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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I work in a restaurant and occasionally have patrons who refuse a wine simply because they don't like it, though it is perfectly good, sometimes stunning, and they misunderstand it. Is it ever appropriate to tell them they are wrong and that we won't take back the bottle, or should we always take the Nordstrom approach to customer service and take it back regardless? This is especially troublesome when I think about my most coveted aged wines being returned.
—Brandon Bruins, Parma, Idaho
This is a very sticky question. My first instinct is to say the customer is always right, even when they're wrong. Everyone's been on the receiving end of some bad service, and there's rarely a happy ending (or generous tip) when a server tells me I'm stupid.
Use your instincts and draw from your experience. If someone is stumbling over a pronunciation or seems a little shaky on their selection, you can find a polite way to clue them in to what they're getting themselves into. Years ago, when I waited tables, I remember someone ordering a Zinfandel, and my gut told me they were thinking of the pink stuff. I remember saying, "Great choice. Being such a HEARTY and SPICY RED wine, I think it would be fabulous with the short ribs you ordered." Can't say I didn't warn them.
Should a miscommunication occur, remember that what gets under a customer's skin is not so much a problem, but how a problem is handled. Treat them with respect and realize that they are probably embarrassed (especially the ones that pretend they're not), and—even worse—might feel like they've been suckered. Find a way to make them feel like you're taking their concerns seriously.
And then take the rest of the bottle home and drink it.
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