How To Politely Send Back a Bad Bottle Of Wine At A Restaurant
We’ve written before about how to identify a bad bottle of wine, and how to work with a restaurant Sommelier, so now let’s look at some general rules of etiquette for sending back a bad bottle of wine, which can be a really uncomfortable experience for all involved. But it doesn’t really need to be.
First of all, remember that wine is more expensive in restaurants for several reasons, and one of them is because the cost of replacing spoiled (or broken/dropped) wines must be factored in. So in essence, you are justified in sending back a bottle of wine because that situation is actually factored into the cost of the wine. That’s one way I look at it. The sames goes for broken glasses. Restaurants have to charge more for wine than retail stores because there are some additional costs involved just in the operation of a restaurant.
So for that reason, along with the fact that every good restaurant wants you to have a great experience (and visit again, and tell your friends), the awkward situation of sending a bottle back shouldn’t ever prevent you from doing so. Now I do understand being on a first date and not wanting to look like a wine snob, but if you want to jump start the conversation, sending a bad bottle back isn’t such a bad move. Plus if you like each other, then you will want to enjoy some good wine too).
Good waiters, and every sommelier, are trained to handle having a bottle of wine returned, so don’t hesitate. Just be polite, let them know that the bottle is bad, and that you’d like to replace it. It should be as easy as that.
Now a good server or sommelier will never question your request, even if they think the bottle is perfectly fine. It’s their job to make your experience as pleasant as possible, so really, if you think the wine is corked, then it is. That might not fly everywhere, but any reputable establishment would not blink an eye.
But what if the wine isn’t spoiled, instead you just don’t like it? You can still send it back. Again, the wait staff might think you’re crazy, and they might vehemently disagree with you behind your back, but the proper action is to respect the request from the guest, and work to make them happy. Your server should take the bottle back immediately, and help find something that is more to your liking. There are exceptions to this, of course. If you order one of the more expensive wines on the list, drink a glass, and then decide it’s not for you, it’s possible that the bottle will still show up on your check.
If you’re concerned about wasting perfectly good wine that you simply don’t like, don’t be. Often times these rejected bottles, determined to be ok behind closed doors, will be passed around the kitchen, or sold by the glass at the bar as a “nightly wine special.”
Always be fair and be respectful, especially if the waiter or sommelier is trying their best to please you. It should go without saying, but respect and pleasantries go a long way. In the end, if everyone is professional, sending back a bottle of wine shouldn’t have any effect on your dining experience. It should be handled swiftly and cleanly by the staff, who again, are working to make sure you have a good time. If you do ever encounter resistance from a server who is being uncooperative, kindly ask to speak to the manager.
-Andrew, Editor; Erin, Contributor
Do you have any stories about sending wine back at restaurants? Or do you work in the industry and have any fun stories about customers sending bottles back? Let us know in the comments below.