The Sommelier Journal June 15 2010 Catherine Fallis, MS
Service technique is more than just presenting, opening, and pouring wine.
Here are some tips on performing wine service with style.
Body Movements and Presence: Guests pick up on things like the pace of your gait, the sweat on your brow, and the terseness of your conversation. Your presence needs to calm them and enhance their experience, no matter how stressed you are. Despite whatever insanity is taking place in the back of the house, once you enter the front, you need to take a deep breath (or a quick gulp) and remember that you are now on stage. Move gracefully; quick, sharp movements are perceptible indicators of discomfort and do nothing to bring that "oasis" feeling to guests. Think of drinking a martini versus downing a shot of tequila, or smoking a cigar versus taking a few quick drags on a cigarette. Guests (unless they are pre-theater or have a plane to catch) are in the cigar-and-martini mode, so when you walk in their world, walk gracefully.
Everything in Its Place: Chefs have prep cooks to prepare their mise en place . Wine servers may not, but just like the chef with the necessary sauces and garnishes at hand, you’ll give better service if your tools and equipment are fully prepped and ready to go during the onslaught. Check the mise en place at each table: look for spots, holes in the tablecloth, ashes in ashtrays (if applicable), dirty glassware or plates, and silver out of position. Alert the management if you can’t fix the problem yourself. Savvy sommeliers know that it’s about more than the wine—it’s about the big picture. Also check the mise en place at your service station, making sure that your service linens, coasters, glassware, decanters, wine lists, wine-by-the-glass cards, and wine openers are in good shape.
Whose Wine Is It Anyway?: Any bottle of wine ordered by guests becomes their possession. Treat their bottle that way. Keep it in their line of vision if you have to step away and open or decant it. Don’t assume you’re allowed to taste it; that will depend on house policy, but in general, in this country, unless the guest offers, don’t take a taste. The same principle applies in the case of "conditioning" the glassware or decanter. Part of the job of the sommelier is to ensure that the stemware and carafes are in proper condition, so they shouldn’t need to be "cleaned" with the guest’s wine. Don’t overfill glasses, especially with costlier wines. Top up lightly and often, requesting permission each time: "May I pour a bit more wine for you?" Keeping in mind that the wine is their purchase, use phrases such as: "May I remove the cork? May I remove this glass? Is the temperature to your liking? May I place this wine on ice? May I decant this wine for you? May I bring another bottle?"
Proper Serving Temperatures: The only hard-and-fast rule is that wine should be served at the temperature that the guests prefer. If they want their red wine on ice, do it. If they want their white wine sitting on a ledge in direct sunlight, let them have it there. Commonly recommended service temperatures are listed below—but ultimately, it is up to the guest.
Coasters, Underliners, and Service Linens: Simply placing a bottle of wine on a table, side table, or bar counter is like serving a steak without a plate. In a perfect world, the coaster or other form of underliner should already be on the table before the bottle of wine (or water) is set down. Coasters are also the ideal way to present the cork or other bottle closure. For a decanter, use a napkin-lined plate. Service linens for wine are different from service linens for food—whereas those used for food may be folded and put in your pocket, those used for wine need to stay long and crisp for "cradling" the bottle and for draping over your arm. It is taboo to put wine-service linens in your pocket. Although a service linen quickly becomes stained with red-wine drips, you can get another use out of it by reversing it and recreasing the fold.