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February 1, 2009

$24 glass of wine? No thanks--not while we're in the midst of GEC and GD2

"Go ahead," my husband said. "It's a special occasion."

Yes, it was a special occasion. My dear, sweet husband had taken me out for dinner for my birthday, to the very special occasion restaurant, Prima Ristorante in Walnut Creek. We were splurging on a nice dinner at this much-acclaimed upscale Italian restaurant, which is also famous for its wine selection.

But silly me: I decided to ask the waitress for a recommendation on which glass of wine to order with my dinner, which would include a pizzetta appetizer (with black truffle and prosciutto, yum), and a nice hunk of halibut (grilled and served over little potatoes and a puree of celery root, yum some more). Now, traditionally, one should have white wine with fish, correct? But foodies these days say that many lighter reds go perfectly well with seafood.


Since I favor red wine, I asked the waitress which glass might go best with my dinner choices. Her finger moved down the Wine by the Glass menu to a choice near the bottom, a Napa Valley Pinot Noir that went for $24. She assured me it was an excellent wine.

Gasp.

I know this was a special occasion and my husband and I were splurging, but I could not justify spending $24 for a glass of wine, especially on myself. Let's just say I don't have a very refined palate. I'm not what they call in wine world "a supertaster." A Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck Cabernet Sauvignon is my idea of a decent wine (yes, you wanna-be Robert Parkers out there, I am pathetic). So, a $24 glass would really be wasted on me. I immediately told, "I'll try this Pinot," a glass that cost about $9--one of this restaurant's cheaper selections.

Now, today, I'm wondering, was that waitress directly steering me to the higher-priced glass? Or was she genuinely advising me to try the one she truly liked the best and thought I would adore, too? Was she mistaking me for someone who has genuine taste?

Restaurants supposedly are hurting, like all other businesses, especially businesses that sell luxury goods. Not sure if that goes for Prima, too, which is one of the East Bay suburbs' most popular upscale dining destinations. I don't know if my husband had as much trouble getting us 7 p.m. reservations for a Saturday night as he would have in the past. As we walked into the restaurant and as we left, I noticed some empty tables, but perhaps those were tables in between dining parities and waiting for their reservations to arrive.

Don't know. But to Prima, if you're hurting, and to other restaurants that are definitely hurting, here's a tip: be sensitive to the fact that even if you do have patrons who are willing to spend on eating in your establishment, these patrons are not splurging like its 2007. We're in the middle of Global Economic Crisis (GEC); or, as some of my doomsdayer co-workers like to call it, Great Depression 2 (GD2). Even very wealthy people--which my husband and I are not--are being careful with how they spend their money. So, I'm guessing you'll have more and more patrons bypassing that $24 glass in favor of the $9 glass.


14 comments:

Mom's exhausted said...

I'm a Trader Joe's fan! Interesting reading. I used to curl up with magazines, but this is just as good for quick articles, before getting interrupted by my toddler.

Anonymous said...

i think the mayor and soccer mom are sleeping with eachother.

Anonymous said...

maybe they are the same person? we've never actually seen the mayor to know he is male?

Anonymous said...

I hate it when they push the expensive wine, they do it all the time at olive garden and it bugs me so much. I'm a cheap wine kind of person, they've always just tasted the same to me for some reason so I always get the cheap stuff no matter what. They should ask you what your price range is, then go from there.

Anonymous said...

Just say no soccer mom. Just say you need the cheaper selections recommended to you. You go to a nice restuarant and order a nice dinner and you are faulting them for recommending a nice wine? This is the most ridiculous thing I hope I read all day - really. Stay home then. Or don't ask for a recommendation. They are a business you know? No matter her motivation for recommending an expensive glass, you have the power to say no thank you!

Anonymous said...

Right on Anon!

Everyone seems to have the need to blame someone else these days for their own bad decisions.

Sitting around moaning about the expensive wine one drank is not comparable to the current problems facing the world. The sooner we all learn to take responsibility for our own actions the better off we will be. Our children will also learn some very valuable lessons.

Anonymous said...

An old, refined, reputable restaurant like Prima is going to suffer some in the downturn but not enough to justify pushing expensive wines.

Either your server was making a recommendation based on the best pairing, or you and your husband looked like people who would be insulted by not being offered the "best" in terms of price.

It's not wrong to tell the server that your palate isn't so refined and that you'd like something more middle of the road.

Keep in mind also that restaurants generally make little more on the expensive wines than they do on the cheap wines. They'd be better off giving you two $6 glasses than one $24 glass. Places like the Oliver Garden may push expensive wine because it increases the tip for the server substantially in comparison to the meal. Not so much at Prima and you shouldn't calculate a full 20% on an expensive glass or bottle anyway.

Anonymous said...

You're all a bunch of pikers!

Soccer Mom said...

Just to clarify, readers, I didn't choose the $24 glass, and, you're right, I shouldn't have asked for a recommendation, when, given my cheapskate-taste-in-wine ways, I would have gone for one of the less expensive wines all along. I still wonder, though, what the waitress' motivation was. As I said, she may have had honestly good intentions of offering what she thought was the best service. On the other hand, I've gone to other nice restaurants, and received recommendations for wines that are often low- or mid-priced (maybe from servers who spot me for the cheapskate that I am).

Brittney said...

As a former bartender and waitress, I can safely say the answer is a combination of both. Often, more expensive wine *does* taste better. It's more complex. Not always the case, but often.

However, most people tip on the total of their tab. By steering you to a very delicious $24 glass of wine she does two things: Recommend to you what is very likely her favorite, and get a nice bump on that tab total.

When I was a waitress I would recommend my favorite in the mid-range, unless they were more specific, and the more expensive wine was indeed the best recommendation for them.

Anonymous said...

soccer mom did not denie she is sleeping with the mayor of claycord.

Brittney said...

^What is wrong with you?

Mom's exhausted said...

Anonymoust trolls! They are not welcome here. I, for one appreciated [most] of the comments about this article. That's the fun thing about reading blogs. You read what you want. Sometimes it's lively, sometimes it's boring.

Anonymous said...

I love cheap wine - I typically prefer it and certainly don't appreciate the more expensive ones. Having traveled extensively in Spain and Italy, I know you can get great table wine for ~$10/bottle, or $3-5 per glass.

But given that, I would never ask for a recommendation ...

As for tipping; I'm a solid 15% tipper, based on a cheap glass of wine or a beer. I've never been sure what to do when expensive wines are involved. I've heard you should subtract the alcohol from the bill; sounds reasonable to me!