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How To Be a Better Diner, Step 1: Toss Out Your Ego

Welcome to our third guest blogger series written by Ella Lawrence, who works as both a freelance writer and a server at a popular restaurant in San Francisco. Lawrence has been published in Travel & Leisure, Time Out, and the San Francisco Chronicle and has her own blog, Restaurant Girl Speaks. Every Tuesday for six-weeks, she’ll be dishing out the tips on how to be a better diner, something about which she has a lot to say. Listen up.

I’m a waiter, which means I don’t know a lot about, say, commercial real estate. But when I’m out with my real estate friends, I don’t feel the need to apologize for lack of knowledge about building leases.

Yet I often find the average diner is sheepish about their their lack of esoteric wine knowledge, and rather than just admit it, they keep quiet and hope for the best. Rest assured that knowing the difference between a Falanghina and a Fiano isn’t your responsibility. It’s a server’s—not just a somm’s—job to guide you: We’re the ones attending blind tastings, studying wine books, and generally geeking out, which means we get pleasure from seeing someone’s face light up when they wash down a bite of roasted calamari with a golden sip of a ripe Vermentino.

Most people don’t reveal enough. For example, this week, I waited on two girls who asked me to describe the three cheapest wines by the glass, but they declined to tell me what kind of wine they prefer or what they were having for dinner. They settled on a couple of imperfect pairings and I got the sense they weren’t happy with their choice—though they also wouldn’t tell me that. Tip: Decide what to eat, then choose the wines to pair with your food. It will make a better meal, guaranteed.

But those who do tell all, leave happy. When ordering wine, drop a few choice adjectives (crisp, minerally, robust, smooth, rich). A good server will choose a few wines that match your description in different price points and subtly run their finger along the wine list toward the price as they describe them. Last night I waited on a party of five. The birthday girl chose the wines and was completely open about the fact that she didn’t know anything about Italian varietals. Because the group was open to suggestion, knew exactly what they were going to eat, and told me the price range they were working with, I could recommend wines with confidence—which meant they had an awesome dining experience and left the restaurant with new wine knowledge.