A Wine Bar Manager's Lament: Against the Free-Sample System

Categories: Wine
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Come on! Roll the dice! Order a glass!
Get a nose of this tart little rant!

The author, we've confirmed, is the general manager of a wine bar in St. Louis. He sent this missive to a few friends, and it quickly made its way to our inbox.

We'd describe the text below as full-bodied and acidic, with hints of earth, raspberry and fuck you. 

Asking for a free sample of wine.

This has become a common occurrence in restaurants and wine bars in St. Louis in the past five years. I am confused by this concept, and chalk it up to a lack of wine knowledge and salesmanship abilities of the establishment.

If the staff/owners were knowledgeable, and able to use a simple process of elimination with their guest, they would easily be able to chose a wine that fits the guest's palate. 

Instead, they choose the easy route and splash a couple of ounces of wine into the glass so the guest can make sure the wine is tasty enough to order. At a high-volume restaurant this can become a very expensive practice.
Money is one of the many reasons I decide not to jump on the "free sample" bandwagon. The main reason is that I and my staff have the training to help the guest pick out a wine without them having a free sample first. There is nothing better than the look on a person's face when you helped them pick the perfect wine. Too bad it is a dying practice.

It is a very simple policy. We do not offer free samples of wine, but if you give us a minute to help you navigate our wine list I'm certain that we can find something that fits you. Our success rate with this policy is about 95% (pretty fantastic if you as me). Even when we miss the mark, we are still so close to it that the guest still is satisfied, and we don't miss the second time.

When did the passion for trying new things get tossed out the window? Trying new wines and having the enjoyment of finding the "new favorite" is what wine is all about. I have never met a 6 oz. glass of wine that I couldn't stomach. If I order a glass of wine that I don't care for, you know what I do? I DRINK IT FASTER and move on to the next one. 

In the first place, a simple splash of wine in a glass isn't enough juice to make a informed decision on whether the wine is up to your standards or not. That is why wine is offered by the glass: so [that] you are able to drink it without having to order a entire bottle.

"Can I try a little of the $7 glass of California chardonnay you offer by the glass?" Come on, really? Roll the dice. Every wine on the list has a description, and I am more than willing to help with any questions you might have.

Unfortunately, a few have really ruined it for many. The guests that come in and ask for free samples of the higher-end BTG [by-the-glass] wines and end up ordering a $5 Pinot Grigio. Sucking down a half a glass of wine before they decide to pay for one. Using it as a loophole to save a few bucks and get a better buzz.

Not every establishment does things the same way. I'm sorry if Joe's Crab Shack will let you sample through their entire list of Gallo wines. I'm not Joe. I'm just trying to make a difference one glass of wine at a time. So please sit back, relax, take suggestions, and put something new in your glass every once in a while. Trust me, you will be better off for it.

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4 comments
Agrees Completely
Agrees Completely

Every place is different, and has different policies. If you go somewhere that offers free samples that's great. Just don't expect it at the next place you go. If you want to learn about wine- take a class, or pick up a book. Even better- go to Randalls or Lukas Liquor on a Saturday afternoon. There are plenty o' samples to go around. Trying to "free sample" yourself into gaining wine knowledge isn't going to work.

Megan Knaus
Megan Knaus

It's such a commitment, that full glass of wine. What if I don't like it? What if it has too much grapefruit? Not enough plum. F that noise. Seriously people, if you need to taste a wine before you buy it you obviously are not a wine lover. A true wine lover would shoot from the hip, learning every bit that they can from it-whether they loved it or not. It's called an experience. Just buy the godamn glass.

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