question on service
So I dined out the other day at a very nice French restaurant - they were running a special on three course meals for $35 - which was an excellent deal as this place would easily cost almost double that for the same amount of food normally.
Here's the thing....
I ordered a bottle of wine, a modestly priced $40 white from Alsace - not the cheapest (or even 10th cheapest - there's a lot of good buys at this place) thing on the menu - though obviously not pricey. When the waiter brought it out, I watched him cut the foil, uncork it, the pour me about 1/5 of a glass, my wife 1/5 of a glass and tell us "this bottle isn't cold enough, so I'll put it on ice for you" - and he then took it away.
I obviously looked puzzled, so he THEN showed me the bottle. I never got the cork and the entire wine ritual never happened. The bottle was kept in a bucket somewhat near the table.
The question to you good folks is, what - if anything - would you have done? Am I being overly picky in find this irritating/insulting?
The temp of the bottle is at the discretion of the person ordering the wine. I've had servers suggest an ice bucket, and have availed myself of it on a few occasions.
As to the procedure, he/she should have presented the bottle, with label shown. If the restaurant is dimly lit, then it is not out of line to point out the various aspects of the label to assure that this is, in fact, the bottle ordered.
He/she should have poured the host a taste of the wine and then waited for approval. During the approval stage, he/she should have held the bottle for the host’s observation. As for the cork, I find that it is unnecessary, unless there is question regarding the condition, or the source/vintage of the wine.
If the server feels that the wine is too warm, they should suggest an ice bucket, but it is up to the host to make the final decision on this. Normally, I am less inclined with white wines, as too many restaurants store their whites too cold, and serve them likewise. I more often ask for an ice bucket for my lighter reds, than my whites, but that is just me.
re: Bill Hunt
One last tip on getting satisfactory and efficient service: if at all possible, I reach out to touch the bottle to check the temperature before it's opened when they present the label for me to check. It's much easier for them to adjust the temperature quickly if the cork is still in, and if done smoothly results in less of a distraction from conversation around the table.
Your server made some errors -- not presenting you with the bottle, first, so that you could check the label for accuracy and vintage. Second, rather than whisking away the bottle away to chill it, you should have been asked your preference, "Would you like this wine to be chilled a bit more?" or "Is the wine cold enough for you?" In any case, consulted. I often prefer white wines barely chilled or cellar temp, rather than ice-cold (except for Champagne/bubbly). I would probably have nixed the ice bucket, but that's me.
I've actually never been presented the cork. I don't mind. If the cork was truly in bad shape, I think I would be able to tell from the wine.
Doesn't sound like he meant to be insulting because you bought a $40 bottle, he just seems to have had his mind on something else.
Going back in history, there were instances of wines being labeled erroneously. Then, the cork was presented to prove that this was the wine labeled and ordered. Unless there is a problem, or one wishes the cork for a review, or as a momento, it is less likely to be of use. Unless I detect a problem, I dismiss the cork.
Sounds like lots of little mistakes, which put together compounds into leaving a bad taste in your mouth.
First, the price of the bottle is irrelevant. A server or sommelier may spend a little more time talking to you about your choice or decanting the bottle if it's more expensive, but the basics of wine service remain the same regardless of the price of the bottle. If you feel that your wine service was lacking because of the price of your bottle, then the restaurant and the server are doing something very, very wrong.
Second, since you ordered the bottle, he should not have poured for your wife until your approved the wine. Proper wine service requires him to recite the producer, wine, and vintage for you before opening it, not after. He seems to have skipped this part. The small pours for both of you suggest a likely reason: that he realized that the wine was not cold enough, wanted to get you both something in your glass, then proceeded to chill the bottle for you.
Third, he made the mistake of deciding for you whether or not the bottle is chilled. When in doubt, the server should ask, "I beg your pardon, but do you think this wine is cold enough? If not, I'd be happy to set it on ice for you." Instead of posing a polite and thoughtful question, he decided for you.
And putting a wine on ice is not an extra service. It's among the very basics of wine service, something every server who is opening a bottle needs to know how to do.
OTOH, the cork presentation has been falling out of favor in a lot of places. I still prefer it, but it's something that no longer bothers me if it doesn't happen. Aside from this, I'd be just as irritated as you were.
When in doubt, I always speak up! Ask to see the bottle before he opens it, stop him from pouring for your guest, and ask for the cork if you'd like it. And if he's unwilling or unable to do any of these, then speak to the manager.
The best part about your post is your third point - to me, the wine would've been fine, but he wound up leaving before I could even try it. My issue wasn't so much the small initial pours as much as the total skip of the tasting ritual (on a six year old white wine, no less).
I can tell you that during the wine pouring my wife and I were clearly looking at each other like "what is this guy doing?" - if we hadn't, he was not about to show us the bottle.
I guess I'm looking for reassurance that yes, this was improper service - even though I know it is, I fear I'm getting overly picky in my old age. I did not speak up - I get to a point where when things get weird I get uncomfortable and don't say anything.
Our service improved after that weirdness - we received two free dessert wines which leads me to believe the guy may have realized he had a lapse (our amuses were served as we were looking at our menus - so make that two lapses) and didn't want to say anything outright (I could be over analyzing - but it did help his tip recover).
Maybe he had a temporary lapse of reason if he got the ritual right with the other tables. I don't know if you're asking if you got substandard wine service because you ordered the prix fixe and a bottle of wine that wasn't above a certain price. But I highly doubt that would affect the level of service if the restaurant has any type of favorable reputation.
I am very surprised you weren't shown the label before the bottle was opened since opening the wrong bottle would be a mistake that could result in loss of revenue on that bottle. But, more and more, I am seeing servers not always leave the cork.
re: Brad Ballinger
"But, more and more, I am seeing servers not always leave the cork.'
We don't leave the cork at my restaurant. Even though we're higher-end, our clientele tend to think they know much more about with than they do, a/o try to impress their friends with this "knowledge". They don't know what to look for WRT the cork, and sometimes decide the wine is flawed just because the cork may seem a bit off, without ever tasting the product.
I personally served a lower-tier wine with a synthetic cork recently. I placed the cork in my pocket upon opening, and the guest freaked out. He wanted to smell it. I shit you not.
Makes sense. And just to clarify, my comment about not presenting the cork wasn't a complaint. The only thing I do with them when they are presented to me is stick them in my pocket for my cork stash. The stash gets sent to my motehr periodically cuz she makes craft-like things out of them.
Seems like the waiter was inexperienced, and taken aback by the temperature of the bottle. He may have overlooked the cork ritual, but you had a chance to assess the wine.
I wouldn't be too concerned. He is giving you an extra service by icing the wine. He just needs to get the ritual right.
Something I perhaps should've mentioned is in my observation of him at other tables, he got the wine ritual right with the people next to us.
He also didn't strike me as inexperienced. And I'd argue keeping a white wine on ice is part of wine service....but that's neither here nor there. Thanks for your input!