Waitstaff, Sommeliers, Wine Stewards: What do you do with open bottles?

Some work-friends and I were taking a colleague to lunch for her birthday, when we started wondering:

Let’s say you’re at a higher-end restaurant, maybe even one with a real sommelier. You ask for a wine recommendation, and several bottles appear. You sample. You choose one. And send the rest back.

What happens to the other opened bottles?

Are they re-used for other samples? Do they go on the by-the-glass list? (That seems unlikely, unless by-the-glass was an option for that wine to begin with.) Do they go in the stock pot? Do the waiters have a really good time in the back?

I must be going to the wrong restaurants. At the ones I attend, any bottle opened at your table is a bottle you pay for (defective bottles excepted).

You seem to be saying that there is a program under which you can have a bottle opened and sample it, then choose not to drink it or pay for it. I’d like to know more about this.

I second what xema said. I’ve never been to any restaurant where you can open a few bottles and choose one. There’s no way the restauraant could afford that.

I think Oxy may be misunderstanding the wine ordering processes. The Sommelier brings you the wine which you ordered. It is normally accepted that you understand exactly what you are ordering, and instances of having a bottle sent back are going to be rare. Most cases of a rejected bottle are going to involve wine that has turned, and of course that wine is going to be discarded.

If someone ordered a bottle, got that bottle in acceptable condition, but still insisted on sending it back, I’d guess that it would end up chilled and sold by the glass to other patrons. Keep in mind that most of the activities that go on prior to accepting a bottle are designed to confirm that you got what you ordered and it hasn’t turned, it’s not meant to be a subjective test of how much you like the wine.

I’ve worked in private golf clubs as a waitress. If a bottle that was merely tasted was sent back, and it was still good, it might* be served by the glass if it was a bottle from the house wine list (which had by-the-glass servings anyways). If it was a non-house wine (something ordered off the list, like a vintage) and the wine was still good but the customer was being a jerk, we charged the customer and poured the wine down the sink. It’s a shame, but it can’t be recorked and it can’t be offered as a house wine, and it can’t be suggested to another customer since its opened - that means that there is no guarantee that whats in the bottle is whats on the label.

We also dumped all the leftover wine from bottles (some tables order a couple of bottles throughout the night, and might leave 3/4 or 1/2 or something in the last one), although there was plenty of staff willing to dispose of it themselves :slight_smile:

The only times a bottle was opened away from the customer was when a house wine was ordered (not enough staff/time to cover the demand) or if we were really just too busy to take the time to do so at each and every table (trying to serve wine to 300 people all at once - on an a la carte evening).

You’d be amazed at how much good food and drink goes into the garbage or down the sink in a busy restaurant/dining room. And you aren’t allowed to let staff leave with any of it.

Also, rather than pour it down the drain, the cooks might use remaining wine to cook with.

Okay, then I have another question. I notice that wine ordered by the glass is served, then the bottle is simply corked. At home, if I don’t use a vacuum cork, the wine is bad by the next day. Do they really just reuse the cork?

That’s why they don’t list the prices in these restaurants. Unless the bottle cost more than a grand they can afford it. What they can’t afford is to offend an influental customer. There’s nothing like paying $500.00 for about $30.00 worth of food to cover the cost of overhead.

On a very few occasions, if customer A sends back a bottle of very good wine because he doesn’t like it, we will suck up the cost because A is a valued customer and we want to keep him happy (and coming back again to spend more money on future dates). When this happens (again, very rare), the manager will often serve small complimentary glasses to other valued customers, saying something like “Ah, Mr. Customer B, we happen to have an open bottle of Very Fine Vintage, and we thought you and your guest might like to sample it.” The cost of the bottle is absorbed into the promotions budget. Sometimes Customer B enjoys it enough to order a bottle for his table, or on a future visit!

Bottles are never opened with the expectation that they will be sent back, however. This is not quite an average restaurant, it’s a private club so it’s worth it to treat the valued customers with even more diplomacy because there is an expectation of a higher level of service.

A re-corked bottle of wine should not go “bad” within one day. It is not corked in a vacuum to start with AFAIK. We rarely polish off a whole bottle the same day opened and I’ve kept bottles re-corked for several days with little ill effect. I keep whites in the fridge and reds out of bright light and never had a problem.

A restaurant around the corner from my house keeps opened bottles of wine – those not typically available by the glass – and offers them by the glass, at least at the bar where the wine is visible and customers can ask for it.

On the other hand, if I have ordered a bottle of wine and do not finish it, sometimes I offer it to the sommelier (or waiter) to enjoy later. I hate to think of good wine going down the drain! That’s why mnemosyne’s revelation pains me so.

My wife works in a high-end restaurant (pastries), and several times she’s come home slightly tipsy because the waitstaff felt obliged to share a “liberated” bottle with the kitchen. So don’t despair, Jerevan.

Yeah, I should say that I have heard of places that did allow the waitstaff to finish stuff off, but I was told that there were legal reasons for not allowing it. As for the bottles that just get recorked - they are the first to be used the next day, and if a wine is on the “house” list, then its going to be served frequently, so its rare to have a bottle go bad.

I was in a restaurant a couple of weeks ago. The wine we sampled had gone bad, it tasted like vinegar. The waiter said they would recork the bottle and get a refund from the wine distributor.