Wine Series: The Most Frequent Wine Mistakes Restaurants Make

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Its high profit margin makes wine a product that many restaurants seek to sell more of. But how?

Over several weeks Restaurant Management talks to Barbara Wichman Nowak and Beverly Wichman Pittman, who give advice on everything from how to make your restaurant wine-friendly to how to save money and find the best value on wines.

Known as The Saucy Sisters, Nowak and Pittman are the authors of ‘The Saucy Sisters’ Guide to Wine: What Every Girl Should Know Before She Uncorks’ and ‘The Everything Wine Book.’ Their third book, ‘The Saucy Sisters' Guide to Wine: What Every Girl Should Know Before She Unscrews,’ will be published in October.

This week the sisters tell RMGT the most common mistakes restaurants make with wine:

Having servers with no knowledge about the wines on the restaurant’s list

This leaves the diner helpless because more often than not they’re not familiar with the wines on the list. They need to know which is lighter or has fewer tannins. If the server doesn’t know, the diner is on his or her own.

It also takes more time if the server knows nothing, or almost nothing, about the wines, because then he or she may need to go to someone else to get the answer.

Servers can gain a basic knowledge by tasting some wines in the pre-service and talking about them. This kind of training should be ongoing to keep their skills fresh and to teach new hires. 

Astronomical prices—both on bottles and wines by the glass

Consumers are aware of how much wine costs so very high prices are going to turn them off. Restaurants typically charge double the retail price, but when consumers see prices that are three or four times what they expect, they get a little incensed. And remember, consumers these days can check prices at retail right from your restaurant on their smart phone.

The margins on wine are good and if they are reasonable, rather than exponential, guests are more likely to order a bottle instead of a glass, or two glasses instead of one.

It’s important to still offer expensive wines but take the mark-up into consideration.

Pouring too much wine

If a restaurant is using good-sized wine glasses, servers should fill them about a third full. If they’re smaller, fill them a little higher. But people who enjoy wine like to swirl and sniff and you can’t do that with a full glass, so always keep it on the lower side.

White wine will warm up too quickly if too much is poured.

A good technique when serving wines by the glass is to serve them from a mini decanter (small enough for just one glass of wine). This allows wine glasses to be filled on the low side, without providing less wine. It also puts the customer in control, allowing him or her to pour the remainder at will. It’s also a nice upscale touch.

Wines that are not fresh

Wines that are not stored properly should not be served to restaurant guests. Use a preservation system if you can afford it. If you can’t, recork the wines, mark them with the date opened, and always refrigerate them overnight. Never refrigerate wines for more than one night.

Wines can often go bad overnight, however, and are not up to standard for a wine connoisseur. Less experienced diners might not notice that a wine has lost some of its excitement.

Cheap, small and/or thick glassware; dirty or dusty glassware

Wine is so much less pleasant when you have really inexpensive glassware. Thick glass means the consumer tastes more glass than wine, and small glasses don’t allow the guest to swirl his or her wine.

Stemless glasses are a nice addition to a restaurant that prides itself on being trendy. They must be good quality, but they do make swirling difficult, so can take away some enjoyment of the wine. Fine dining restaurants should stick with traditional stemmed glasses.

Always make sure glasses are dust and dirt free. No one likes to find lipstick marks on their glass and a small amount of dust can accumulate overnight, so always wipe glasses with a clean, dry cloth.

Temperature: Reds are served too warm and whites are served too cold

Red wine should be served at around 60º—at cellar temperature, which is not quite room temperature. Don’t serve red wines too warm—the warmer they are the more alcohol consumers will taste.

Serve white wines at 45º to 55º, and don’t serve them straight from the refrigerator. Refrigerated wines typically need about 20 minutes to warm up and if they are too cold, the flavors are muted. The serving temperature for whites depends on the style—a Champagne or Sauvignon Blanc (lighter bodied whites) should be served colder; Chardonnays and similarly bodied wines can be on the warmer end of the spectrum.

A nice idea is to offer to leave wine on a guest’s table to warm up. Always ask if they’d like a wine bucket; sometimes these can keep the wine too cold.

But it all comes down to personal preferences, so asking the person who’s ordering the wine is never a mistake. It shows you care about wine and the guest experience.

The wine list is not legible and/or is disorganized. The wine list is not up-to-date

A wine list that you cannot read because the print is small is not helping any guest or restaurant. A restaurant with low lighting will make it even more difficult to read. This is particularly true for restaurants with a strong Baby Boomer clientele.

Wine lists should be organized by categories (light reds, full-bodied reds, etc.) and there should be simple explanations for each wine—where it’s from, predominant flavors, whether it contains oak, for example.

Also ensure your wine list is up to date. It’s frustrating for both the consumer and the waiter if a chosen wine is no longer available, and wastes time for both.

By Amanda Baltazar

News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by FSR, Food News Media, or Journalistic, Inc.


Good article. Maybe do another on the role the wine broker/rep plays (or should play) with helping to educate the restaurant management and serving staff.

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