Wine Service Nightmares

After my post yesterday about sommeliers and distillers with limited experience, I spotted a nice long post on the New York Times site from wine critic Eric Asimov, in which he shared a couple of bad wine service tales. In one, a waiter spills his wine glass all over his lap and does little to make up for it. In another, a story his friend shared with him, a waiter accidentally serves another table most of the wine chilling in a container for his table. Instead of making it right, the waiter did everything wrong.

Sharing stories about bad service is somehow satisfying. Here are two of mine.

I took my girlfriend to Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in Manhattan for her birthday last year. She likes Flay on TV and she loves Mexican/Southwestern food. It’s an expensive restaurant, so we were expecting great service. We didn’t get it. It started with the wait. We had a 6pm reservation but we got there at 5:30, figuring we’d have a drink at the bar (we did, and the paloma I had was superb). The restaurant was more than half empty but they made us wait until fifteen minutes after our reservation time.

Great food may have made up for that, but it was only good food, and the bad service actually compounded our disatisfaction. The worst part was the wine service. I told the waitress what glasses of wine interested us (me a white, my girlfriend a red), and asked her if she might recommend any bottles that could satisfy us both. She tried, but eventually promised to send the manager (not the sommelier) over to help us. When the manager finally came over, she tried to upsell me. Clearly, if I was looking at glasses for $12 and $14, I was not in the market for a bottle for $80. And yet, in front of my date, she forced me to say it out loud: “No, that’s too expensive, we were hoping to stay under $60.” This graceless woman finally got the picture and recommended a bottle for around $55 that was adequate. I felt bullied by the manager, and got the distinct impression that she was trying to embarrass me into ordering something for more money than I was planning to spend. I resented the hell out of it and tipped accordingly.

My next story shows how a great waiter handled a really weird mistake by a runner. My girlfriend and I were having dinner with two other couples last winter at Bamonte’s in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, one of New York’s oldest restaurants. As the runner brought out a platter of green beans, I noticed olive oil dripping onto the table as he reached to set it down. I chuckled to myself, looking at the oily green stain on the white tablecloth next to my wine glass, thinking I was lucky it missed my wine.

A few minutes later, I reached for the white wine chilling in a bucket next to my chair. I poured glasses for three of us, and raised my own. There was an olive oil slick floating on top. I halted the others and checked the bottle: the runner may have missed my glass, but he managed to drip green bean oil perfectly into the bottle!

Our waiter, a very professional man in his sixties with a thick Eastern European accent, was appalled when we told him and had a new bottle brought out immediately. He didn’t charge us for either of them.

Anyone else have any stories to share? Please comment below.

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