21 (4) Questions

As I approach guests in the dining room on a nightly basis, I am often told, “I don’t know what I like.” I’ve never once believed this, and assure them that we will find some wine that they will like that night. I frequently point out that from a very young age we are partial to certain tastes and textures, spitting out certain canned baby foods while enjoying others, using two hands to scoop up some birthday cake while allowing those same two hand to drop an apple on the floor. Thankfully our guests have developed much better ways of expressing their likes and dislikes overall, yet still may struggle to nail down exactly what they enjoy about a certain wine.


I often ask a series of questions: “White or red?” (Yes, many guests are still unsure at this pojnt, although I do admit that I approach tables very soon after they sit down. I can’t help it). “Light or heavy?” “Fruity or Earthy?” “From close to home or across the globe?” Most guests who dramatically proclaim to be the most novice wine drinkers, to be horribly confused by the lists in their hands, answer these questions with ease. The deduction towards a delicious bottle is quick and fairly accurate. (And if a guest doesn’t like a wine, there is always a member of the staff who does.)


And while most of us do not dine out in restaurants who employ sommeliers all the time, living in the Bay Area, we are often treated to servers with a high level of wine knowledge in general. By giving them a couple of clues based on my favorite questions they would definitely be able to hook you up. Likewise, mentioning just a few favorite major producers can provide some great clues for your server or sommelier. When a guest says they like “Rombauer Chardonnay,” I am bummed to have to break the news that we don’t carry it, but thrilled to turn them on to a few new bottles that they will undoubtedly love. Rombauer may not be exciting, but the style is certainly discernable, and there is something to be said for that.


Having made my living for the past fifteen years observing guest interactions in restaurants (oh yeah, I’ve seen some awkward situations,) I can honestly say that diners who ask for a suggestion or help with wine impress their guests more consistently than those who navigate alone. So go ahead, call us over to the table. Unlike 50 Cent, I won’t try to ask you twenty-one questions, but I would love to ask you three or four. 

Martin Sheehan-Stross