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Offering the chef a glass of wine

I'd like to learn something about this custom. I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia and because of PA's arcane liquor licensing requirements we have numerous upscale BYO restaurants. I've often wondered whether/when it's appropriate to offer the chef a glass of wine.

When we go to a fine dining BYO, I often check the menu online and bring wines that are likely to pair well with our menu choices. It's not at all unusual for us to bring several bottles along and open one with our appetizers and another with our entrees, and while the wines we bring are of good quality, almost always come from small producers, and are rarely, if ever, sold in the state of PA, they're not generally the kind of wines that collectors would seek out.

So my questions are: how do we decide whether to offer the chef a glass of wine? Is the wine we're drinking a factor -- that is, should we only make the offer if it's a remarkable bottle? Should we simply leave the bottle with enough for a generous pour and indicate to the server that it's for the chef? Is a glass enough, or should we leave a whole bottle? I raise this last question because my husband and I were dining at our very favorite local BYO last night (the Birchrunville Store Cafe, for anyone in the Philly area), and happened to notice a bottle of wine sitting on a wooden table near the entrance to the kitchen. My husband and I speculated about it -- maybe the restaurant keeps a bottle or two on hand to give (they're not allowed to sell) to guests who didn't know the restaurant is BYO only -- and finally asked our server, who told us a party had left it for the chef the night before.

Can anyone shed some light on this custom for me? Thanks!

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  1. I'd just read Tim Fish of Wine Spectator (http://www.winespectator.com/blogs/sh...)
    on these issues before reading your post. He answers your questions better than I could.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Longing for Italy

      I'd love to read the article, but the link doesn't work.

      1. re: CindyJ

        Click on the link given, then click on "Tim Fish" on the banner and it's the first article.

        1. re: dmjordan

          Fixed Link: http://www.winespectator.com/blogs/sh...

          I follow these rules except only recently started offering a pour to the staff. Not because of wanting to jealously guard the wine, but because I was unsure of my own palate and what would be considered a "worthy" wine for the restaurant.

          Now I am less hung up on it. Partially because I understand wine a lot better than I used to and understand that as long as it is not an offensively cheap bottle (and by offensive I mean taste wise not price wise, though it's very hard to find a good bottle in the sub $10 range), most people who are excited about wine are always up for trying a new one!

    2. No offense, Cindy, but I think you are thinking too hard about the entire thing . . .

      Whenever I bring a bottle of wine into a restaurant, I nearly always offer a taste to our waiter and/or the chef -- ESPECIALLY if a) it's a favored restaurant of ours that we visit frequently; b) if we know the chef; or c) if it's particularly "esoteric" in one way or another.

      I even offer a taste to our waiter if it's something I've bought off their wine list that he/she is unfamiliar with.

      Then again, I spend 35+ years in the wine trade, so YMMV.

      14 Replies
      1. re: zin1953

        It's not so much that I'm thinking too hard about it, Zin, as much as that I'm thinking about it at all. It's new to me, and unexplored and untested. My overriding question was whether it was more about the wine, or about the social aspect (and maybe calling it "social" is really a stretch). On the one hand, the gesture could be saying something something like, "I'm really enjoying this wine, and I hope you'll enjoy it with me." On the other hand, that same gesture could mean something more like, "I'm really enjoying the food and service here, and I'd like to show my appreciation." Or, it could mean something entirely different. Okay, okay... so maybe I *AM* overthinking it. :-)

        1. re: CindyJ

          Ocean County, NJ, where we have a home has some weird liquor laws so most of the places we dine at are BYO. I have never thought of offering the chef or waiter a glass of wine. I am curious, why? I've read that if you bring a very expensive (Petrus '82?!!) to a very expensive restaurant that has a corkage policy, you should offer the wine server a taste. But my $50.00 bottle of Gigondas? I think not. Interesting question, tho.

          1. re: Stuartmc910

            I'm a little familiar with the liquor wars being fought in OC. The battle seems to be pretty heated on both sides.

            The whole question was never even on my radar. I mean, I'd read, from time to time, about restaurant guests offering wine to servers and chefs, but I guess I always considered it to be more of a California kind of thing -- and maybe it is -- because the wine culture is so different in CA than most other parts of the country. Still, it seems like it would be a nice gesture in the right place under the right circumstances, and maybe a pour from that $50 Gigondas would actually be appropriate.

            1. re: Stuartmc910

              Stuart, I am *NOT* familiar with the "weird liquor laws" of Ocean County, New Jersey, so perhaps you'll be kind to what might seem like a silly question?

              What difference does it make how expensive the wine is? What difference does it make if the restaurant has a corkage policy or not? Is there something written into the law???

              I mean, from a purely selfish point of view, if you bring a 1982 Pétrus to the restaurant (and presuming, of course, it isn't already on the list), wouldn't you want to keep every drop for yourself?

              1. re: zin1953

                True about the list. I brought a bottle of expensive wine, well, expensive for me, (not the P '82), only once to a restaurant. Their policy is; "It cannot be on our wine list."

                My point was why would a chef, or other employee want to taste a (pardon the expression) common wine?

                  1. re: zin1953

                    Well, if $50 is common .
                    Well, two buck Chuck it isn't but.....I can't see a conga line of employees heading to my table to taste my Chateau de NoName Pinot Noir!

                    1. re: Stuartmc910

                      FWIW, I see no reason -- nor, certainly, is it written anywhere -- that one MUST offer/share wine with EVERY employee in the restaurant, let alone ANY at all! That's up to you/the diner.

                      What I do may (or may not) be unusual, given my background in the wine trade. But it boils down to this:

                      IF (and it's a big "if") I bring a bottle into a restaurant, and the waiter/sommelier shows any interest in the wine -- and I'm talking "serious" interest, some knowledge, and a little excitement re: the wine -- I always offer them a taste. If they don't know what I'm bringing in, if the restaurant has no serious wine program, is not "into" wine, and/or couldn't really give a $#!+ one way or the other, we're drinking it all!

                      IF (and, again, it's a big "if") I know the chef, Maitre d', sommelier and/or the waiter -- whether through my own work, through friends, or even if I'm just a "regular" in the restaurant -- I will offer at least one of them a taste.

                      IF (and, yet again, it's a big "if"), I'm enjoying a bottle of wine -- whether it's something from my cellar OR EVEN off the wine list -- and the waiter shows some interest in the wine, I always ask if they have ever tasted this specific wine; if not (again, even if it's on their list), I will offer them a taste.

                      Having a waitstaff who is "into" wine, who gets excited by it and who actually cares, will increase the restaurant's wine sales, as well as make for -- IMHO -- a better and more enjoyable dining experience for me. So I see it as a "win-win."

                      Cheers,
                      Jason

                      1. re: zin1953

                        I think I tend to agree with zin1953 (as usual) in that I offer a taste of what I bring to the server as a matter of course. Usually they taste, sometimes they decline. IF I know the chef or owner, I always tell the server that I'd like to offer a glass to them if they are so inclined and let them decide.

                        As I noted before in this forum, I believe that wine is best when shared and I tend to offer tastes of whatever I bring to whoever is interested. I've been know to share wine with folks at the table next to me when they inquired as to what I was drinking. One of my fondest memories of a meal was at a very nice BYO in Montreal where we ended up sharing several bottles of wine back and forth with the table next to us just because we both inquired as to the wines the other table had opened. They got to taste some of my small production California wines, and I got to taste some very nice and old Bordeaux and Port. We parted friends and managed to have dinner together the next time we visited the city.

                  2. re: Stuartmc910

                    Wine people (usually) always want to try wine. The exceptions would be something so wildly available and so reviled that there is no way they would have any interest. That is a list of very few wines, say Charles Shaw.

                    Otherwise I am always curious to try a new producer, or new vintage, etc. The wine world is so vast the odds that the person has tried one specific producer, of one specific vintage, of one specific varietal are rather low . . .

              2. re: CindyJ

                ***MY*** theory about it is simple: you do what feels right to you. ;^)

                1. IMO, there's a protocol involved in offering a glass or taste to any personnel inside the restaurant.
                  First, the offer must be made face-to-face. That is, if the chef is circling the dining room and comes by your table, and you have a nice chat, that is the time to offer, and hear yay or nay. Many chefs cannot drink on the job either, or they must get back to the job of cooking, and the glass of wine will simply get hot in the kitchen and and taste terrible, or not be drunk at all because the chef is so busy. Having a breakable glass anywhere near the line is frowned upon, as well. Or there may be other issues (sobriety/abuse -- rampant in the restaurant world; strict rules about consumption while on duty, etc.). So you never just send a glass to the kitchen. Meaning, don't force the issue or your generosity.

                  Something similar is true for the server. The server may or may not be allowed to consume wine (generally, no), but sometimes they are. You have to ask the server if they're interested, and find out what's allowed, and go from there. A sommelier is different. They are allowed to taste (not drink a glass).

                  1. If you feel uncomfortable about how to proceed, it can happen, just leave a nice tip and say "thank you for the great evening, we will be back".

                    M.