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Becoming A Better Server: Beginners Guide To Wine

Updated on May 16, 2011

In The Land Of Restaurant Sales, Wine Is King

One of the most intimidating obstacles facing new servers, is learning about wine. Unfortunately, as a server, the absolute best way to increase your sales (and your tips), is to sell more wine.

Most restaurants only give servers a basic understanding of wine as part of their initial training, they don't really get into the intricacies, and varieties of wine. In this guide, we'll cover everything you need to know to, not only understand wine, but to sell it effectively to your guests.

This guide is written for servers, and any server that's serious about making more money should definitely keep reading, however it's also useful for restaurant managers, and owners, who want to train their staff to better interact with their customers when it comes to wine sales.

By reading this guide, and implementing the tips and techniques it contains, I guarantee you you can add hundreds of dollars a night to your sales. These are the same techniques I used for years as a server, and they are proven effective in almost any restaurant.

Wine "All-In-One" For Dummies is worth it's weight in gold for servers. If I had my way, it would be required reading for everyone who works in a restaurant. The simple fact is, once you learn to sell wine effectively, your earnings will skyrocket, and this book will get you there.

Not only does this book give you an excellent education about wine in general, it also breaks down; French, Italian, California wines, and gives you a great deal of information about the growing Australian & New Zealand wines.

This book will flat out make you money, trust me. Buy it now, thank me later.

Wine All-in-One For Dummies
Wine All-in-One For Dummies

Want to learn about wine, but don't know where to start? Wine All-In-One For Dummies provides comprehensive information about the basics of wine in one easy-to-understand volume. Combining the bestselling Wine For Dummies with our regional and specific wine titles, this book gives you the guidance you need to understand, purchase, drink and enjoy wine.


What's In A Name

Understanding The Basic Types Of Wine

Most of you know that there are two main types of wine: red and white. What you may not know, is that wine is generally named after the type of grape used, also known as it's variety. Merlot, chardonnay, pinot noir, and riesling, are all different types of grapes used to make wine.

Wine is also referred to by the region in which it was made. For example: Napa Valley, Burgundy, and Bordeaux are all wine regions, and not specific varieties of wine. What I mean by that is, a customer can order a "glass of merlot", because that is a specific variety. However, if they were to order a "glass of Burgundy", you would need to know what type of wine they would like, as there are several different varieties of "Burgundy wine".

Red Wine

"Seeing Red"

As this is a beginners guide, we're going to stick with the basics.The first thing you'll want to know about Red Wines is, they are almost always served at room temperature. As you learn more about wines, you'll be able to better recommend them to your customers, but for now follow the following guideline:

"Red wine with Red meat"

So, if a customer orders a burger, or a steak, offer them a red wine. The key thing to remember with wine sales is the "E.T.E.T." rule: "Every Table, Every Time". The only way to get better at selling wine, is to actually sell wine. By offering wine to every table, every time, you'll quickly learn the best way to suggest, recommend, and upsell wine to your guests.

When it comes to Red Wines, the two most common varieties you'll be dealing with (in most restaurants) are Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Here is a quick breakdown of the two, and the best dishes to recommend them with.


Merlot is probably the most common red in the world, merlot is a "blanket wine" as it covers most any type of dish. Any red meat based dish is a perfect opportunity to offer a merlot. Most new servers (and even some more experienced ones) fall into the habit of using merlot as a "crutch". They offer it as a standard with every red meat meal, and never really progress beyond it. Personal preference will play a part to some extent, but you should try to tailor the wine to the individual dish, and not simply red meat or white. You should, however remember the phrase: "when in doubt, offer the merlot" (and no, you should not say that in front of the customers).

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon (commonly referred to as "Cab") is a much more full-bodied wine. The easiest way to explain this is to say that it's a stronger wine (even though I hate that description). As such, Cab is best paired with basic red meat dishes. A steak (without any extra toppings), or a regular hamburger are good opportunities to offer this wine. You really don't want too many other flavors for this wine to compete with, so keep it basic.

If you work in a restaurant, you should already own this movie. Written and directed by a former server, "Waiting" is quite possibly the most accurate portrayal of life in a restaurant.

After watching this movie, you'll never look at your coworkers in the same way. This is one of the few movies that truly does get funnier, every time you watch it.

Waiting... (Unrated and Raw) [Blu-ray]
Waiting... (Unrated and Raw) [Blu-ray]

Always remember the cardinal rule of eating out: Never mess with people who handle your food! Ryan Reynolds, Anna Farris and Justin Long star in this hilarious comedy about the band of mischievous waiters, waitresses and cooks just waiting to show guests how extraordinary the service at ShenaniganZ restaurant can be.


White Wine

When it comes to White Wine, as a beginner, the only thing you need to learn for now is "chardonnay". Yes, there are many other varieties, but for now, just stick to chardonnay. Keep in mind that, unlike Red Wines, White Wine is served chilled, so you'll need to make sure to run it as soon as it comes up from the bar. Never serve wine to a table in a glass covered in condensation. Aside from being a tell-tale sign that the glass has been sitting for a while, it also makes the glass easier to drop on a customer when serving.

Most restaurants will multiple labels of chardonnay, and forgo other varieties of White Wine in favor of a White zinfandel or other chilled varieties. You will, on occasion find places that offer a wider selection of Whites, such as a pinot grigio, or riesling, however these are much more complicated wines with distinctive flavors and personalities, you would be well served to study these wines more before recommending them to your customers.

Here is a breakdown of some of the most popular White Wines you're likely to encounter:


Chardonnay, depending on the region it's from, can have a wide array of "flavors". You best bet is to recommend chardonnay with chicken, and most seafood dishes. Chardonnay is also a good idea for most salads (except Caesar Salads). Chardonnay is also a great wine to recommend at lunch.

Sauvignon Blanc

A sauvignon blanc can be an excellent wine to pair with seafood and salads. Depending on the availability at your restaurant, you'll want to offer a sauvignon blanc with all seafood, and chardonnay for chicken.

Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio is another "blanket wine" in that it goes well with any dish that you would normally offer White Wine with. The problem is, pinot grigio isn't widely available in some areas, and even where it is available, it's often out of stock.

Tips & Techniques For Selling More Wine

Selling wine is actually a lot easier than most servers think. The problem most of them face is a lack of knowledge about the wine itself, which is was easy to remedy with a little study. Here are a few tips to help you boost your sales, and more importantly, your tips.

Every Table, Every Time Like I said above, you need to offer wine to every table, every time (as long as their over age). Offering wine is the only way to get more comfortable with wine, so you'll need the practice. Remember the basics you learned above, and you can really start to add to your numbers.

Don't Bottle Things Up You may think that selling a bottle of wine is the best way to go, but actually, in most cases, you'll make more by selling it by the glass. The only time I sell wine by the bottle is when it's a party of three or less. A bottle of wine holds four glasses, so selling by the bottle to parties of four or more will actually cost you money.

Wine Is Not "One Size Fits All" Another reason to avoid selling by the bottle is that it allows you to offer separate wines for each course. There are great wines to serve as aperitifs, and "dessert wines". When you sell a bottle, you are less likely to be able sell those different varieties.

Know What's In Stock As I've said before, there is nothing worse than selling a $100 bottle of wine to a table, only to find out that it's out of stock. Before each shift you need to make sure that you do a walk through and see what you have in stock, and what you're low on. You'll also need to make sure that you check on anything that you're running low on over the course of the night.

This is a great general guide for service staff. Not specifically about wine, it's a great book for new servers.

This book covers all the basics of serving, and a few things that most people have to learn the hard way. It'll cover things like seat numbers and pivot points, how to load and carry trays, how to manage a section during the busiest times without getting weeded.

The Waiter & Waitress and Wait Staff Training Handbook: A Complete Guide to the Proper Steps in Service for Food & Beverage Employees
The Waiter & Waitress and Wait Staff Training Handbook: A Complete Guide to the Proper Steps in Service for Food & Beverage Employees

This training handbook was designed for use by all food service serving staff members. The guide covers every aspect of restaurant customer service for the positions of host, waiter or waitress, head waiter, captain, and bus person.


Never, ever, ever go to work without your corkscrew. Not only should you always have one on you, but you should always have a spare, just in case.

Wine Enthusiast Pulltap's Double-Hinged Waiters Corkscrew
Wine Enthusiast Pulltap's Double-Hinged Waiters Corkscrew

This is just a basic corkscrew. It's pretty cheap, so make sure you get a couple extra.

Sommelier Stainless Steel Waiters Corkscrew- Professional All in One Bottle Opener and Foil Cutter
Sommelier Stainless Steel Waiters Corkscrew- Professional All in One Bottle Opener and Foil Cutter

This is a the perfect corkscrew for high volume restaurants, or for bartenders. It's the sturdiest model on the list, and one of my personal favorites.

Screwpull by Le Creuset Waiter's Corkscrew
Screwpull by Le Creuset Waiter's Corkscrew

This is the model that I use at home. It's compact, sturdy, and a great tool for servers.

Menu Waiter's Corkscrew Vignon
Menu Waiter's Corkscrew Vignon

This is the Cadillac of corkscrews. It's sleek design, and functionality make it one of the best corkscrews you can buy. Don't lend this one to anyone.



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    • profile image

      Kartick Biswas 9 months ago

      Thank you so much

    • profile image

      sjdigioia 4 years ago

      Waiters will always complain that they donât make the kind of tips that they want. But they fail to realize that only by making your guests feel special, feel as if THEIR enjoyment is YOUR primary concern, will you make the big tips. All else is not important.