What Happens When a Guest Asks a Wine Question?


What happens when a guest asks the dreaded wine question?

This is one example on how to own the situation when a guest asks a wine question. The principles can be used in any situation with any product. In this example wine will be used as it resonates best with many people. It is a subject that is truly “Speaking French” to many people. This can be translated to retail, coaching or fitness. Imagine having a client ask about a yoga variation that you are not familiar with, the point is to ask qualifying questions and get more info from the guest and be an active listener to decipher exactly what it is they are asking. This is also a great way to think more about building systems to make everyone’s job easier and scaleable.

It is possible to scale a people based business, sometimes it is hard since it is nearly impossible to have systems for each question. Building the frame and letting people finish the house can pay dividends while teaching empowerment and independence on the floor of any service based business.

When the Wine Question is Asked?

A guest asks for the wine list and then spends a few minutes looking at it. This happens all the time in restaurants around the world! Guests like to look at the wine list to see what is available and check prices


We all love it when someone is ordering a bottle wine, a certain euphoria takes over when you know the 800lb gorilla on your back is about to lose some weight; it’s a busy night and you won’t have to worry about going to the bar for glasses of wine! Plus, presenting a bottle of wine is fun and this guest might be ordering the most expensive bottle on the list?!

Then, with a bit of cockiness you walk up to the table and it happens…



The euphoria has set like the sun over the Pacific as the words left the guests’ mouth.

Darkness has taken over like a Texas Thunderstorm in July.


The dreaded wine questionA manic internal monologue begins!

How could they do such a thing? Who are they to ask a wine question about a bottle on the list? Most importantly, what I am going to do? The wines by the glass are easy to talk about; I get to try them (awesome perk). I‘m not really into wine nor do I know the difference between Rutherford and Oakville, Burgundy and Bordeaux? What are they anyway? Is that Napa? Bordeaux? Isn’t that expensive? What is good, do I know anything about 2007 what happened to the 2003 wines, someone mentioned them before. How could I possibly know all or any of this? Where is the SOMM, oh wait we do not have one.







The worst thing that can happen in this situation is to draw a blank face and let out a loud “ummm, ummm” hampering the experience and harming the restaurant’s brand and more importantly your brand.

At this point you are wishing you read a wine book or were listening when that rep was in talking about wine last week. No need to cry over spilled milk, remember you are resilient and talented! You may not be a wine expert, however you are a Ph. D at creating an experience. Wine is part of the experience, get a crash course in it by reading Windows on the World Complete Wine Course. It is a fantastic starting point to gain working knowledge on the wine portion of the dining experience. You are given permission to own the wine list now!  Use the book as a tool to make more money! What can be done to improve that part of the experience…in the moment?



Ask a few qualifying questions to ask and turn yourself into an instant expert on the list:

Red or White? A great starting point to build trust and rapport with the guest and gain their trust.

Lighter or Heavier? Start narrowing down varietals or regions. (Not sure on varietals, check here)

A region or varietal in mind? Filler question to solidify what they are looking for and make an early suggestion.

What were you thinking of having for dinner (if not ordered)? An opportunity to sell dinner in the process or get them thinking about the menu along with wine.

Did you have a particular vintage in mind? This is a 100% power play and takes control back into your hands.

Is there a wine your normally prefer? Gives you a failsafe and idea for the next step.

Were you looking to try something different this evening? Armed with this information you might be able to make a suggestion by looking at the list only being able to look at the list!

Do you have a price point in mind? At this point the possibilities have been narrowed down to a minimum amount of wine. You are also “asking” for the sale. This is another yes for those that follow the more yes’ is the way to a sale.  This in our opinion is the most important wine question.  Offering a wine that is too high priced can prevent the sale from happening.

Wine questions made easyBy asking these questions, you have done more than dodge a bullet, but also built trust and gained the guests attention!

Killer Job!

You have now used the process of elimination, with less that stellar wine knowledge, to cut the wine list down to about 15% of its original size or less. There should only be a handful of options now for a guest to choose!

What Happens After the Wine Question Has Been Answered?

After these questions have been asked, do not forget you are still a master at crafting and owing the guest experience. Your personality, “touch” and service (experience) provided are what sells the menu at the end of the night. It is also what brings people back to the restaurant and spreads the word.

With the answers from the guest you should be able to offer 3 wines to a guest: a low, a mid and a high priced option regardless of the price point mentioned. Price points mentioned by a guest that is asking questions are usually irrelevant, also at this point you should have earned their trust to offer a bottle out of their price range.

Also feel free to offer a wild card that is slightly outside the guests’ sweet spot of wine (Bourdeaux for a cab drinker, Burgundy for a pinot drinker), make sure the price is medium-high. Do not be afraid to ask the guest a wine question; about their tastes or preference.  This will do two things:


  1. Establish you as an expert (even though you are not)
  2. Make it more likely they will choose a higher priced wine and not ask for a low cost option.


Now with four wines in mind, you can get back to what you are really good at, SELLING. Sell that juice, preferably without gin. Gin and wine mixed together is pretty nasty, we have tried it before.

 When the wine question is too much for you

IF and only IF at this point, you are still feeling like a deer in the headlights it is time to raise the white flag…only temporarily. After all you are a PROFESSIONAL. Now think like one, swallow pride and go ask someone that knows more than you. It isn’t about pride at this point, but living up to the brand expectation and selling more expensive wine, which means more money in your pocket!

What Do I do when I cannot answer the Wine Question?

If you are unable to answer a question or not sure what work best for a guest after asking the above questions. Break the envelope for the contingency plan: ask someone else that knows more than you. Taking this leave is a waste of time if you do not ask someone that has more knowledge. Make sure you know whom this person is; they will most likely be a resource for others in the same situation. It shouldn’t happen too often where the help of someone else is needed.

This visit should rarely happen, but it does, especially when a guest has off the wall questions that only someone that is well versed in wine could answer. There is nothing to be ashamed about, we have all been there. Regardless of what some snooty wine nerd tells you, it is impossible to know it all about wine. Wines change in the bottle and the industry is dynamic, always changing.

Have your quick conversation with this person and go back to the table and repeat the process of offering wines again. Do this as quickly as possible! The most dangerous thing to do is leave the guest alone for too long.  They will make a decision without your guidance.

I can already hear the questions now.

“You mean forget about the other tables?”

No, this is the process, improvisation and gray area is the name of the restaurant game. Be creative and tweak it to your steps of service.

“This expert is missing from my restaurant”

Do your best with the situation and pick up a few books from below and be that expert! Initiative is a skill that will help you throughout life, not just your time in the restaurant industry. As a last ditch effort, go to somewhere where you can look up a wine or two from the list for a review on a smartphone.

“I do not _______”

Too bad, you are in this business, even if temporarily, learn it. I am not a web designer, but I built this website and learned as I went along. Many people didn’t intend to do become waiters and servers or cooks.

Buck up and start being a hero on the floor. Own the list and give guests the perfect wine. The perfect wine provided you like the price point.


Go make money!

The dreaded wine question

Spread the word with the whole staff!

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