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Jun 11, 2012 03:30 PM

Is SAQ allowed to reserve bottles for some customers? + hats off to Marche Latina

I went to the Laurier store today to get two wines. I went out of my way to get to this specific outlet, because they had the wines I wanted to get in stock. The first one (of which they had 4 bottles left according to the software) was nowhere to be found. They finally found the manager and he said that the bottles weren't available any more. I heard them talking to each other in French that it was reserved for someone else (I guess they thought I didn't understand it). When I inquired whether if this is allowed (I remember reading in this board a few years back that it wasn't permissible), they got a little defensive and insisted that you have a week to pick your bottles up if you reserve. I then mumbled that maybe they should drop the reserved wines from the "available" list in their inventory online, but they guy wasn't interested in my opinion. I didn't have the chance to ask how one gets to reserve a wine.

The second one was also nowhere to be found. The manager dismissively said that they can't locate it and he can't help me, and left the floor. I wasn't surprised by this attitude because I had horrible experiences with this outlet in the past when I tried to speak English to the staff (when you are young, casually dressed, horrible with French pronunciation, or English speaking they assume that you don't know anything about wine), but oh well I am not getting into the politics of SAQ or the province. Besides, I had excellent service at other outlets (Atwater, Alexis Nihon, Mont Royal) with my broken French, or better but still broken English.

But seriously, can one reserve a bottle in advance (especially for fly-off-the-shelf wines) or NOT? Or is it some special treatment to their special clients? I am genuinely curious because I am interested in small batch (but usually affordable) wines that sell out very quickly and this should save me a lot of time and effort. I can't find this information anywhere, and if anyone knows the secret code for getting a bottle reserved please share (but it won't be so secret anymore)

Just when I was walking home, defeated that some arrogant person ruined my birthday, I decided to stop by Marche Latina to get some cheese. I asked for a cheese with my broken French. The guy corrected my pronunciation with zero condescension plus some good humor (there are ways to do this you know!), and spent the next 15 minutes helping me pick some cheese with his own not that good English. They have a small but well edited selection of cheese. I wish I lived closer. Then I realized how I should still have some hope that we can all live together in this dysfunctional province if people were just a little nicer.

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  1. The SAQ can set aside wine for you most of the time (except special releases), but I can't find the specific rules online. In practice, if you see that the wine you want is shown as "in stock" but in small quantities, call ahead and ask them to save you X number of bottles. It really *should* be as simple as that... but I haven't tried it in a while so I don't know if it will work out for you.

    Unfortunately I don't think they can take it out of the online inventory until it's been scanned and paid for.

    As for the wine listed as in-stock but nowhere to be found, it's likely buried in the stockroom somewhere. Unless there's only one or two bottles listed, in which case it may have been opened for in-store tasting purposes. I wouldn't be too shy about insisting they dig for it -- IF the place isn't super-busy. When they're dealing with a flood of customers, I think it's understandable that they wouldn't want to look for it.

    A quote from the employees' code of ethics, which implies that setting aside bottles is normally allowed except for special releases ( :

    "Here are some examples of preferential treatment that is not permitted:
    • putting products aside for a good client despite the applicable rules that may forbid it (for example, during marketing operations for new arrivals released in conjunction with Cellier magazine or for exclusive wines such as the Supertuscans);"

    Do staff play favourites? Surely. Just being a familiar face at your local outlet will probably get you somewhat better treatment than you would get as a walk-in where nobody's seen you before.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Mr F

      Good to know that ordinary cork dorks can indeed reserve their wine. I think I'll be a regular reserver at the Atwater store from now on, or the Place des Arts one. Don't think I'll go back to Laurier territory, after a few too unfortunate incidents. I know it doesn't matter for SAQ that I go there, but still a principle. It is sad that they usually have a fantastic inventory.

      BTW, the cheese that we bought from Latina were glorious. We had a perfectly ripe Lingot D'or (the store staff took their time to pick the best one from the batch), I almost weeped while eating it. I think it was the best birthday gift. We also had a great Linconshire Poacher, a first for me. I really appreciated the guy behind the counter geeking out for us, just for a small sale. He also helped us pick a rosette. Dude, you rule, whatever your name is!

      Now I shall consume my birthday Mamie Clafoutis tart.

      1. re: garmonbozia

        Happy birthday! If the staff are too annoying you can always order your bottles online and have them delivered. It might be a good way to bypass someone else's reservation, who knows?

        1. re: Plateaumaman

          Online ordering doesn't work like that... it's more like a virtual outlet. There's a good chance the scarce bottles the OP wants won't be available online at all.

    2. thanks for informing me about this practice, I didnt know it exists. I have asked for help in wine selections in that store and got good advice. I never thought to speak in French so it is even more unfortunate that you made efforts and had such results.. I guess I was lucky with the staff I approached. but generally I have not had problems in saq outlets. However I certainly have had with staff in restaurants. I agree with you bad attitude of employees can spoil an evening and they do lose business as a result. In some commerces I have to interrupt staffs social conversations to pay and then get sour looks in return.

      1. Sorry to break it to you, but getting anywhere with wine in this province, especially with the SAQ requires French. It's a provincial monopoly, in which the official language is French. If you want to get 'extra services' like getting bottles reserved, stock transfer, some hard to get bottles from most private importers you'll have a better results if you ask in the official language . If you want better service, you'll have to improve your French. Nothing against you, just stating how it works in Montreal.

        5 Replies
        1. re: tocino.

          It's also the location of this particular SAQ. This is Outremont's shopping strip after all. Their regulars must drop wops of cash on vino each week, so it's not so surprising that they perhaps kept a few bottles aside if asked by one of their regulars. The SAQ a bit further north on Parc deals with a more mixed variety of people and languages.
          But regardless, it's never nice to get crappy customer service.

          I was once looking for a specific bottle and the SAQ I visited did not have it, they looked it up, called another SAQ and had it put aside for me to pick up. So I wouldn't necessarily consider the practice of putting bottles aside a sign of preferential treatment.

          Yeah Latina is a wonderful place. Great butcher as well. Unfortunately not too cheap.

          1. re: estilker

            When it comes to the above example:
            "I am genuinely curious because I am interested in small batch (but usually affordable) wines that sell out very quickly and this should save me a lot of time and effort. I can't find this information anywhere, and if anyone knows the secret code for getting a bottle reserved please share (but it won't be so secret anymore)",
            it is definitely a sign of preferential treatment.

            1. re: tocino.

              No, it's a sign that they haven't posted -- anywhere, in any language -- the detailed rules for reserving bottles. Or if they have, they're well buried. Even so, right in the OP we have the info that you have a week to pick up a reserved bottle, which is consistent with what I've heard in the past. The "secret code" is a phone call.

              I agree that it's preferable to speak French at the SAQ if you can, but even if you don't, if you become a regular at any store the staff will eventually start recognizing you and giving you the same improved service other regulars get. Whether better treatment of regulars is appropriate is a whole other question. To me, it's something that happens in any business, and only a problem when it leads to things like reservations for products that are not supposed to be reservable.

            2. re: estilker

              At other SAQs at many instances they tried to locate the bottle at another outlet for me as well; never put it aside, but gave me the addresses of a few outlets that are nearby with some good inventory. This time, however, they could have cared less. I had somewhat similar experiences at the posh SAQ on St Catherine, while trying to buy a bottle of $49 champagne amongst 400-500 dollar bottles; so maybe I was too small of a customer to care for.

              Online ordering at SAQ is great, especially when they have discounts, but I am vary of the heat in the Canada Post trucks in the summer. I don't want my wine to cook for 2 days before reaching me.

              1. re: garmonbozia

                I use an app called VinGo on my phone that lets me see the inventory of nearby SAQ which might be helpful. It also lets you scan the barcode of bottles you like so you can keep tasting notes and locate bottles in the future.