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Wine Drinkers of the World, Unite

The other night, I was having dinner with some friends in a fairly decent restaurant and was at the very peak of my form as a wit and raconteur. But just as, with infinite and exquisite tantalizations, I was approaching my punch line, the most incredible thing happened. A waiter appeared from nowhere, leaned right over my shoulder and into the middle of the conversation, seized my knife and fork, and started to cut up my food for me. Not content with this bizarre behavior, and without so much as a by-your-leave, he proceeded to distribute pieces of my entree onto the plates of the other diners.

No, he didn't, actually. What he did instead was to interrupt the feast of reason and flow of soul that was our chat, lean across me, pick up the bottle of wine that was in the middle of the table, and pour it into everyone's glass. And what I want to know is this: How did such a barbaric custom get itself established, and why on earth do we put up with it?

There are two main ways in which a restaurant can inflict bad service on a customer. The first is to keep you hanging about and make it hard to catch the eye of the staff. ("Why are they called waiters?" inquired my son when he was about 5. "It's we who are doing all the waiting.") The second way is to be too intrusive, with overlong recitations of the "specials" and too many oversolicitous inquiries. A cartoon in TheNew Yorker once showed a couple getting ready for bed, with the husband taking a call and keeping his hand over the receiver. "It's the maitre d' from the place we had dinner. He wants to know if everything is still all right."

The vile practice of butting in and pouring wine without being asked is the very height of the second kind of bad manners. Not only is it a breathtaking act of rudeness in itself, but it conveys a none-too-subtle and mercenary message: Hurry up and order another bottle. Indeed, so dulled have we become to the shame and disgrace of all this that I have actually seen waiters, having broken into the private conversation and emptied the flagon, ask insolently whether they should now bring another one. Again, imagine this same tactic being applied to the food.

Not everybody likes wine as much as I do. Many females, for example, confine themselves to one glass per meal or even half a glass. It pains me to see good wine being sloshed into the glasses of those who have not asked for it and may not want it and then be left standing there barely tasted when the dinner is over. Mr. Coleman, it was said, made his fortune not from the mustard that was consumed but from the mustard that was left on the plate. Restaurants ought not to inflict waste and extravagance on their patrons for the sake of padding out the bill. This, too, is a very extreme form of rudeness.

(rant continued)

by Anonymousreply 2005/18/2013

(continued)

The expense of the thing, in other words, is only an aspect of the presumption of it. It completely usurps my prerogative if I am a host. ("Can I refill your glass? Try this wine—I think you may care for it.") It also tends to undermine me as a guest, since at any moment when I try to sing for my supper, I may find an unwanted person lunging carelessly into the middle of my sentence. If this person fills glasses unasked, he is a boor as described above. If he asks permission of each guest in turn—as he really ought to do, when you think about it—then he might as well pull up a chair and join the party. The nerve of it!

To return to the question of why we endure this: I think it must have something to do with the snobbery and insecurity that frequently accompany the wine business. A wine waiter is or can be a bit of a grandee, putting on considerable airs that may intimidate those who know little of the subject. If you go into a liquor store in a poor part of town, you will quite often notice that the wine is surprisingly expensive, because it is vaguely assumed that somehow it ought to cost more. And then there is simple force of custom and habit—people somehow grant restaurants the right to push their customers around in this outrageous way.

Well, all it takes is a bit of resistance. Until relatively recently in Washington, it was the custom at diplomatic and Georgetown dinners for the hostess to invite the ladies to withdraw, leaving the men to port and cigars and high matters of state. And then one evening in the 1970s, at the British Embassy, the late Katharine Graham refused to get up and go. There was nobody who felt like making her, and within a day, the news was all over town. Within a very short time, everybody had abandoned the silly practice. I am perfectly well aware that there are many graver problems facing civilization, and many grosser violations of human rights being perpetrated as we speak. But this is something that we can all change at a stroke. Next time anyone offers to interrupt your conversation and assist in the digestion of your meal and the inflation of your check, be very polite but very firm and say that you would really rather not.

(end)

by Anonymousreply 105/18/2013

"Sommelier, Connoisseur, Pig"

"Raconteur, Gourmet, Troll"

by Anonymousreply 205/18/2013

It IS obnoxious.

I had one waitress (with a high annoying nasally voice) asking me if everything was all right literally every two or three minutes. I was trying to read my book and enjoy a decent sit-down meal. It wasn't any sort of high end restaurant, and there was no wine involved, but jesus woman, give me some peace! You'd think about the 8th or 9th time I said "no, thank you, I'm fine" she would have gotten the hint. It's not like they weren't busy and she was bored...

by Anonymousreply 305/18/2013

Oh, Mr. Hitchens...

by Anonymousreply 405/18/2013

Servers are supposed to pour more wine into empty or near empty glasses which suggest the person is enjoying the wine. The diners have already paid for the whole bottle, so the whole bottle should be served. If the table does not want another bottle say "No thank you." If an individual diner does not want more wine, they can (and do) wave the pour off with a gesture.

The writer is an idiot.

by Anonymousreply 505/18/2013

As an ex-waiter, I guarantee you, it isn't the waiter's fault. It's restaurant policy. The waiter is just doing what is told of him/her. I HATED doing shit like that, but I'd get in trouble if I didn't. I also HATED going and checking on tables over and over, but, again, we had "time" rules (ie check on a table every ten minutes). Of course, the one time you didn't go at the ten minute mark, was the one time the table needed you.

God, being a waiter was horrible. You damned if you do, damned if you don't.

by Anonymousreply 605/18/2013

[quote]I had one waitress (with a high annoying nasally voice) asking me if everything was all right literally every two or three minutes. I was trying to read my book and enjoy a decent sit-down meal. It wasn't any sort of high end restaurant, and there was no wine involved, but jesus woman, give me some peace! You'd think about the 8th or 9th time I said "no, thank you, I'm fine" she would have gotten the hint. It's not like they weren't busy and she was bored...

Were you lingering after the meal? They need the table.

by Anonymousreply 705/18/2013

[quote] If an individual diner does not want more wine, they can (and do) wave the pour off with a gesture.

Yes, of course, by all means make it the customer's responsibility for not having more wine poured when they had no intention of having another glass.

[quote] The writer is an idiot.

The writer is spot on. The idiot is you.

by Anonymousreply 805/18/2013

No, R5, you're the idiot.

by Anonymousreply 905/18/2013

[quote]Were you lingering after the meal? They need the table.

No. She did this before the meal even arrived. And then consistently through the meal. I wasn't there for longer than half an hour total. They weren't THAT busy. There were free tables. They were NOT anxious to turn over my table by any stretch of the imagination.

I was not lingering. I just wanted to be left alone to enjoy my food and my book in peace.

by Anonymousreply 1005/18/2013

If you don't want the server to pour the wine all you have to do is say so. Otherwise, it is expected that they will pour it. FAR more people would complain if they discovered there was a half full bottle of wine unserved at the end of their meal than would complain about the server refilling the diners' empty glasses.

by Anonymousreply 1105/18/2013

R11, do you really think there are people that are completely oblivious to the bottle of wine sitting there on the table? Seriously?

You're an idiot.

by Anonymousreply 1205/18/2013

When I read the first paragraph I thought it was an E ST. Then I saw the link.

by Anonymousreply 1305/18/2013

[quote] FAR more people would complain if they discovered there was a half full bottle of wine unserved at the end of their meal than would complain about the server refilling the diners' empty glasses.

If they "discovered" a half full bottle? What, is it hidden from the guests during the meal?

Imagine yourself at a dinner party with wine being served. The host never just refills glasses. He/she asks first. Otherwise you end up with people who didn't want refills, and the wine sits in their glass at the end of the meal, while other guests might have wanted more. It's worse at a restaurant, given the huge markup they put on alcohol prices.

by Anonymousreply 1405/18/2013

[quote][R11], do you really think there are people that are completely oblivious to the bottle of wine sitting there on the table? Seriously?

If it is white wine it is often sitting in an ice bucket somewhere out of sight. In any case I KNOW there are people who do not keep track of the amount of wine left in the bottle because I know most people expect the server to pour. And they know that it they don't want the server to pour all they have to do is say so.

It is the server's responsibility to know which guests are drinking which wines and to fill an empty glass with that diner's share of the amount of wine left. If other diners decline more wine, the server will divide their share among the guests who are still drinking. If many people are still drinking, the server should discretely ask the host if he wants to open another bottle.

You clearly don't have much experience with wine service in restaurants. I suggest for your own peace of mind that you stick to wines by the glass.

A private dinner party without servers is not an apt comparison.

by Anonymousreply 1505/18/2013

If ever there were a "First World Problem," this is it.

by Anonymousreply 1605/18/2013

Many restaurants keep your bottle aside, not on the table.

by Anonymousreply 1705/18/2013

[quote]If you don't want the server to pour the wine all you have to do is say so.

You'd think so, but I think Hitchens isn't really forthcoming about what bothers him about the process. It would have looked a bit boorish if he were the one to wave the waiter off on behalf of the table. I think the motives of this little tirade are not what he states: that he doesn't want lively flow of conversation interrupted.

I think there are two things going on. His need to feed his dipsomania and his cheapness.

Note in the article how it pains him to see undrunk wine in others' glasses that will be wasted by evenings' end when he could be supping it himself. He can't very well reach over and say "Mind if I have this?" Put the onus of the whole situation on the service. If only they would leave the table alone, he could have unfettered access to the bottle and that precious wine that would otherwise be tossed into a sink.

I don't really know what his reputation was about money and paying, but David Brock relayed an amusing anecdote about dinner with Hitch in "Blinded by the Right." Hitchens invited Brock to dinner where he proceeded to imbibe heavily. At dinner's end, when the check came, Hitchens made absolutely no movement toward it. And while he had had a lot to drink, as a career drinker, he was perfectly functional and cognizant of what was going on. Just didn't want to pay. So Brock ended up paying. They went back to Hitch's place where he (H) proceed to get blotto. (nothing happened, at least not that Brock reported)

The point being if Hitchens is expected to pay sometimes, he better damn well get all then bang that he can out of his buck by getting the leftover wine and not having to pay for another bottle to satisfy his needs.

God, I'm cynical.

by Anonymousreply 1805/18/2013

[quote] In any case I KNOW there are people who do not keep track of the amount of wine left in the bottle because I know most people expect the server to pour.

You apparently are acquainted with some pretty seriously lazy morons.

by Anonymousreply 1905/18/2013

I agree. I would rather be able to concentrate on my friends and the conversations then pay attention to whether my glass is being filled with wine when limiting myself to one drink.

by Anonymousreply 2005/18/2013
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