Free your wine, and your glass will follow
from Grapes, by Thor Iverson
It was one of those restaurants. The kind with three waiters to every diner. The kind with fifteen courses to every meal. The kind where, if you get up to go to the bathroom, a hidden army descends upon your vacated table, replacing every utensil, dish, swatch of linen, scrap of food, and dining companion with an artfully-positioned replica fresh from the kitchen closet. And the kind in which your wine bottle is kept on a table a few feet away from yours.
It was one of those restaurants. So how come I was out of wine?
I looked around. Surely the sommelier would see. Or the captain, who’d been keeping an eagle eye on the entire room all night. Maybe a passing waiter. A busboy. The guy at the next table. Somebody? Anybody?
I waited. But, well, “we are the change we’ve been waiting for,” right? I got up, grabbed the wine, re-moistened my glass, then returned the bottle to its nearby staging area. And I noticed that pretty much every waiter in the place twitched. Like one of those movie scenes in which the background noise falls away at the exact moment someone says something embarrassing, the smooth currents of the room crashed against rocky shoals. I felt dozens of eyes on me, the captain and sommelier looking across the room with gazes of increasing despair. To their credit, no one approached to wrest the bottle from my hands; it had been their error, and they knew it.
Afterwards, the evening continued as before. But I never again lacked for wine.
This particular brand of ultra-high-end wine service makes some diners as twitchy as those waiters’ fingers. I’m OK with it, as long as it works. But even in most restaurants, where your wine rests on your table and comfortably within an arm’s reach, the service standard is for the staff to maintain your beverages. Of course it doesn’t always work out that way. Restaurants get busy, waiters take the 45-second break they’re allowed amidst a packed house, and all too soon you’re sitting there with a parched glass and an empty throat.
By all means, let restaurants continue to serve wine by whatever standards they set. But when they fail, or if those standards aren’t all that high in the first place, here’s a call to (your own) arms: take charge of your wine service. Here’s how:
And if you’re in one of those restaurants? Try using the restroom. They’ll replace your date and your wine for you.
(First published in stuff@night, 2008.)
Copyright © Thor Iverson.