Offering a taste of wine…, …the rule still is the bigger the fish,┬áthe bigger the bait…


As I write this, I have been working for close to eight years at Triples, where we have an above average selection of wines by the glass. Furthermore I am glad that we wait people are not only allowed but encouraged to offer undecided customers samples of our wine by the glass selection. All of whom are naturally also available by the bottle.

Customers not familiar with the offered wines, mainly California and many are from Monterey county, can get a little taste of the wines in question before selecting the one they want to order.

Getting the I-don’t-know-which-one-of-these-wines-to-order-look from my guest, I find out what preference he has, what color, what grape he likes most. Once I know his general preference, if it’s for example a Chardonnay, I go and get two or three open bottles of various Chardonnays. I take the bottles to the table so that the customer can get a good look at the label. I pour the undecided guest a sip of each. If he has questions I gladly answer such while he gets to taste his various options. True this is uncommon for restaurants, many serve wines by the glass from kegs or huge plastic containers. Yet as we pour from the bottle we gladly show the label.

What we do is more in style with a wine tasting room, but it does pay off, customers do appreciate the little extra effort. Over the years I have been several times confronted by the different coming and going managers. They were concerned about the idea that giving anything away would greatly interfere with their “p-cs.” (The percentage of bar sales compared to the purchases.) Somehow I have been able to sway each and every one of these in-between bosses’ opinion, toward that it is a good policy to give a small taste of wine in order to sell a few glasses or a bottle. I have a name for it and call it “Educating the diner” instead of “Free handout”.

One manager who stubbornly insisted on charging money for even the smallest amount was hard to convince. I took therefor a bottle of leftover Merlot wine from a previous night’s party to a table of four who had white wine with their meat orders. One guest had duck, another a fillet and the other two had the rack of lamb. I poured a sip of the Merlot for the one who looked and acted like he is going to foot the bill and explained “Sir, that’s just a little taste. Tell me what you think about this Merlot. Does it really help to bring out the flavor of your rack of lamb?”
He agreed and asked me to get each of them a glass of it. Another bottle was sold and this manager too now convinced said “Go ahead and offer a taste wherever you feel it will increase the sales.”

I heard him, later the same night, talking to the restaurant-owner about my bold sales tactic of showing the bottle to be sold, to pour a taste and make a sale.
“I know.” Was all the owner said, for he knew. New waiters do ask the question “How much is a taste? What is appropriate?”
My standard answers are “It’s bait only!” and “Use the same proportion you would use to catch a fish, the smaller the fish the smaller the bait.”

by helmut schonwalder