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Apr 12, 2010 09:47 AM

I'd prefer to choose how much wine I drink at dinner, but how to say so?

Had an unexpected problem at dinner last night. We ordered a carafe of wine (which was advertised as being only a glass and a half, which the server reminded us) for the two of us - we didn't want much, and we figured we could always order another. The server brought it, poured a third in each glass, and went on her way. My husband drank some of his with his first course, but I didn't because it matched my main course better. On her way past, the server quick as a flash picked up the carafe and emptied it into my husband's glass, then whisked it away. I blinked; he growled, and when she returned he asked her how she knew that we wanted to give him all the rest of the wine. She countered that some people like that kind of service/attention. He told her that we would prefer to be the ones to decide who gets the most. She was apologetic and brought us another glass without charge, but I don't think she ever got the point.

In case I haven't made it clear: We had intended to split the wine, and when she originally served us both I assumed she understood that. But it brings up the larger question of how to pace oneself when the server feels a need to top us one's glass. Now that we are so attuned to the perils of driving under the influence, this seems to be increasingly important. Yet "good service" has traditionally included discreetly dispensing the wine as each patron's glass empties, paying attention to how much each has already had (which unfortunately was not the case here - the just dumped the wine into the emptier glass).

My questions: Would it be wise to reposition the carafe/bottle in future so that servers won't keep filling our glasses without asking? Would it be better to mention that we'll take it from there after the first glasses are poured? I don't want to offend the server who is a polished professional (I know several) and can be trusted both to be nonintrusive and to make eye contact before refilling a glass. But I don't want a reprise of last night's issue, and I have no way of knowing if the server has this sensitivity. Your suggestions for ways to politely head off this problem would be welcome

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  1. direct speech always works best.

    5 Replies
    1. re: thew

      I find that merely thinking about something and then later writing about it is not as effective as what you suggest: to SPEAK my preferences.

      1. re: chow_gal

        Point taken! I am now looking for wording that won't offend experienced servers but will protect me from those with less finesse - I'm leaning towards "Thanks, we'll pour the rest" after the first pour. I really want to keep it simple and unobtrusive, for myself as well as the server.

        1. re: Marsha

          Stop worrying. This is beyond small as a dining issue. Any server see true offensive behavior every night, I'm sure.

          1. re: c oliver

            I think I'm liking your suggestion "We'll take care of refilling" - it doesn't seem to contain any implied criticism. Now if I can just remember!

          2. re: Marsha


            That works perfectly for me. The point is to communicate and nothing more.

            Regarding wine service, there are so many concepts of what a proper pour should be, that no server, regardless of how well-trained, will get it right for all patrons. Help them get it right for you.

            The carafe for B-T-G, or very similar, is a fav. of mine. However, I like very light pours in large, albeit appropriate stemware. I like to "play" with my wine, and my wife is the same.

            For our personal preferences, the ideal serving method would be to bring the carafe, or carafes, and pour a light tasting for each of us to approve, not totally unlike the host tasting a bottle for the table. With approval, I'd then want about 1/3 of the little carafe poured into the glass, and if I even think that the server might dump the whole thing into my glass, will mention, "Thank you. That will do nicely. I will handle it from here."

            This is taking charge, but in a non-threatening way, with praise for whatever has gone into the service to that point.

            I also keep an eye out for roving service personnel, who might try to "help." I do not need that, and let the captain know this - or cut off that helpful server with a "we'll handle this. Thank you so much."

            Most are only trying to be good servers, and mean no harm. If relieved of the duty of filling, or clearing your glasses, most will appreciate it. Just do it with a smile and a kind word.

            We do a ton of chef's tastings, with sommelier pairings. I might well have 10 glasses in front of me. Early on, I will let the bussers know that they are to ONLY remove my glasses, when I hand them off, as I might want to go back to wine #1 with course #6. They smile at me, and I return that. My lovely wife doesn't hold onto all of her wines, as much as I do, so I allow the bussers to clear her glasses.

            Recently at Blackberry Farm, I had 15 glasses in front of me. The servers knew better, than to attempt to take any, until I was ready. Luckily, after our very first night, on our very first visit, the staff knew to seat us at a large 4-top, though we were a party of two. We need the room for all of the wine glasses.

            When I book tables for us, I will usually mention that we plan on doing the sommelier's pairing and will re-enforce that, when being seated, so we do not get a tiny 2-top, as our wine glasses will never fit.

            Only through communication can the servers, or the FOH, possibly know. Who would expect that 2 diners might have 15 wine glasses on the table?

            Smile, be direct and help them help you. You will be rewarded. I've had servers stop by with another 2-3 wines, just for us to taste. They appreciate knowing what one wants and requires.

            As Thew mentioned "direct speech always works best." To that, I agree and hold up a glass on Zinfandel to toast that concept.


      2. I would just mention it after/as the server pours the first glass.

        1. Sometimes when I see the waiter reach for the carafe or bottle, i raise my hand and cover my glass to indicate that I am set. Then, when the server walks away, I can fill (or not) as I like. Also, if it's your husband, couldn't you just pour some from his glass into yours? Obviously that doesn't solve the up front problem, but it would be a solution if you found yourself in that situation again.

          7 Replies
          1. re: jenhen2

            Yes, I could have poured from his glass to mine, but I really didn't want to - the glasses they provided were very large (a "full" glass sort of covers the bottom seventh or eighth of the glass, volume-wise) and the table itself wasn't so big. It really would have been awkward and potentially messy. If it happens again, of course this is an option. There wasn't time for my husband to cover his glass - he was eating, fork in hand, and that girl was quick! I'm thinking a big smile after the first pour and a "Thanks, we'll pour the rest" might head off the problem.

            I was wondering if anyone with serving experience could help out here?

            1. re: Marsha

              You're over-thinking this. I am a veteran server, and I assure you, a server should not be offended by that statement. I would welcome it. It lets me know what you want, rather than guessing. The only other thing I might add is to lose the big smile. It's overkill. Hard to explain, but it implies the server is an idiot. Professional servers just want to be treated like professionals, so a polite "Thanks, we'll pour the rest" shows the server that you understand dining, you understand their job, and you would prefer that the server not do that part. This is FAR preferable to moving the carafe to an inaccessible part of the table.

              1. re: hilltowner

                So now I think I have a good strategy - I appreciate everyone's insights. No big smile, but a pleasant thanks and then probably "We'll take care of refilling" after the first pour.

                1. re: Marsha

                  I think that that should work fine. Now, I do smile, but as mentioned elsewhere, cannot say that it is a "big smile." The tones are very friendly, as is the level of my voice. I want to help the servers to help me.

                  Now, do watch out for the poor bussers, as they might not be aware of what the diner wants, and are only trying to do their jobs too. Here, a quiet comment, can go a very long way.




                2. re: hilltowner

                  Thank you for responding from the server's point-of-view. That is important and is appreciated.

                  Now, my "big smile" is pretty subdued, so I seldom have that issue. For me, it's about communicating my wishes, and needs, in a congenial way, so that everyone knows what I want. I have found that whispered instructions, in a pleasant way, will get me what I want, and the server will usually greatly appreciate that communication. How are they to know otherwise?

                  So often, I overhear diners comment, "you call that a GLASS of wine?" Had they asked me, I would have have told them "yes, that is a glass of wine."

                  Again, I personally appreciate your take on things, as you offer a perspective, that I do not know.



                3. re: Marsha


                  In my "book," those large bowl glasses are a good thing. Savor those, providing that the stemware is good. My "pour" is about 1/6 of my normal stems, Riedel Vinums. A decent wine benefits from a bit of room. Too many servers have been taught to pour as much, as is possible, in hopes of selling another carafe. They usually do not know better, until helped.


                4. re: jenhen2

                  I have to admit that I do the same, though "the hand" is frowned upon. I like to explain our needs and desires early on, so that I do not need "the hand." Still, it works, and I use it, when pressed - just don't tell my director of protocol, as she'd think that she'd failed. I have to admit that I might have been her worst "student." [Grin]


                5. This has been discussed before but my searching skill this morning is clearly impaired. But the best advice was simply to speak up. Also moving the carafe to a place on the table where you can run interference is fine. But, really, when the carafe or bottle arrives and the first pour is made, just say "we'll take care of refilling." Very simple.

                  1. Thanks for this posting--and to all who have replied. I agree completely that an upfront "we'll do it ourselves" is the best policy. I have never ever--even in the very best restaurants--seen servers who are sensitive to the different rates at which people may consume wine. This whole issue of servers pouring your wine is really ridiculous, if you think about it. I recall a big flap in the Chicago dailies in the late 70's about a customer who walked out of Le Perroquet (which to my mind had the best service of any restaurant in Chicago then or now) because a waiter didn't pour the wine to his liking. I suppose there might be instances of old sedimented wines in which this might be a problem, but these should be decanted in any case. Otherwise, the only conceivable reason for having someone pour your wine belongs in the "peel me a grape" territory. It's a ridiculous custom that should be gotten rid of. It's a pretension, like royalty, that we can well do without.