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Sep 28, 2009 11:11 AM

Wine Service at Houston's -- Weird Experience

Ate at Houston's in Los Angeles this weekend. Normally, I order wine by the glass there as my husband likes beer, but this time we got a bottle. Waiter brings it over and asks if we've had it before. We say yes. Waiter says, "oh, then you don't need to taste it." I explain that we should still taste it to make sure it's okay. He says, "well, if it's not okay, we better call our distributor." I explain that every now and then a bottle goes bad and that cork is a natural product and sometimes something goes wrong. Waiter proceeds to pour w/o letting us taste. He then attempts to stuff the cork back into the bottle. As he is struggling, I tell him to leave it out that I want the wine to open up. I look around and notice other tables with the corks back in the bottle. I didn't say anything as I knew my husband and our guest would be uncomfortable, but am I off base in thinking this was poor service? I eat out a lot and have never had wine service like that. The rest of the service was fine. I think the guy was just inexperienced.

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  1. No, I agree with you. I think it's obvious from what this server said to you in reference to the wine was evidence that he was green. I've only eaten once at Houston's, and I can't recall about the corks being put back in, but yes, that is strange, and for a steakhouse, no less.

    I think you were right to both call on it, and also not make a big deal about it. But makes you wonder why they're not training better...I mean it's not a cheap restaurant. Oh well, chalk it up to an experience.

    Just curious, but what was the wine?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Restaurant Dish

      It was Bridesmaid Cabernet. I think 2005.

    2. I have always found wine service at a chain (other than high end steak/seafood places such as Flemings, Ruth's Chris, Morton's, and the like) to be an awkward experience. Often the servers have just enough training to be dangerous with and know virtually nothing about wine and what's worse is management leads them to believe that they do. We ordered a bottle of wine from a nice waitress at Carrabas one night and she came to the table looking panicked and we learned she had never opened a bottle of wine. My husband and I discretely walked her through it. She was very appreciative.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Janet from Richmond

        To be fair, I've had similar experiences at non-chain-but-trying-to-be-upscale restaurants (ie, not knowing how to open a bottle). And at least most chains I've been to (unlike some small local places) knew the difference between a Pinot Noir and a Pinot Grigio - and didn't go into a panic when they couldn't find the Pinot Noir in the fridge ("Oh sorry, didn't know reds weren't served chilled!")

        1. re: sockii

          Ah, but Pinot Noir should be served slightly chilled if room temp is above 60 degrees.

          Finding a mid-range restaurant that has good wine service is rare.

          1. re: annapurna7

            I'm not talking minor specifics about the ideal temperature for a particular varietal. That's awesome but the kind of place I'm talking about, the waitress was running around all in confusion looking in their wine/beer fridge for the red wines until being told by someone else they aren't kept there. Just about a step up from asking if I wanted ice for my wine glass (yes, have had that happen too...)

      2. Yes, your wine service was subpar. Your waiter was extremely undertrained.

        As a sidenote. simply leaving the cork out of the bottle only minimally ables wine to breathe, if at all. The amount of surface area is next to nothing.


        2 Replies
        1. re: invinotheresverde

          That makes perfect sense. Thx. I didn't really think about it when I said that, just wanted him to stop trying to get the cork back in and (in the process) totally touching the lip of the bottle.

          1. re: invinotheresverde

            This is also very true.

            And even still, there are excellent sommeliers that often fall to the 'decant' or 'not to decant' school also. I guess that's the beauty and subtlety of wine. The fun part, if you will.

            Even so, I'm of the school that part of the reason we go out to eat, (besides that fact that someone is cooking for us), is the theatre of it all. So, even though a wine might technically NEED decanting, I like the showmanship of it all. But that's just me.

          2. The original comment has been removed
            1. I worked at Houston's. I wasn't taught to do a bottle service that way. I'd be curious to know why that server was doing that. If you know anything about Houston's, it's that their training process is insanely thorough and never-ending. They constantly strive to better the guest experience. You should've talked to a manager and found out what the scoop was. I'm guessing the server didn't know any better, as I can't imagine that being a store policy.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Azizeh

                Not only have I been dining at Houston's for many, many years in several cities, my sister worked there. I believe Azizeh is correct. The service has been mostly impeccable. I had one issue, with one server, one time. So as not to make an uncomfortable situation for other diners in our group, I wrote a letter to the general manager. His reply was that the scenario would be addressed during the employee meeting and a gift certificate was offered.

                Houston's may be one, if not the best and most reliable, chain restaurants that one could frequent.

                1. re: Azizeh

                  I'd second that. Everything I've ever heard about or experienced at Houston's says that their training is very rigorous and that management stays on top of it. What Snoopy experienced was bizarre to say the least.

                  I was just at Houston's, in Irvine. Sat in the bar for some wine and a casual meeting. No bottle service (as it was we had by-the-glass), but our server knew quite a lot about wine and so did the bartender. I had brought in a book on North-American Pinot Noir and they were both really interested in why and in the subject matter.

                  1. re: Midlife

                    I have eaten at Houston's many times and I thought this was atypical as the service at Houston's is generally very good.