As a restaurant server, how can I improve my wine salesmanship?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I’m a restaurant server and I’m trying to improve my wine salesmanship. What are some good ways to suggest a wine? And what do I need to know about each bottle?

—Ramia, Santa Ana, Calif.

Dear Ramia,

The more knowledgeable you are about your wine list, the better you’ll be able to serve your customers. But even if you’re starting off in your own path of wine understanding, you should have a couple pieces of information about the wine list to help you make recommendations.

The most helpful thing a server can do is make recommendations based on the food selections. Tell me which sparkling wine would go wonderfully with the appetizer I ordered, or that the chef really made the lamb dish with this style of Grenache in mind. If you are not sure about food and wine pairings, ask your manager or the chef for advice.

I also like it when servers point me to their own favorite wines on the list. It can be as simple as telling me this particular wine stood out to you during a staff tasting. If you can pepper in details about the grapes it’s made from, who the winemaker is or where the vineyards are, what the vintage was like, or even how a wine got its name—any of these tidbits help tell the story of the wine and feed my imagination, as well as give your recommendation some weight. Don’t feel pressured to describe a wine if it doesn’t come naturally. At the very least, you might want to know if the wine is “light” or “full-bodied.”

Another idea is to find out what the best sellers at the restaurant are. It’s a nice vote of confidence to find out that this particular Sauvignon Blanc is so popular you can barely keep it in stock.

Keep in mind that a bottle of wine isn’t appropriate for every situation; have some recommendations for wines by the glass in mind as well. If no one seems interested in wine, there’s no need to be pushy. You can offer to leave the wine list on the table if they want to consider it later, or just let them know that if they change their mind, you’re happy to share some recommendations.

—Dr. Vinny

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