Unaware server asks, "How do you know it's not Pinot Noir?"

I recognize that not all of your servers are as well-versed in wine and cocktails as some of their colleagues. Sometimes it’s a matter of their age, level of training, time on staff, and overall interest, or lack thereof, in alcoholic beverages. But, I think that we can all agree, that there are some basic things that all servers need to recognize about wine and liquor. One such example would be the color of a particular type of wine.

Do all of your servers know the basic difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc? How about Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio? I know that your immediate reaction is to say an emphatic “YES.” Would you be willing to bet on it?

My girlfriend recently encountered a server working in the bar area of a busy restaurant who challenged my hypothesis on universal basic wine knowledge. The restaurant in question is part of a multi-unit restaurant group with over 50 locations, so it’s fairly safe to assume that they have a robust training program. When I finish this story, you will probably agree that the aforementioned server needs a refresher as soon as possible.

Back to the restaurant. As part of a happy hour work function, my girlfriend ordered a glass of Pinot Noir. A simple request if you ask me. I mean we’re not talking about a complicated cocktail with a dozen different ingredients, just a simple glass of red wine. When the server returned, she confidently handed my girlfriend the glass of wine she ordered. There was, however, one glaring problem. The wine in my girlfriend’s glass was white.

I know what you’re probably thinking. “The server just made a simple mistake. She intended to deliver the glass of white wine to a different customer.” As politely as you could imagine, my girlfriend commented to the server that the wine she had just been handed wasn’t Pinot Noir.

The server then asked, “How do you know it’s not Pinot Noir?”

My girlfriend, once again politely, responded, “Because the wine you handed me isn’t red.”

Rather than admit to having a limited knowledge of wine (I’m basing this off of not being able to tell the difference between a red and white wine), the server incredulously retorted, “Nope. That’s definitely Pinot Noir.”

Rather than review the natural back and forth that ensued, during which my girlfriend somehow maintained a patient resolve, I think I have shared enough of the story for us to arrive at the ultimate lessons.

Just because a server goes through training doesn’t mean that it all sticks. It’s best to ensure that, if a server is going to be floating to support your restaurant’s bar area, that he or she has a basic working knowledge of wine and cocktails. It might be a good idea to quiz some of your staff on which wines are red and which are white. I realize that it’s as basic as you can get, but sometimes this is just the type of information that falls through the cracks.

Lastly, make sure that your staff members are comfortable admitting what they don’t know. By recognizing the areas in which their knowledge may be weak, your servers give you and themselves the opportunity to grow. As the great philosopher Socrates is noted for espousing, “The wisest man admits that which he doesn’t know.”

Image by Kaleb Fulgham.