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Apr 14, 2011 05:33 PM


IS IT PROPER FOR A WAITER TO "TASTE YOUR WINE.?" i recently dined at a new, high end restaurant run by Tyler Florence in Mill Vallley, Ca called El Paseo ( a chop house).. Aside from the fact that they totally screwed up my veal chop (another issue), we ordered a wine recommended by our waiter, a Cal cab 2006, about $70. He asked to be allowed to taste our wine before serving it. Which he did. I also noticed that he was doing the same for some other tables. Is this customary? As for the veal chop, they kept us waiting a good 30 mins for the main dishes and then, my chop came EXTRA RARE , even though I made it clear that I wanted it a good Medium. I sent it back and passed on my main course as I did not want to interfere with the meals of my quests. The steak was decent, the pork-chop came dry and fatty, the steak was good.

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    1. You've just penned my favorite pun of all time!
      "I did not want to interfere with the meals of my quests"

      1. It's more common in restaurants that want to be sure the wine you are consuming isn't flawed.
        Check out this article in the NY Times regarding this issue:

        29 Replies
        1. re: wineguy7

          A waiter????? Really you think a waiter who is not even a Sommelier, has the chops to taste and know a specific wine is as it should be before you even taste it?

          I do offer up this link:

          1. re: Quine

            And how, exactly, do you know that the waiter is not qualified to test the wine? Because he is "just" a waiter? Perhaps he may not be qualified to test all wines in general, (but again, we don't know. Maybe he IS a Sommeier but hasn't been able to find work in that field), but presumably, he is familiar with the restaurants wine list. Do you really think that waiters are, by nature, less qualified than you?

            1. re: hilltowner

              No, but also don't assume they are better at liking my wine than I.

              It wasn't a put down on waiters but more of a rant that Sommeiers are being "down-sized" by places that won't hire one but will ask a waiter to have or get same expertise for less wage.

              As for down-sizing, many places aren't even letting servers taste the menu, never the less the specials they are supposed to sell, so I am doubtful they are educating them on the wine list.

              Again, a rant on profit making taking place over paying and educating those that are serving to get those profits.

              1. re: Quine

                They are not tasting to see if is likeable, they are tasting to see if off, corked, oxidized or other.

                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                  Well, unless I am really wrong all those are pretty obvious by sight and smell.
                  So no one agrees that profit making is over taking hiring and training and paying well for such? Servers taste your wine (an OP did not mention the cork et al routine, done or not).

                  1. re: Quine

                    l do not understand your issue with the staff tasting. Went to a Michelin*** a few nights ago. They brought the bottle, opened it and the staff, sort of a sommelier assistant as wine not Cheval Blanc, brought a teeny glass with him and poured himself about half an ounce to check its condition. It was deemed acceptable and thus l drank. Perhaps ridiculous and unnecessary , but a nice tradition.

                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      See now, no issue with that silly little tradition but it was not what the OP described,
                      Is the what I would expect from a Michelin 3 Star. Again no what the OP describes.

                    2. re: Quine

                      Still think that you are joisting at windmills here.

                      Flaws in wines happen. Were I the server, I would ask to taste the wine too. If there are flaws, I would pick them up, exchange the bottle, and save my table from having to return that bottle. To me, as the patron, that is much easier, and more restaurants should employ the same procedure. I hate having to call the sommelier, or server out, when I encounter flawed wines - especially if they cop an attitude, or make excuses.


                    3. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      And I would not expect the person who served my cheese to ask to taste it to make sure it was OK either nor my steak etc.. But I SURE do shop where I can ask about the cheese I wish to buy or recommendations!

                      1. re: Quine

                        Were my cheese of varying quality and condition, and came in a sealed package, l would have no problem with their checking the condition before serving as well.

                        1. re: Quine

                          Actually, a competent fromagier will have tasted each sample, before loading up the cart. That is part of the job. You just do not see it, as the cheese has been loaded, and the wine is in a discrete bottle.

                          Your analogy does not wash with me. Maybe we can try another one?


                        2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                          I would prefer to be the one to taste it and decide if it is bad. I couldn't imagine what i would say if my server would ask to taste if first. if I thought it was bad and was sending it back, THAN he could taste it if he wanted to.

                          1. re: kjc514

                            I'm just the opposite. If I say a wine is bad, then it's bad; it's not the server's job to second-guess me. (And yes, I've had this happen. One yahoo tried to tell me that a deeply-flawed pinot was "supposed to taste that way." I understand that a little Brettanomyces is acceptable and even desirable, but this tasted like the glass had been rinsed in a manure lagoon.)

                            But if a fault is subtle, and if the server has sampled several / many bottles of the same wine from the same vintage, s/he might be able to reject a wine that isn't obviously flawed but isn't as good as it should be. What's not to like about that?

                        3. re: Quine

                          Quine, regarding only your third paragraph: many houses that I've worked in have, indeed let staff taste and critique the wines being offered, but it was done at training meetings which were generally facilitated by management but given by the wine salesman/distributor. Therefore the beverage was free and so management had no issue with it, but the food? Not so much. : )

                          1. re: mamachef

                            Yea on the food level, houses I have worked in who let staff taste and be educated on daily special had a much high sales rate than those who's staff could only give blank stares when asked how something tasted or for a recommendation (food wise)
                            And I have seen in some houses I worked at, where the free wine sales training was refused as the house would have to pay the hour's wages and well, they just didn;t care to do so.
                            Of course the longer ago it was the more tasting and traing happen but now a days, it is, punch in get on the floor when you get a chance, write own what the specials are.

                            1. re: Quine

                              Q Depends on the ownership and how passionate the operators are in creating a superior product. Product=food,ambiance, and knowledgeable service. I, off the top of my head, can think of several of my fav independent places that have a superior product, by above definition.

                              Beach Bistro, Anna Maria Island

                              Michael's on East, Sarasota

                              Bologna Cafe, Sarasota

                              Andrea's Sarasota

                              1. re: ospreycove

                                I agree with your definition and also know of places, those I visit often myself. But for every one I visit, I must drive by a dozen that don't even come close to anything with a passion but for profit.

                                Sad, really.

                                1. re: Quine

                                  Q, true, it is getting very difficult for the independent owner to operate with all the gov. regulations and difficulty of getting financing. The Corporate units can sustain more years of not breaking even than the single location operator. That is one of the reasons I try and support independent owners in all areas of retail products/services.

                                  1. re: Quine

                                    maybe it's my imagination, but there sure have been many recent threads on chowhound about folks adamantly *not* wanting servers with more traditional, knowledge focused training. folks seem to prefer silent and invisible servers, and complain when servers are trained to describe dishes, specials, soup of the day. . . i think service is declining in many places because people want servers to stfu and go away. . . then, ironically, the same customers are complaining because their servers seem inexperienced, or their table isn't getting attention from a server, or the server has no idea how to describe a dish or preparation, and they don't know whether it features the customer's allergen du jour. . .

                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                      those poor servers. they just. can't. win.

                                      how do they live?

                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                        "maybe it's my imagination, but there sure have been many recent threads on chowhound about folks adamantly *not* wanting servers with more traditional, knowledge focused training. folks seem to prefer silent and invisible servers,"

                                        Yes it is your imagination. There are threads where folks indicate they WANT well and traditionally trained knowledgeable servers. Those who do the job, do it well and without much intrusion and chattiness.
                                        Doing the job well, means knowing what the specials are, able to describe as well as recommend from knowledge if asked as well a getting the order correct including what cannot be eaten by whom.. This is different from trying to "sell" them, being the hello my name is and sitting next to you sorta thing.
                                        I think service is going out of style because folks assume, as you did, well trained and trained to "sell" are the same thing in a server. And they are not.

                                        But that is a different thread.

                                        1. re: Quine

                                          i'd be really happy if it were my imagination, as i'm in 100% agreement with you about the elements of good service and server training.

                                          i don't think that a server who can't verbally describe a dish in conversation has any business waiting tables-- not even at earle's burger shack, and for me that's a major management FAIL. these same servers won't be able to adequately deal with customer's needs/special requests if they haven't been trained to notice the food prep of what the restaurant serves, & ingredients, cooking method, etc. of course good server training takes a little more time/effort on the restaurant's end, and more and more i see the results of skimping on the foh training. it makes me sad.

                                          i just think that they are out there, at least on some chowhound threads, these folks who want the "drive thru" experience at a good restaurant, and others, like me, who *want* the server to be able to tell me what farm the eggs come from, or whether the soup has a broth base or cream base, etc. anyways, i agree with you-- and i guess we'll see each other on that other thread.

                                      2. re: Quine

                                        That is life. For those places, their lives should be short.

                                        That has zero bearing on the OP's question.

                                        With a passion for excellence, a taste of the wine, before it's served is a very nice, and highly useful touch. More restaurants should exhibit that level of caring.


                                    2. re: Quine

                                      The policies of some other restaurants should not have any impact on this thread.

                                      A good GM/Chef will educate the entire staff, and not only on the cuisine, but the cuisine of the day, plus wine pairings for that food. If servers do not know about wines, that is a lesson for later in the week.

                                      That training is important, and should never be skipped, especially if a restaurant prides itself.


                                  2. re: Quine

                                    Personally, I do not see how those "rants" apply to the OP's question.



                                2. re: Quine

                                  Many people don't have the ability, experience or knowledge to recognize flaws in wine.

                                  1. re: wineguy7

                                    Absolutely. In the OP's case, regardless of their level of competence, the server was saving them the possible issue of a flawed wine. Were I the server, that would be my intention.

                                    Some years ago, we went to a tasting room in the Central Coast, just as they opened. The owner/winemaker was pouring, and two other couples had already been poured the Reserve Chardonnay. They were sipping and talking. As soon as he began to pour my glass, I asked him to come over, and whispered that the Reserve Chard was corked. He sniffed, and turned pale. He quickly opened another bottle, grabbed the glasses from the other couples, apologized, and replaced with a good bottle. The evening staff had opened that bottle, and he trusted them to have checked it out. They had already poured a few glasses of a corked wine. He was very happy that I had caught the problem early that morning, and added 6 bottles to the half-case that I purchased. The other couples had no clue that the wine was pretty badly flawed. I am sure, however, that they would not have bought any of that wine, either at the winery's tasting room, or at retail back home. Some people cannot tell TCA, if it hits them in the face, while others can smell it blocks away. When the concentration is minimal, a smell alone might not be adequate. Tasting the wine, however, will likely reveal that the acid level is elevated, and that the fruit has been scalped. We had such a bottle the other night. Smell did not bely TCA (wife is almost as sensitive, as am I), but one taste, and the acid was high, and all fruit was gone - TCA.


                                  2. re: Quine

                                    I worked as a waiter the entire time I was training for my sommelier cert. Lots of waiters know wine.

                                    1. re: Quine

                                      If they have training, either OTJ, or elsewhere, yes. I am not a sommelier, but can spot flaws in wine easily and quickly. I have nailed TCA contaminated glasses, when the server passed behind me, with wines for another table.

                                      Now, if the server knows zilch about wines, then all bets are off.


                                  3. It's supposed to be part of their job to make sure that the wine isn't corked before they give it to you, so that you don't ruin your meal with a bad bottle. I remember it well from dining out with my parents (I don't drink myself). A good waiter will open the bottle, check/sniff the cork, and pour a sip of the wine into a tasting glass to detect any gross flaws in the bottle... then they'll offer you the same courtesy and if you both agree the wine is good they'll pour it for you. (if either of you disagrees they'll fetch a replacement bottle.) Since my parents were into wine, I also remember that one time when they DID get a corked bottle, they had a fairly lengthy chat with the waiter, and we all got to smell/taste the bad wine too.

                                    Why are you concerned that it was 'just' a waiter doing the checking? Maybe they figured that since they want to be upmarket, that ALL their floor staff should have the ability to assist their customers in that way? Maybe the guy has an interest in good wine and some actual knowledge/skill in the area.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Kajikit

                                      I haven't seen a wine tasted in a long time. I think the old school somm with a tastevin around their neck is gone. A corked wine is easily judged by smell. I don't particularly have a problem with a somm tasting the wine, really we're talking about a sip. More than that is not normal or acceptable. When I take a wine to a restaurant I always offer the server or staff a healthy taste.

                                      1. re: HoosierFoodie

                                        I find that very decent of you, HoosierFoodie. When Mr. and I "bring in," we generally also leave a glass for the waiter.
                                        While the somm of days of yore may be on the wane, I did enjoy European-style service that included the somm doing a pre-service (and IMO correct) wine check, not long ago. However, I haven't experienced it as the norm anytime recently.

                                    2. It's a little unusual that the waiter undertook the responsibility, but he did ask permission which I have to assume you granted. It may be a house policy in this age of declining sales; a true possibility that they've trained their staff to fill in for the sommelier that they can no longer afford to employ. You surely could've refused his request and just done the American-style tasting: the party hosting tastes the wine and either accepts or rejects it.
                                      It does get worse, though: many years ago, my family ate at a local, extremely busy seafood restaurant, and the waiter brought my parents' wine to the table ALREADY OPENED. My dad inquired about it, and the waiter told him that since they, the waiters, were sooooo very very busy, the bartenders just went ahead and did it beforehand. I can still see the look on dad's face as he said, "Balls," and handed the bottle back. And I can still see the look on the poor waiter's face, too. : )

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: mamachef

                                        Mamachef. The more I think about this, the more it makes sense; to prevent the novice, or non- oenophile, from grandstanding in front of his fellow "diners" and sending the wine back. By having a staff member first ask if he/she is permitted to taste the wine, and then acknowledging that the subject bottle is as it should be short stops a lot of useless discussion and posturing.