Stop Refilling My Wineglass!

Dear Helena,

When I order wine at a nicer restaurant, the server usually refills my glass without me asking. This is annoying for two reasons. One, regardless of whether they’re just trying to give good service or not, it feels like I’m being forced to finish my wine faster so I’ll buy more. Two, I like to drink at my own pace and monitor my consumption by pouring my own wine. Is there a way to tell the server I want to pour my own wine without sounding like a jerk who doesn’t appreciate their skill and hospitality? I’ve seen people put a cocktail napkin over their glass, but this seems really déclassé. —One Glass at a Time

Dear One Glass at a Time,

There’s yet another reason why refilling can be annoying: When the server is too zealous about it, sippers may not get enough and gulpers may get drunker than they’d planned. I’m a total lightweight, so I don’t drink much. Nonetheless I always drink the first glass of wine fairly quickly, because I want to get a buzz going. If the server refills my glass, I automatically drink it, just because it’s there. The next thing I know, I’m trashed and my companion is twiddling his or her empty glass, wondering where all the wine went.

But refilling your glass is considered in the restaurant industry an essential part of good service. Beth von Benz, wine director at Porter House New York, says: “You want the glasses to be always filled. … If I see low wineglasses on a table, I’ll go to the waiter and ask what the story is.” That doesn’t mean the server should replenish your glass every time you take a sip. Evan Goldstein, sommelier and author of the wine guide Perfect Pairings, says: “A server should wait to refill until your glass is one-third full, or less.”

A good server won’t interrupt your conversation to ask if refilling is OK. However, as the meal progresses and the bottle empties, the server may use a gesture that Goldstein calls the “hesitation pour.” “You reach out to refill their glass, but stop right before you’re about to pour and wait to see if the person says anything.”

If you don’t want more wine, you have to tell the server. The sommeliers I spoke to agreed on the simple gesture you should use: Wave your hand over your glass or partially cover it with your hand. If the server continues to hover, just say, “Thank you, I’m fine for now.”

Don’t put a napkin over your glass. “It could be a dirty or damp napkin,” says Goldstein, “or you might knock the glass over.” Von Benz agrees: “The only time you put a napkin over your glass is if it’s a small square bar napkin [and you’ve left your seat] and want to show you’re coming back to finish your drink.” Plus, covering your glass with your napkin might depress your companions. It’s like telling everybody, “I’m already thinking about driving home.”

If the server isn’t refilling your glass, you may drink more slowly, and so end up with some wine left in the bottle. Many states, including New York and California, now have a wine doggy bag law that allows patrons to take leftover vino home. To comply with open-container laws, you and the restaurant must follow certain regulations. Details vary by state, but typically, the cork must be securely replaced and the wine placed in a bag by restaurant personnel. Many states require or recommend the use of a transparent, tamper-proof bag, typically supplied by the restaurant. Tamper-proof means sealed in such a way that it’s obvious if you opened the bag. That way, you can’t drink the wine on the way home. Some states also require the restaurant to put the meal receipt in the bag. But, von Benz says, people don’t take home half-consumed wine very often. Whether the server or the drinker pours, people almost always finish the bottle.

Table Manners appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.

Published October 30, 2007