. This is like not ordering off the desert menu at the end of the meal. Like some of the other posters have said, many higher end restaurants have non-alcoholic options that they can recommend to pair with your meal. Good water (w/ or w/o bubbles) is always a good accompaniment to your meal b/c it doesn't mask food flavors.
                                                                  2) the issue with turning red when drinking alcohol (especially for some Pacific Rim Asians) is physiological - and is NOT a true allergic reaction. You lack specific enzymes to digest alcohol; this is similar to what happens to people who are lactose intolerant. So some people can't drink alcohol at all, some can drink a little bit; it's really all about how deficient your enzyme is and, for many Pacific Rim Asians, they inherit a mutated version of the enzyme. Hope this helps.

                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                  1. re: ekandgh

                                                                    About 50% of the Asian population have a genetic variation of the dehydrogenase enzyme that causes them to metabolize alcohol too quickly into acetaldehyde -- a toxin, which causes redness and flushing as it builds up in the body. The variant enzyme also causes the redness and flushing to hang around longer by a too-slow metabolism of acetaldehyde into the benign acetic acid.

                                                                    So alcohol metabolism by folks with that variant enzyme is both too fast -- in its conversion of alcohol to acetaldehyde -- and too slow -- in its conversion of acetaldehyde into acetic acid.

                                                                    1. re: ekandgh

                                                                      You should never feel obligated to order ANYTHING. By the same token, a server can't win. There would be people into wine that would complain about service if wine wasn't offered and/or discussed.

                                                                      1. re: Whosyerkitty

                                                                        The best case scenario for me is to go to a restaurant that has a great wine list, be offered wine and have the server be gracious about my choice. Sometimes I want a glass, sometimes I'll share a quartino or a carafe, sometimes we're ordering by the bottle, and sometimes I'm not in the mood for vino and it's all about the foofy cocktails with dinner (I can picture invino shuddering at this pairing!).

                                                                        Then there's the times when I just want good old Vancouver tap water. Server will win bonus points for offering "still, sparkling or tap" and not blinking when I say tap. We have really good tap water in Vancouver so unless you want a bit of frizzante in your acqua, it's the green way to go as well. And bottled water prices are getting a tad egregious as mentioned upthread. I still remember being charged $15 for a bottle of still water in a resto in Halifax nine years ago. And I don't even think it was a full litre :-(.

                                                                        1. re: grayelf

                                                                          Greyelf, I remember going to dinner with a party of 4 to Lumiere in Vancouver, ordering a bottle of sparkling at the beginning of the meal while waiting for menus. They kept on pouring water without asking if we wanted another bottle. By the end of the night, our tab for water was $50! We were all really annoyed. Now if anyone asks if we want "still or sparkling" we say "tap". It was an expensive lesson. At least when you order wine, you know what you are ordering and what you will pay. And so far, no one has opened bottle after bottle of wine without asking if we wanted another.

                                                                          1. re: moh

                                                                            "By the end of the night, our tab for water was $50! "

                                                                            Ouch!

                                                                            "And so far, no one has opened bottle after bottle of wine without asking if we wanted another"

                                                                            Only happened to me once, at Il Giardino. It was a corporate event with a set menu for a group of professionals. That was one painful bill, let me tell you. I had to put it on two separate credit cards IIRC :-(.

                                                                            Bottom line for me: as long as I am ordering food and not being a PITA in your restaurant, I shouldn't have to order wine unless I want it.

                                                                            1. re: grayelf

                                                                              Ouch indeed! I can't imagine that happening with wine! I guess corporate events are different than small private groups, I have never seen that situation with wine. Thank goodness, I don't think I could take the financial hit...