Applying service standards in the real world

We are looking to produce a GuildSomm video on how to implement formal service standards in a range of real-world, less formal environments and would love to get the community's suggestions. We will cover things like pouring with banquettes, decanting without a gueridon, and other approaches to pouring order.

What are some elements of formal service that you have had to modify for your environment or questions you have about how to do so?

  • There is nothing more real-world than a restaurant that does not have enough glassware to accommodate an 8-top drinking three different red wines, say. 

  • Re: decanting without a gueridon, where I work we do decant regularly with no gueridon.

    We have a wine station and I always ask the guest’s permission to decant at the wine table if there is no room at their table.

    We have a variety of table shapes so sometimes it is possible to actually decant on the table.

    We still use the candle, present the decanter on a cloth lined plate, use a trivet for the spent match and another for cork.

    When we decant at the wine table one consequence is other guests can get involved in the experience, ask what you are doing.

    As for banquettes, we have one too. Mainly 2Ts but one 4T and can also make larger table on request.

    Sometimes after presenting a bottle to the host at a 2T I don’t walk clockwise to the other guest because there is a member of my team in the spot between banquette tables where I would need to be to pour to the second guest. (I do do walk clockwise when the space between the banquette tables is vacant.) So instead I just stay where I am, switch the bottle to my left hand, pour a glass to guest two, label outward facing, then switch back to my right hand to pour the complete pour to the host.

    Luckily at present I typically enough glasses but having enough storage for glasses of all types is a real challenge.

    Various options for warming cognac snifters would likely be useful, why some bottles don’t saber open on the first strike.

    A common pouring order etiquette point: men indicating for me to fill their glass as I do ladies first after serving the taste to the host. Say a 6T with three couples. Pour the taste to the host then start pouting the ladies going around clockwise. Some groups get it, in other cases a man thinks you have forgotten him. Sometimes someone in the group pipes up and explains the sequence. At other times a man has actually thrust his glass at me so in that case I just pour.

  • - decanting a large format bottle that has been stored horizontally 

    - quickest way to chill bottles i.e. adding salt (tips, tricks?)

    - best way to decant without a decanting basket for a horizontally stored wine (albeit, probably the same as the large format situation)

    - most efficient way in dealing with broken corks

    I've dealt with these issues in various ways, however it would be great to see how an MS would tackle these "hurdles". Thank you.

  • I think that some sort of reference on different levels of formality in terms of the wording or phrases that you may use during service would be helpful.  There are definitely some casual or slang phrases you would want to avoid no matter what level of formality your restaurant operates in. But there are different shades of formality when checking back on a table, offering another glass of wine, or making suggestions.  A lexicon of some sort could be useful.

  • I have found that the ladies-first rule to be more of a rule of thumb. Guests just want their wine and an extra trip to loop the table seems to confuse most modern diners. Of course, you have to read the table and sometimes go with the traditional standard.

    Also, restaurant spaces can vary...I think it's important to point out that while we can't always pour from the right, we should always pour openly (never with our elbows towards the guest you are pouring for). We apply the same rule to our food service....no backhanding.

  • - taking wine orders at large tables (8+)

    - polite ways to communicate that you are busy at the moment to fronts/captains

    - telling the story of a wine when maybe only 2-3 guests are interested while the rest of the table is chatting (this can be awkward at times)

    - how long to leave the cork in front of guest (or to do so at all) at a less than formal spot, also advice on composite corks, do we treat them the same?

    all for now, will post if I can think of more, Cheers!

  • The presentation and pouring of wine on the right of the guest. In reality, most of the restaurants I have worked in have at least half the tables arranged/placed in a way where this is impossible of uncomfortable for the guest and myself. I think emphasizing 'open hand service' and presentation of the wine in a clear, confident and easily visible manner is more important than the strict rule of always being to the right.

    Similarly, arrangement of multiple glasses on a small-ish two or four top can require some creative maneuvering that differs a lot from an exam setting. When you have multiple plates of food, utensils, guests cell phones, etc on the table, sometime your placement of glassware has to be functional for you and the guest, before its 'perfect.' Communicating to the guest about the order and placement of the glassware and the order of the wines (AP on the outside right, then Burgundy, then Bordeaux moving inwards toward the left - for instance) is what's most important. Nine times out of ten you will come back to the table in 15 minutes and the glasses are all moved around anyway.

    Most of the time when I have a large mixed-gender group and I pour ladies first, the men interspersed in the middle think I have forgotten them.

    Use of a napkin liner on a tray - Most trays have a washable rubber non-slip liner these days. Using a napkin on a tray makes me feel less confident that my glassware is secure from sliding around or clinking while I walk.

  • When working in a dining room always walk clockwise around a table, I see it consistently where servers are walking into each other because they are not aware of the direction the other is going and will walk into one another.  

  • I work at a private club with multiple styles of outlets to offer our members. With that in mind although we offer fine dining we also have a casual outlet for members coming off of the courts, etc. We also offer a wine locker program in which members can store their bottles for use at the club. As you can imagine if someone loves Mouton and has their locker filled with nothing but gems they don’t care where they are and will want them served regardless. Oh and we also have 6-top booths that make the glass pouring and distribution tricky, to put it nicely.

    The biggest advice I give staff in these situations is to not go overboard yet to still respect the product to the fullest. We will forego the trays/plates that we use elsewhere and simply decant, over candle, on the table or wherever is best/safest (I personally have even used a wide railing in a unique situation) within sight of the member. We also still attempt to keep the order of pouring at the very least ladies before men, before host in these less formal situations.

    Stelvin enclosures are not a worry if you educate the guest/member on their purpose to have better control over oxygen exchange while also having less chance of a wine fault than with a cork. I always make sure to follow that with a small tidbit about the Portuguese investment in technology to prevent issues arising from cork so as to not scare them off of cork! The enclosure is then placed on a tray as well or on the table at least. Some will inspect for the plastic seals on the inside, even.

    I hope that this was helpful!

  • I work in a fine dinning restaurant with a specifically imposed relaxed attire on the service staff. I always think about not being able to pour from the right because of square banquets, presentation of the label while pouring, even if it meats the bottle is angled from the left. women first always (after guest of honor) but could mean passing the bottle in front of multiple men clockwise. placement points of your position reaching interior seat positions on 8-10 tops (luckily I have some reach being 6'2'')

    its basically always keep the service standards but bend as few rules as possible and always think about what is the least awkward way to pour/approach.  

    never ever present screw cap? I pocket that pretty quickly and offer a cork to seal the bottle later on if they need to take the bottle home. I buy corks in different sizes on amazon so that way they aren't getting a cork from a different producer and they don't have any markings on them. 

  • In general, how do you modify your service to accommodate guests at the bar? Do you hold the same standards as you do for guests in the dining room? 

  • Very simply, serving in an environment where "from the right" isn't possible, or smaller tables at which you've got to reach across....someone...