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The Wine Ethicist: Cease and Desist, Obtrusive Waiter

2012 January 3
by Mike

Happy New Year; I hope everyone ate and drank well over the holidays and avoided any bad hangovers, and my best wishes to you for the coming year.

I thought it would be good to start 2012 with another installment of The Wine Ethicist. As you surely know, Christopher Hitchens passed away last month. In addition to being a Vanity Fair contributor, Hitchens did a weekly column for Slate, and in 2008, he wrote an amusing screed about restaurant wine service, specifically the practice of sommeliers and waiters refilling wine glasses without being asked to do so. This “breathtaking act of rudeness,” Hitchens fumed, “conveys a none-too-subtle and mercenary message: Hurry up and order another bottle.” He suggested that the dining public’s tolerance of this ritual “must have something to do with the snobbery and insecurity that frequently accompany the wine business. A wine waiter can be a bit of a grandee, putting on airs that may intimidate those who know little of the subject…people somehow grant restaurants the right to push their customers around in this outrageous way.”

I think Hitchens was being a little unfair to sommeliers. Here in the United States, at least, restaurant wine service has undergone a dramatic transformation over the last two decades or so, and it is pretty rare now to encounter an insolent sommelier. Moreover, the better somms are very adept at reading the mood of a table in order to determine whether automatic refills are welcome or not. In my experience, the problem Hitchens described tends to arise in restaurants without sommeliers, in which “regular” waiters handle the wine service. And it is a real problem: in many restaurants, wine glasses are topped up with no regard for the wishes of the customer, and the pours are often obscenely large. A few years ago, four of us were out for dinner, and the waiter emptied almost the entire bottle on his first go-around. To spite him, we nursed our glasses for the entire night rather than ordering a second bottle.

The obvious solution to the problem of heavy-handed or incompetent wine service is to wrest control of the bottle from whoever is doing the pouring. Or you can just announce at the outset that you, the diner, will take care of the pouring, which avoids the problem entirely. However, I don’t like to invite the wrath of people who handle my food (you never know what they might do!), and informing a waiter that he is not to touch your bottle could leave him feeling insulted. Sure, if he cares about his tip, he’ll swallow his pride and graciously comply with your wishes. But waiters don’t always act in their own best interest, and making an issue of the wine service could create an undercurrent of hostility and diminish the pleasure of the meal. So taking charge of the bottle is not a risk-free move.

My approach now is what might be called the two-strikes-and-you’re-out rule. If the waiter pours too much wine in the glass or is too quick with refills, I’ll gently indicate that I’d like him to back off; if the problem persists, I will relieve him of the pouring duties while trying to be tactful about it. This strategy generally works well, but I’m curious to hear how you handle restaurant wine service. Do you go the wait-and-see route, or do you deny the waiter/sommelier the opportunity to tick you off by assuming control of the bottle from the start? Do you agree with Hitchens that the unsolicited refill is a “barbaric custom” that should be ended? Tell us how you deal with unsatisfactory wine service, and definitely share any horror stories that you’ve experienced!

29 Responses leave one →
  1. May 6, 2017

    Wine is always expensive when dining out.I am the customer paying for this unnecessary mark up of the bottle which can be bought in a supermarket for a quarter of the price.Therefore as soon as the waiter tries to top up the glasses I always say I will do that as necessary,thank you.This means that I can enjoy the meal at my own pace without intrusion .If I want another bottle then I will order it.I refuse to be rushed with my drink just to satisfy the waiters ploy to increase the bill and hopefully his tip!

  2. Pamela permalink
    July 23, 2012

    I fully agree that it is breathtakingly rude to pour anyone wine without an indication from them that they wish to have any. And having been in the industry for 4 decades now, I would say this: if you cannot ascertain whether or not a customer wishes wine without interrupting their conversation should they be talking when you approach the table, then you are lacking experience, training or both. It’s not hard to take cues from people, and someone may only want a single glass (or less) because they are driving (it’s not the 1950s anymore folks), taking medication that alcohol interferes with, or simply because they don’t like the wine but don’t wish to say so. The reason is irrelevant –but it’s always the customer’s prerogative.

    Once, when I was at dinner the server has pour about 10 ounces of wine (each) into our glasses for the first course. He came back a few minutes later and topped us up, emptying the bottle, BEFORE our appetizers had arrived. We ordered a second bottle and put it on the far side of the table. He reached over my friend’s meal as she (also in the industry for decades) was cutting her food and we finally had to ask him to leave the bottle alone. So much for fine dining :)

  3. jct permalink
    March 22, 2012

    I have been in the fine dining industry for many years now and can give you a new perspective on wine service. We all must follow the rules of social decency and SOP in public. There are rules as well in restaurants. If you order a bottle than you will receive service with that bottle. If the glass is down to two or three sips it must be filled etc. If you expect to be catered in some customized way then dream on. Usually finniky guests are the worst guests! If you try and stretch one bottle over a three course meal than you are probably to cheap to truely enjoy wine anyway. I enjoy guests that drink wine and enjoy themselves. Four people generally do two bottles. Next time order wine don’t blame the waiter for your selfish needs. We have a job that is more difficult than most peoples jobs. And your tip is not enough to justify your bad attitude and rudeness. Play by our rules or stay home and get it yourself.

  4. jake permalink
    January 22, 2012

    This is always an issue that waiters tend to feel that they can get away with in my experience. Ironically enough, my biggest pet peeve is when they NEVER refill the wine glasses. They should certainly ask first, but if I am paying double mark up on a bottle, I fully expect to have wine in my glass, at all times…just not rudely poured to the rim as a way to force me to buying a second bottle.

  5. david in dundee permalink
    January 5, 2012

    As an “ex-Somm” (not defrocked, just a lateral move away), I would have been very comfortable with a guest expressing his/her wants for pouring levels and frequency.

    I would have been less content with an unhappy guest who left me guessing, and who then would either be dismissive of poor service, leave a poor tip, or both.

    I vividly remember one late evening long ago when a guest REFUSED to let me pour the last 3 ounces of his wine for the table. He said “You want to pour this out so that I have to order another bottle, don’t you? Admit it!”

    I replied “In all honesty Sir, you are the last table here tonight, and when I pour that last splash, I can go home”.

    As I recall, he poured it, then he stiffed me. Sometimes honest is NOT the best policy.

  6. Matt permalink
    January 5, 2012

    As a former waiter & bartender, there’s a few other things I haven’t seen mentioned…

    I always got a better tip from a table buying 4 $10 glasses of wine than a $40 bottle of wine. Some people (including ones I’ve dined with) “subtract” the cost of the bottle from the bill before figuring out the tip, so selling a bottle of wine, or two, didn’t help me out much.

    The training comments are spot on – nowhere I worked spent a great deal of time on any part of wine service other than a few comments and no practice during training. Unfortunately, this usually meant that a server was “trained” by the first few customers, and if they wanted a big pour, then that’s what the server started doing. (But most managers reacted to a guest pouring wine at the table the same they would if the guest had gone up to the bar to get their own drinks, which wasn’t good for the server – that at least was in the training).

    If you don’t want to bring it up at the beginning with your server, the best thing I’ve found to do is to put the bottle in an awkward position for the server to grab it – then (if they’re decent at least) they’ll ask before picking it up and you can let them know that you’ll take care of it.

    I agree with Tom that this is a murky issue, and I’d be curious what thoughts are if the first part of wine service, which everyone seems to agree on, is off – a server not showing the wine before opening it, not letting anyone see the cork, or bringing the bottle, full but already opened, to the table.

  7. January 5, 2012

    What about the restaurants who after pouring take the bottle away to a central location where all the diner’s wines are kept. In this case how do you wrest control of the bottle?

  8. Robin C permalink
    January 4, 2012

    I like Cristo P. Ney’s approach: “A simple, nonvocal tip of the bottle to each member of the table when their glass is empty/down to the last sip is usually appropriate.” I’ve never encountered that approach in a restaurant, but it does seem the most appropriate and classiest.
    In general, I don’t like getting less wine than everyone else because I’m drinking slowly, or more wine when I don’t want any more. At home, I always pour my own servings.

  9. January 4, 2012

    After the first pour (assuming they don’t pour out the whole bottle!!!), I always appreciate it when a server *asks* me if I would like more wine (esp. if my glass is not empty). That way, you can pace your own enjoyment.

  10. Mike G permalink
    January 4, 2012

    I typically agree with most of what I read here but as a former wine server I feel pressed to take issue with the following complaint: A few years ago, four of us were out for dinner, and the waiter emptied almost the entire bottle on his first go-around. To spite him, we nursed our glasses for the entire night rather than ordering a second bottle.

    Let us assume that the server poured an obligatory ounce of wine into the glass of the individual who ordered and that the bottle contained 750 mL’s. Then 24.36 ounces remained before the server so desperately in need of reprimand devided almost the entire remaining contents of the bottle between four dinner guests. I am uncertain how much was left in the bottle but let us assume 2 ounces remained after the occurance of this heavy handed and dubious act. Assuming the pours were equal this would have equated into a whooping (drum roll please) portion of 5.59 ounces of wine into the glass of each individual at the table. Chances are the wine glasses were at least 12.5 ounces and in many upscale establishments they are significantly larger. In my opinion this is a poor example of a wine serving act which is deserving of spite.

    Empherically speaking the same wine customer that would make an issue out of the 5.59 oz pour situation as articulated above is cut from the same mold as as the individual who would complain that a generous and well priced 8 oz glass of wine is small, only because they failed to recognize that the portion got lost when it was served in a gargantuan 25.3 oz Riedel crystal Pinot Noir glass.

    Keep up the good work – when it comes to investigative wine journalism you are the boss!

    Mike G

  11. January 4, 2012

    I miss Hitchens, but I disagree with his assessment that servers (or most restaurants) over pour in order to sell more wine. My guess is that it is extremely rare, especially in upscale restaurants (after all, triple wholesale pricing should be enough).

    When I encounter servers or somms who automatically pour, if they have been trained properly, I have no problem with it (i.e., do they pour the proper portion and do they skip those, like my wife, who have not consumed enough of the wine to warrant a new pour).

    Training may really be the culpret. One a similar note, I was at Tony’s in Houston many years ago (when it was THE restaurant in Houston). The “water server” had obviously been told to top off the water glasses whenever someone took a drink. It finally got to the point that only the surface tension on what became a dome of water at the top of the glass was keeping the water from spillling onto the table.

  12. January 4, 2012

    Ah, the topic returns. I mention this one to tables all the time.

    A waiter for 15 years here. I can tell you the way I approach it and that’s it. Personally, I don’t have the time nor inclination to “hustle” for a tip. Makes me feel dirty, dirty, dirty. My only goal is to make sure the table feels like they had a good experience and received attentive service. I take what happens from that approach each night, count up my money and go about my day, come back tomorrow and do it again.

    A simple, nonvocal tip of the bottle to each member of the table when their glass is empty/down to the last sip is usually appropriate. Don’t interrupt their conversation, don’t make a big deal of it and let each person make the drinking decision. I mostly (and frankly) don’t care if they order another bottle but when the table’s halfway through their meal and the rate in which they’ve been drinking suggests another bottle might be something they would want, to finish off the meal at the same breezy rate, I believe it’s certainly my job to ask them about such things.

    But one person’s idea of attentive is another’s idea of smothering. But that begs the question. I don’t know you one bit. How do I know what your idea of attentive wine service is? And since I don’t know you and the general public’s idea of good wine service runs a humongous gamut from “I want my glass full at all times, damn it!” to “Leave the bottle alone please! Quit trying to sell me more stuff,” a middle approach that gives everyone at the table the power to make their own drinking decision while being attentive to their needs and offer options is the only prudent road to pursue.

    I can tell you from waiting tables for so long that most waiters aren’t trying to up-sell. They’re just trying to give good service. I even mention the Hitchens’ piece to tables when this subject comes up and the usual response revolves around how fussy some people can be.

    Hugely nuanced topic that could go on forever.

  13. January 4, 2012

    Sediment Blog, those are some great questions. Maybe a future Wine Ethicist topic, if that’s okay with you?

    Christina, I agree completely–it’s about communication. The relationship between the diner and the server isn’t inherently adversarial–quite the opposite, in fact–and with some polite, respectful communication, wine service problems can usually be avoided. As you note, a lot of waiters and waitresses are simply not trained for wine service, and feedback and tips from a customer can be very helpful for them.

    Miriam, you make an interesting point–laziness is probably a factor, too, though it could also happen when you have a waiter who is stretched too thin and needs to limit the time he/she spends at any one table.

  14. January 4, 2012

    Jon, thanks for delurking; great to have you here, and I obviously agree with everything you say. Even if the overpouring is an innocent mistake, it is a mistake that the restaurant should correct. Any restaurant that offers a decent selection of wines ought to train its staff to pour correctly. And if overpouring and frequent, unsolicited refills are part of a restaurant’s business plan? It is a place to be avoided, and if enough people avoid it, the restaurant might be persuaded to change its approach. At any rate, people do need to speak up, and need to let restaurants know that crap wine service is unacceptable. As I said, I don’t like to incur the wrath of waiters or sommeliers, because it does cast a pall over a meal. But if the wine service is unsatisfactory, customers should make their dissatisfaction known.

    Rogersworthe, you make an excellent point–communication is the key. The fact is, the server’s interests and the table’s interests are aligned–satisfied customers tip well and they make return visits. If the customer politely indicates right at the start what he or she wants in the way of wine service, most sommeliers or waiters will respond graciously and will comply with those wishes.

  15. Bill Klapp permalink
    January 4, 2012

    Bugaboo and Miriam, I do not disagree with what you are saying about good sommeliers at good restaurants at all. The phenomenon that I have described in detail occurs in good but too obviously profit-driven restaurants, and most often in lesser (but still popular) restaurants, quite often chains, where young waitstaff provides the wine service. Among other things, there is typically a high turnover in such waitstaff, so a formulaic approach to training for wine service, if there is any at all, is the norm. I hate to say this, but chain steakhouses, where both the food quality and the prices are high, are some of the worst over pouring offenders. That is sometimes made even worse by the wine lists themselves, often stacked far too heavily in mediocre-quality, low wholesale cost domestic wines that offer the house maximum profit.

    Personally, I have little to complain of, as I spend most of each year in Italy, and (knock on wood) I do not recall a single instance of overpouring there in the last 15 years. Of course, the markups on wine are much lower there, very few people do not have wine with meals, BYOB is all but unknown, waiters and sommeliers are often career employees (or family!) whose base pay is much better than it is for their counterparts in the U.S., and profit is driven by an excellent overall food and wine experience that creates regular and frequent customers, rather than by alcohol sales (including cocktails) here.

  16. Miriam Gonzalez permalink
    January 4, 2012

    I agree with Bugaboo, most good restuarants expect their servers to provide good wine service. What I find is a number of “good” servers try to provide “service”, while unfortunately, overpouring generally comes from the “lazy” server trying to ensure they don’t need to return to the table.

  17. January 4, 2012

    Bugaboo and Rogersworthe touch on this, but I’m wondering, is there an “accepted” and “universal” rule for what a server should do? I tried Googling server etiquette, but I couldn’t find anything – the articles all address the CUSTOMER’S etiquette. I think this actually points to one large problem – customers tend to be so intimidated by wine service, or are just too polite in general, that we don’t SPEAK UP when we should. Why is it so difficult to say we would prefer to pour the wine? I think it is perfectly reasonable to say this, and no one needs to be offended. The long articles detailing how customers should approach wine in restaurants just make it sound complicated and more trouble than it’s worth.

    Bugaboo says that his boss wants him to continue pouring wine for customers after the initial pour. I wonder, is this accepted practice throughout the industry? Would a server similarly give a customer an additional roll from the bread basket or another escargot from a shared appetizer? So why give them more wine? Or if the server has been told by their boss they should pour more wine, why can’t he/she just ASK the customer??

    Communicate, people. It’s that easy. I do think that fundamentally, many servers aren’t properly trained, and I’m not blaming the servers. I think letting them know – politely – how you feel about their service is sometimes the best training they will get!

  18. January 4, 2012

    If a diner pours for their table, and spills wine on the tablecloth, or knocks over a glass and breaks it, or lets the bottle slip and damages crockery…who pays?

    Just asking…

    The Sediment Blog

  19. January 3, 2012

    Bill, thanks for the great post–some terrific observations, and certainly consistent with my experience. And you make a particularly good point about larger parties–they are especially vulnerable to deliberate attempts to run up the wine bill.

    For whatever reason, a very different approach to wine came to mind while reading your comment. While I’ve always loved Peter Luger, its wine list is pretty grim, and from what I understand, that is a deliberate strategy–good wine encourages customers to linger, and Luger wants to turn tables. Now, I’ve never asked the people at Luger if that’s the reason for the weak wine list, but it is what I’ve been told (they also don’t allow BYOB). However, I doubt they object if people order second bottles!

    Bugaboo, thanks for weighing in here, and it sounds as if you have the perfect approach to handling wine service. But, obviously, not every waiter or sommelier is as attentive or conscientious as you are, and people have had enough bad experiences that this struck me as a worthwhile topic. And I was really just joking about waiters spitting in my food or otherwise tampering with my meal; it is not a major concern of mine!

  20. January 3, 2012

    Hi, Tom, thanks for the comment, and great story about the New England restaurant. While it is often the case that excessive pours and frequent refills are a deliberate ploy to get the customer to pony up for another bottle, I also think that in many instances, these are innocent mistakes, committed by waitstaff who simply don’t know any better and are just trying to please diners. And I agree completely: it is a challenge that will never go away, and can offer all sorts of permutations.

    Lee, I have the same issue–while my wife enjoys wine, she’ll take at most a couple of sips over the course of a meal (I know–what the hell she is doing married to me?). We usually let the sommelier/waiter pour her a full glass anyway, and if it’s a good wine, it doesn’t go to waste :)

    Edible Arts, there is no question that Hitchens could bluster with the best of them, and he was clearly putting on a bit of a performance with this rant about restaurant wine service. As I said in my post, I think he was off-base with his characterization of sommeliers. I’m happy to defer to the sommelier or waiter so long as he or she does a halfway decent job. I don’t like to cause scenes, either (martyr that I am, I much prefer to suffer in silence), and a surly waiter can definitely take the pleasure out of a restaurant meal.

  21. Frank permalink
    January 3, 2012

    I have never met any server who doesn’t understand a flat hand, palm down, alongside the glass.

  22. January 3, 2012

    This is one worth delurking for, only because this behavior drives me absolutely crazy.

    If you want to control your consumption — say, on a special bottle you’ve brought in — then it’s easy enough to ask your server politely to let you do the driving.

    Beyond that? There’s simply no excuse for overpouring. Let’s set aside the more nefarious explanation (making us order another bottle) and acknowledge that standardized pours from a bottle should be part of basic, clear service standards at any restaurant north of an Olive Garden. Actually, nope, let’s include them too.

    Every server should know the visual cues for the proper pour level, probably 3 or 4 ounces. This standard pour should be muscle-memory behavior for anyone doing that job for more than four months. (Mind you, this isn’t about being stingy. This is about moderately serving wine that someone has already indicated they’re paying for.)

    If a server pours heavy, I second Mike’s advice to politely correct that behavior. If it persists, correct it not-so-nicely. This is nonnegotiable. It is an intrinsic part of service. And unlike, say, the kitchen rushing food out and crowding your table, this is behavior that is entirely under the control of the server.

    With one possible exception: When overpours are actually part of a restaurant’s service culture. In that case, someone should be fired. (Hint: not the server.)

  23. January 3, 2012

    As a current general manager, an ex-waiter, and hopeful future somm I believe most of the errors are made out of eagerness to please, not so much the desire to push the table into a second bottle. Honestly, the reason why I don’t think that the motivation stems from a 2nd bottle sale is that wine people talk and that kind of thing can really effect the reputation of a restaurant, whereas excellent wine service can have the opposite effect.

    Honestly, I think the best option for the guest to ensure good wine service is to communicate exactly what you want. I usually tell my server when I go out that I want smaller pours so I can swirl and smell and take my time.

    I think nowadays at any restaurant of quality, the servers will follow instructions if given and would have to be a total idiot to either be offended or ignore a request from the guest.

  24. Bugaboo permalink
    January 3, 2012

    As a server and former sommelier, I feel obliged to correct you here. It’s bizarre to me that so many restaurant customers are so quick to assume the worst of their servers/sommeliers by claiming that servers either don’t know what they are doing or that servers are pouring their wine just to get them to order more wine. In a true fine dining restaurant, servers are required as part of their job to pour wine for guests up to the generally accepted line of the widest part of the glass/the lower third or quarter of the glass, depending on the make of glass – enough for a decent pour, but not so much that wine will fly out of the glass if the guest swirls it. If the server does not pour the guests’ wine, both their managers and most guests will accuse the server of not doing his/her job properly, and the server runs the risk of getting in trouble or a lower tip. The guest should always feel as if they don’t have to lift a finger during their meal; that is what a server is there for – to serve.

    I do my very best to read each table and their preference for wine service. If you prefer to pour your own wine, please let me know at the beginning of the meal. I will not be offended (although I assure you that I will have to inform my manager of your wishes so that I don’t get rebuked for not pouring). And I always try to remember those guests who refuse further pouring by placing their hands over their glasses and do not pour for those guests until they say so. There has never been an occasion on which I’ve tried to pour more wine so that a guest drinks more quickly and orders another bottle (nor has there ever been an occasion where I or anyone I’ve ever worked with sullied a guest’s food or drink to get back at him for some slight – bizarre again for how this fear comes into play so often at restaurants). I am there to get the guest what he wants, not push items he doesn’t want onto him. I simply wish to serve the guest properly and not leave a guest with an empty glass so that he is forced to pour the wine himself, unless of course that is what he wishes. Please don’t fault servers for trying to do their job.

  25. Bill Klapp permalink
    January 3, 2012

    I will put my hand over the glass when the fill is appropriate and let the wine run all over the table!

    People who eat out a lot, especially in suburban areas, probably see the waitperson-as-overpouring wine pusher experience at least 3 times for every one great sommelier experience (and let’s face it, you are usually dropping serious bucks before you see the deluxe somms show up, or perhaps even a sommelier at all), and it is a real problem. It is always crystal clear (to me, at least) when a young waitperson who does not drink wine or know anything about it overpours, and when management has trained the staff to use the aggressive pour technique in order to sell more wine. I find the latter heinous, but if I open my mind and try to look at it from a waitperson’s perspective, I, too, might embrace the wine pushing in their shoes. A lot of people do not know how to tip in this country anyway, and, absent a sommelier, the concept of separately tipping for wine service is non-existent. Thus, if you are going to be tipped 15-20% of a bill that includes several bottles of wine, it stands to reason that the best interests of management and waitstaff alike are aligned. However, understanding and excusing the crassly commercial behavior are two different things. If I confront that situation and specifically direct the waitperson (or rarely, the sommelier) to reduce the pours and it is not immediately done, the rest of the patrons are best served by clearing the restaurant! And yet, that has happened to me: management’s prime directive trumps my direct order, without apparent regard to the fact that I control the tip.

    I find that the deliberate, aggressive overpour strategy is, lamentably, seen most often where a large party is gathered for a special occasion (the host or hostess would not want an empty glass in any hand, now, would he or she?), or, worse, when too much wine (perhaps following cocktails) has already been consumed and the host or hostess may have lost interest in directing the wine service for the party (or in extreme cases, may have lost consciousness!). For that reason, I think that it makes sense for the host or hostess to invest the requisite time at the front end of the meal (or better yet, for fixed menus and large parties, a day or two before the event) for selecting the wines and the setting the anticipated quantities required, and then instructing the waitperson or sommelier to check in again before opening bottles that may go undrunk, or, conversely, before the chosen wine runs out so that control can be maintained over the ordering of any necessary additional wine. This can get a bit tricky in cases where the wines are being chosen after menu selections are made, but it is time well spent. I have also employed the strategy of starting with one or two wines and then having the wine list brought out once or twice more, as needed, but I find that disruptive of a good time…

  26. January 3, 2012

    Hitchens was almost always guilty of breathtaking hyperbole, which is why I seldom bothered to read him. I find both sommeliers and waiters guilty of this, but I don’t typically get the impression they are grand-standing or “putting on airs”. I imagine some are trying to push wine while others think they are being helpful. Refilling glasses does require someone taking the initiative, noticing when the glasses need refilling, etc., and not every diner will be adept at gauging the wishes of guests or distributing the wine fairly. Some people may prefer not to take on the task.

    My approach is to try to pay attention and beat the waiter to it. But if the waiter seizes the initiative I don’t worry much about it unless he/she does it incompetently. In general, I don’t like to make a scene about it since “an undercurrent of hostitlity” is not conducive to a pleasant evening.

  27. Lee Newby permalink
    January 3, 2012

    I tend to order, so I taste the sample and then I take control of the bottle knowing my SO only wants a tiny taste and keep the others at a level they wish. It was a long time to get her to have a glass in front of her and not sip from my glass, if left to the waiter/sommelier her glass would be full of wine, I would switch out with my near empty glass, then we would start the whole thing over again.

  28. January 3, 2012

    Mike, I think your position that this is bit of a murky issue is spot-on. I know that I’ve been put off by waiters who have been a bit too eager to fill me up or those servers who really didn’t know what they were doing. When some servers see me pouring for the table they rush over and insist, usually politely, that they’ll do that, to which I reply, “that’s okay, I’ve got it.” I smile and look them right in the eye so that we are still on good terms but there is little mistaking my intentions. One time, in a simple Italian place in New England (see the Hope Springs Eternal piece in my blog) the waitress asked if I wanted some wine right after she had pulled the cork. Thinking that this was for tasting and testing I said sure. She filled the glass almost to the rim. She was clearly new at this and her smile was one that looked for approval; complete innocence. I took the full glass with a smile and said thanks. Had this been a fancy, big city steak house I probably would have asked to see the manager. So much depends on the context. I don’t know if this challenge will ever go away. Good post!

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