I read with interest the article entitled Memo to Servers: Don’t Pour My Wine! on Palate Press, but do have to say that I took issue with the opinion of W. Bake Gray on the subject of refilling wine glasses in a restaurant setting.

My whole professional career has been spent in the hospitality industry, where the mantra has always been to keep wine glasses full. This was not to try to dupe the guest into a second bottle, but instead to show an elevated level of service. After all, you can serve yourself at home. Why would you want to pay restaurant prices and pour your own wine?

For Mr. Blake to state that, “..the main reason Servers refill glasses today is to get the bottle off the table and encourage you to buy another one,” is off the mark.

To quote the book Sales and Service for the Wine Professional, “(t)he Sommelier should keep an eye on the customers’ glasses and refill as and when necessary”. This book for the longest time has served as a study guide by the Court of Master Sommeliers for aspiring entry-level Sommeliers.

Before even entering a restaurant with my wife, I already have a good idea as to how my bottles of wine I will be consuming, (generally one bottle between two of us). A second bottle means we are going to have to leave the car parked overnight at the restaurant and take a cab ride home. Only the minutest amount of self-control is needed when I am asked by the Server if I would care for a second bottle. “No, that’s ok. Thanks though,” usually takes care of the situation.

Never before has the Server retorted with “Oh come on! Just one more bottle! It’s only 2 glasses each! You can handle it!” Maybe a slight exaggeration, my dry English sense of humor sometimes get the better of me!

The job of a restaurant is to meet every guest’s needs through modified service. The Server should anticipate if you are in a hurry and quicken the pace, or slow it down if you looking to take your time on the meal. How do we predict these needs? For the most part, service staff need to be mind readers, but of course it helps if you can give them some hints as you how you would like the meal to flow. For example, “We have a movie to catch in one hour, can you possibly expedite our order?” or “That’s ok, I can pour our wine”.

I can see no way that anyone who has spent even the smallest amount of time working in a restaurant, being able to express any level of disdain for something so simple as a Server attempting to refill their wine glass. I’ve personally long believed a minimum of 3 months restaurant service should be mandated by the Government, but that’s a whole different article…

Kris Chislett Certified Sommelier Certified Specialist of Wine

Born in 1980 and raised in Halifax, England, Kris Chislett now resides in Jacksonville, Florida with his wife Denise, their cat Maisy and his overflowing collections of Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Decanter magazines (much to his wife’s disdain). He created his website BlogYourWine.com in order to give people the resource he never had: an unpretentious, user-friendly, fun, interactive guide to the world of wine.

8 Responses

  1. Todd Merkel

    I spent 5 years waiting tables during my undergrad years, and there is a HUGE difference between filling the wine glasses “as needed”, and the type of server who “fills them up”.

    I’m more than fine with the former, and just as sick of the latter as Mr. Gray.

    If more servers were properly trained, it probably wouldn’t be an issue… Sadly, it is at some places.

    Have you ever had a Reidl Pinot noir glass filled to within an inch of the rim at a “fine dining” restaurant? I have.


  2. Erika Szymanski

    I understood and agreed with Mr. WBG in his “Memo to Servers,” and I understand and agree with Mr. Chislett’s response here. In fact, I’m not so sure that they disagree if you consider that the two gentlemen are talking about two different categories of restaurant service.

    Mr. Chislett is clearly speaking about the high level of service found in a fine restaurant. Most servers in most restaurants aren’t this good. Not only does the average server fail to be so observant of individual diner’s needs as described here, most are also poorly educated about wine, as Mr. Gray describes. I would love to see servers in these sorts of establishments simply ask, “May I pour, or would you prefer to do it yourself?”

    Since fine dining service is designed to make you feel spoiled, and that includes doing as little for yourself as possible, it makes sense that fine dining servers are expected to pour. Under such circumstances, diners with other preferences have the responsibility to make their preferences known. The superbly-trained, educated, astute server that Mr. Chislett describes would certainly respond graciously and deferentially to a diner who asks to manage his own bottle. On the other hand, ordinary restaurant service should aim to deliver your food with as little fuss and bother as possible.

    In my mind, then, the problem occurs when ordinary restaurants try to rise above their station and pretend to be fine dining establishments without hiring and training wait staff of the necessary caliber.

  3. Chad

    Good rebuttal. Here’s mine that didn’t get published. It’s along the same lines:

    To the author: If you really care about this topic, the title of the article should be “Memo to managers: Don’t tell your servers to pour my wine!”

    Servers don’t make the rules of the restaurant. Managers do.

    On top of that, there are several other things you seem to be off on.

    “Instead, the main reason servers refill glasses today is to get the bottle off the table and encourage you to buy another one.”

    You know this for a fact? Did you actually contact a variety of restaurants and inquire about their wine service policies? I’m assuming not. It certainly sounds like you’re jumping to cynical conclusions without any research.

    I’ve been in restaurants for seven years (both managing and serving experience) and I’ve always been told to keep the wine glass full for strictly service reasons. The guest isn’t here to work/spoil them/ etc.

    Also, if you look at all the tables a restaurant serves, it’s rare for tables to order more than one bottle of wine in an evening. A very low percentage of overall tables do and it’s certainly not expected. Especially for a party of two (i.e. the author and his wife). Who really thinks a party of two is going to order more than one bottle of wine? I think I’ve seen that once, maybe twice, in seven years.

    Really, servers don’t care much about adding as much as they possibly can to your tab. Most servers will serve hundreds, if not thousands, of tables in their time. We’re not losing any sleep over every single table who didn’t have the highest tab possible.

    “But please, you can’t possibly pour for us with the same intimate knowledge of our individual needs as we can. So don’t even try.”

    So don’t even try to do our job? Snotty much?

    What makes you think the server needs the minute details and “intimate knowledge” of why you don’t want us to refill your wine glass?

    A simple “No thanks, I’ll pour it myself” is polite and more than sufficient to save you from the agony of your server simply doing what their boss tells them to do. It also saves us from the wildly interesting story of your wine-refill preferences.

    I’m actually glad when guests tell me they prefer to handle their wine refills. There is more than enough going on during a busy shift and not having to keep an eye on refilling a table’s wine glasses is one less thing on the mind.

    So if you actually are concerned with making a server’s job easier, as you say, try speaking up and voicing your preference to your server as opposed to getting upset at them doing their job and resorting to passive-aggressive blog postings complaining about the issue.

    “Perhaps I’m unkind to think servers are only looking for a 20% tip on a second bottle. Many are just trying to do a job.”

    Yes and yes.

  4. Marilise

    My husband and I eat at a lot of fine restaurants, and I’ve never had a waiter sneak a second or third bottle of wine onto our bill by constantly filling our glasses, so I can’t say I understand WBG’s statement about pouring more just to encourage you to buy another bottle.

    My honest, humble opinions– A.) people don’t know what to complain about anymore B.) servers will anger diners by being absent, but they will also piss off grouchy diners by being too attentive. I just don’t see what’s so hard about taking 3 seconds to tell someone “no thank-you,” or 7.5 seconds to ask someone, “Can you leave the bottle?” if you want to study it and read its label or pour it yourself. I think I’m correct in saying that when people go to restaurants, they want things done for them–otherwise they’d stay home. If it irks you that much to have someone else pour your wine, or you’re concerned about lightweights in your dining party, probably best you save your wine-buying and wine-drinking for the house.

  5. Wayne Young

    I would be deeply offended in a fine restaurant if my server asked me if I wanted to “pour it myself”.
    That is not the way professional service is handled. The highest level must be first OFFERED, if it is then refused (“I’d like to pour the wine myself, Thank you.”), then it is your obligation as server to respect the wishes of the patron.
    Giving the option at the beginning is like saying “Can you please just do this yourself?”