Is It Okay To Send A Bottle Of Wine Back At A Restaurant?

Many of us are reluctant to send drinks back at a restaurant. Perhaps we don't want to draw attention to ourselves, we don't want to embarrass the staff, or we're unsure if our complaints are a sufficient cause to return the item. However, it's perfectly acceptable to send a bottle of wine back, even if the staff courteously chose it for you.

It may feel more intimidating to send back a full bottle of wine, rather than just one glass, but if you're not satisfied with your drink, it's okay to ask for something else instead. Wine expert Catherine Fallis, Master Sommelier at Bright Cellars, encourages restaurant-goers to send back wine if they're not enjoying it. "You are a guest," Fallis says. "We want you to feel special and be happy with what you order and with our service."

Of course, as Fallis notes, there are some do's and don'ts to observe when sending back wine. If you try to send the bottle back after you've consumed a significant portion of it, then obviously that's not going to be well-received by the staff. However, this is unlikely to happen, as most restaurants will give you a moment to sample the wine first and form an opinion on it.

The correct way to send back a bottle of wine

When you order a bottle of wine at a restaurant, a server or sommelier will the bring selection to your table, open it, and pour out a little bit of wine as a sample for the person who did the ordering. This is your chance to approve the wine, or if it's not to your liking, to send it back. "Don't wait until half the bottle is poured out," Catherine Fallis says. "Do it right away while testing/approving the wine. Simply say, 'This is not to my liking. Sorry but can we try something else?'".

Fallis says that it's also good to explain what you don't like about the wine, if you can, as this helps the server, sommelier, or manager find a more suitable choice. You don't have to give an educated review or know a ton about wine to justify sending it back — you either like the wine or you don't. However, the restaurant staff will be curious to know what you find objectionable about the bottle. Asking you a few questions is not an effort on the part of the restaurant to give you a hard time, and no, you don't have to sound like a wine expert when you explain. Just be honest and the staff will be happy to assist you.

How to ensure you get a satisfactory bottle of wine

If you tend to enjoy certain types of wine, it's also helpful to inform the staff of your preferences. The more information they can get from you regarding what you like or don't like in a wine, the easier it will be for them to find a bottle you love. To be even more proactive about it, tell your server or sommelier this info before you order, rather than waiting to see if the wine is good and then telling them your likes or dislikes. It's good to have an open line of communication throughout the wine-ordering process. Catherine Fallis says that sharing your preferences "is as easy as saying 'my favorite wine is' or 'we had a delicious ... on vacation recently' and use your finger to point to a price range you are comfortable with."

It's actually a time-honored restaurant custom to use one's finger to point out  selections on a wine menu before ordering, which alerts the server or sommelier to your preferred price range. Once they know this, they can make recommendations for comparably-priced wines that you might like. Follow these tips, and you'll likely end up with a wine you enjoy whose price you can afford. In other cases, remember that there's no shame in sending a bottle back, as long as you're clear, polite, and ask for it to be sent back as soon as you taste it.