As a sommelier, what are your pet peeves? What aspect of your job really bugs you on an ongoing basis?
Dear Guest: a simple but oh so appreciated call ahead of time before bringing 3-4-5-6? bottles of wine to your dinner would go a long way toward making your dinner service efficient and smooth. I cannot always spare (at the last minute) two or three dozen wine glasses on a busy Saturday night and/or find the time to wash, buff and properly cool glasses in time for your impromptu wine service sequencing. We of course have extra glasses in house, neatly boxed and smelling of cardboard when stored for a while, but I’d gouge out my eyeballs with a grapefruit spoon before sending those glasses out onto the floor before washing them. So please do bring lots of exciting bottles from your cellar but please call ahead: it will make your evening and service that much more special.
Re: read the label.
Dear Server: The foolproof way to know whether you’ve grabbed the right bottle of wine off the wine rack (that is, if I’m not here) is to read the label. Producer, check; appellation, check; vintage, check; other tidbits such as premier/grand cru, cuvée/vineyard, white/red/rose, check, check, check. So many things can go wrong during the course of service but picking the wrong bottle for the guest ain’t gonna be one of them.
Linda Milagros Violago, Itinerant Sommelier. I think my biggest pet peeve is people not doing their homework. This sometimes refers to staff members who have not bothered to pay attention during staff briefings or training sessions and cannot describe a wine by the glass (or dish). It’s our collective responsibility as members of the service staff to have this basic knowledge: we represent the restaurant. Knowledge is easily accessible–no more lugging around heavy books, and Internet access is everywhere–so there should be no excuse.
That said, my biggest pet peeve is directed at the wine sales reps. I have a hard time when I ask a question about the wine that they are trying to sell me and they cannot answer it or, worse, they parrot what they read on a tech sheet. Quoting awards or points definitely doesn’t get one anywhere. All of that just indicates to me that they have no knowledge about, or relationship with, the wine, winery and winemaker. If guests expect the service staff to have that knowledge, I certainly expect it from the person who presents it to me. Even more annoying to me is when reps don’t do their homework regarding the wine list, the restaurant, the chef and the menu. Have a look at the wine list and menu before trying to figure out what to pitch. A good rep can see a pattern and suggest wine accordingly. Related to that, if the wine buyer gives specific criteria as to what he or she is looking for (e.g., “organic”) and the wine being pitched isn’t “organic,” then it’s a waste of time and wine. Even if it gets tasted, it’s not what the buyer was looking for and won’t make it onto the list. All of these things add up to meaning that the buyer likely won’t grant a second meeting any time soon and will likely not buy any wine.
Christopher P. Bates, M.S., GM/Executive Chef, Hotel Fauchere (Milford, PA). For me the most annoying thing is the guarded price point consumer. The most helpful thing when working the floor is knowing what price range someone is comfortable with. There’s nothing wrong with being at any particular target price, but if we don’t know it we can’t help. Whether you want to spend $35 or $3,000 I want to make sure you get a bottle of delicious wine that you enjoy and at a price you’re comfortable spending. There’s no need for me to be recommending Burgundy if you want a $30 bottle, and if you want a $3,000 bottle I don’t need to be thinking about Muscadet. So please, just tell us what you’d like to spend. There’s no bias against budgets–it’s just easier to know what they are so we can work within them and make you happy.