Not many things in life demand such elevated performance with such little preparation than ordering wine in an unfamiliar restaurant. Add to this a group of people relying on you for the evening’s success, a sassy server, and the professional pressures of the business meal and it’s enough to make even the most confident waver.
When you decide on a wine, you are then most likely going to be asked in front of clients to pronounce the name of a wine and region in a language that is not your own. This scenario happens daily in the business world as we treat our clients or potential clients to a dining experience.
A few years ago a friend and I were talking about what wines he orders with clients and his response was “The most expensive one on the list because I know I am safe.”
Rule No. 1 on business and wine ordering: Err on the side of frugality. The first impression should be you know enough about wine to make a reasonable selection. I’m not saying order the house wine and be done, but there are strategies to get the best bang for your buck.
Do your homework. Many restaurants post their wine lists on the restaurant’s website. Take a look at your options and prices before your lunch or dinner. You could even call ahead to see if they have any wine specials or suggestions for the size of your group. Just this small amount of research can alleviate some of the stress and make the ordering non-eventful.
Have a price in mind, keyed to the client you are entertaining. Most agree $20-$40 is a safe range in terms of choosing a wine of good quality while not being overindulgent with the company expenses.
Point with confidence. I am always prepared to point not only for the sommelier’s assistance but to avoid problems with pronunciation. The key is letting your wine server know you have a price in mind. “I am thinking about this wine …” “We are thinking about a white wine to get us started … this is one I am considering.” Point to the price, not the name of the wine.
Take control. Business meals are not the place to experiment, so keep a mental list of wines you know are food-friendly crowd pleasers. Safe bets include chardonnay, pinot grigio, merlot, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.
Respect your peers. If someone at the table is a senior in your company, you could easily and graciously pass on the wine-ordering to them. This not only comes across as a sign of respect, it gets you off the hook.