What are you looking for?
How to order wine at a restaurant

How to order wine at a restaurant

Ordering wine at a restaurant is a simple process, really. All it takes to pick the right tipple is for you to follow a few easy steps. That way, you’ll get the most out of your dining experience. Waiters at two of Cape Town’s best eateries offer some pointers.

Start with your food

Trevor, a waiter with Reuben’s at The One & Only restaurant, says a common mistake guests make is ordering wine without considering food pairings. For example, some people like big wines, but order dishes that have softer flavours. When this happens, “the wine ends up killing the flavour of the food”. Harbour House waiter, Travis, has seen the same tendency in many patrons. “Most of the time, guests just ask for a particular cultivar (wine style). They aren’t looking for a food matching.”

Avoid this situation by considering how your food and wine will complement each other before committing to a bottle.

Lean on your experts


Your waiter or sommelier (specialist wine waiter) will know the restaurant’s menu and wine list very well. Tap into their knowledge when they ask you questions. Your answers will help them pinpoint the wine-meal pairing you’re after.

On the wine side, Trevor says the basic question he asks is whether a guest wants red or white. Then, he’ll get more specific. If you’ve selected a white wine, he’ll ask if you want something wooded or unwooded. If you’ve gone for a red, he’ll ask if you want something bold, or something softer.

Remember, you’ll get the most out of this exchange if you learn a little wine language before going to the restaurant. The essentials are:

  • Weight: Is the wine light-bodied and crisp, full-bodied and rich, or in between?
  • Flavour: Is it fruit-forward and sweet, or earthy and savoury?
  • Texture: Do you want something with a bit of tartness, or would you prefer something smoother?

It’s not only about the price

Travis says the wine space is like anything else insofar as you pay for quality. But, getting the pairing right is more important than buying the most expensive wine.

For his part, Trevor will present high-end, mid-level and budget-friendly options after hearing what a guest is looking for, and all of them will be good choices. Also, rather than discussing price out loud, restaurant etiquette involves him pointing to different options on the list, and letting guests acknowledge what they’ve chosen.

Can you order by the glass?

PBergVatstoor.078 (Small)The answer is “yes” if the wine you want is available by the glass. But, why would you want to when you could simply order a bottle?

Well, there are advantages either way. “Ordering by the bottle is more interactive,” says Travis, “but ordering by the glass is good for different courses.” So, you might have a glass of bubbly with your starter dish of oysters, and a bold red with your steak.

Let the occasion determine whether you should order by the glass or bottle.

Then what?

Eat, drink and be merry!