Restaurant Wine Etiquette: Order Like a Pro

Updated: May 19, 2020

Sommelier presenting wine bottle to restaurant guest.

What is the proper restaurant wine etiquette? Ever feel a bit like a caveman person when ordering wine at a restaurant? Never quite understood the real reason for tasting the wine before it’s served? Or maybe you just want to feel more polished in this whole ritual. First, it’s helpful to understand the purpose behind each step along with a few tips to make it all go smoothly.

The Sommelier

Say it with me… “the sommelier is my friend.” We know this is the wine expert, but we often don’t take advantage of this person’s knowledge.

The Sommelier is the one who crafts the wine list to go specifically with the food offered at the restaurant. They know intimately which wines pair best and can describe the taste characteristics of any of the wines offered. The only thing they don’t know is your taste preferences which lead us to the next step in our restaurant wine etiquette.

Ordering a Bottle of Wine

Woman ordering wine showing restaurant wine etiquette.

When ordering, find out from your tablemates what type of food each person is planning to order. This will give you an idea whether everyone is having red meat, fish or a combination. This information will help to determine which type of wine will work best for the table. Survey the table to find out if they prefer red or white wine. Identify a couple of bottles in your target price range.

When the Sommelier or server arrives, give them some information first and then ask for their opinion.

  • Share the food options being considered. You can say, “we are planning on having a couple of steaks and a couple of seafood options.” The sommelier will ask for more specifics on the food if needed.

  • Explain the type of wine you and your tablemates usually enjoy. We like bold Cabernet Sauvignon, light Pinot Noir, crisp Sauvignon Blanc, a fruity red, a crisp dry white, or whatever characteristics will help describe the type of wine you are interested in.

  • Point out the one or two wines you are considering and point to the cost of the wine. This will queue the sommelier to your price point. Or you can tell them the maximum you want to spend. Ask which they recommend or if they recommend something else.