Err, That’s Not What I Ordered…

June 3, 2011

wine vintages

Credit: Food & Wine

An interesting discussion unfolded on Twitter a few nights ago on the topic of vintage discrepancies on restaurant wine lists. It started with the tweet:


A host of replies followed. Most people felt the restaurant should compensate the guest based on the argument: it’s not what was ordered. But a few sided with the restaurant and suggested that if vintage was so important to the customer, and the bottle was presented properly, it should have been checked upfront – i.e. they accepted it,  their problem. Somewhere down the middle line was the opinion that whether or not to compensate really depends on the wine, the price, and how vintage-variant the wine is.

The wine in this case was a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. High profile wine, expensive and fairly vintage-sensitive. The vintage discrepancy was a 2005 (generally accepted to be a good year)  and a 2008 (a not so good year). The former was listed on the menu, the latter was presented at the table. Midway through the bottle the guests discovered the error and brought it to the attention of their server. The group was mildly annoyed but content enough to keep drinking, no big fuss was made but there were intimations that something should be done (this is mild-mannered, non-confrontational Atlantic Canada, after all!)


Credit: Under The Grape Tree

Most restaurants interested in providing any level of customer service would do something. But what is appropriate? What is fair?

It is not uncommon for suppliers to deliver the wrong vintage to restaurants, and in most cases the price the restaurant pays does not change (except perhaps for premium/revered vintages). In this case the restaurant paid the same price for the 2008 as it did for the 2005 even though an ’08 Châteauneuf can retail for about 15% less than earlier (better) vintages.

Market prices aside, as far as the restaurant was concerned, the menu price was fair – it reflected their cost (they did not pay less for the 2008). But they did accept ownership of the menu error on the basis that perhaps the guest would not have ordered the Châteauneuf had it been listed as 2008, and they were keen to tidy up any bad feelings at the table. The restaurant decided to take 25% off the bottle price. Most members of the group seemed happy with this, but one contested: ” it’s still not what we ordered”. Remember, they were happy to keep drinking it.

It is an interesting discussion. Being in the industry myself and a regular diner-outer, I am frequently at both ends of table. If you take the pedantic viewpoint, there is responsibility on both sides: the customer to check that they’re receiving what they ordered, and the restaurant to dutifully keep on top of their cellar management (and by extension, their menu updates). But at the end of the day it is really about customer service, isn’t it? In my view, an unhappy customer has the potential to be much more costly than any “comp”, so if they are displeased, they mustn’t leave that way.


2 Responses to “Err, That’s Not What I Ordered…”

  1. Heather, I think this message misses the forest for the trees. For a place with friendly, easily engaged people, Nova Scotia nevertheless offers dreadful service to residents and visitors alike. There are only a handful of restaurants and bars here where you can expect intelligent, attentive-but-not-intrusive, friendly-but-not-cloying service. Jane’s on the Common, and the legendary Michael MacLean of the Crown and Moose in Sydney are two rare exceptions that come to mind. Why is this? Why do Nova Scotians suck at service?

    Imagine if the restaurant had responded by having the owner or senior person on duty come to the table, apologize, and announce that there would be no charge for the bottle. Everyone at the table would have come away with an impression of an exceptional establishment, dedicated to the proposition of ensure value for its customers. Pondering for a while and then taking 25% off smacks of haggling with the customers over your mistake.

    Yes, my approach would have been expensive for the restaurant, at least in the short run, and I am under no illusions about the margins in this industry. But the diners would have been more likely to return, more likely to re-tell the story to other would-be diners, and you would have been more likely to identify the restaurant in retelling the story on a blog that many potential diners read.

    • Hi Parker,

      Interesting perspective! Probably a welcomed gesture, and wise PR move for the restaurant, but… is it reasonable considering the “damage”? Given the restauranteur has to make a living, and the customer pays for service and the experience, I think context needs to be considered. If this happened in, say, a Michelin star restaurant with formal wine service and markups of 300% where you’re spending $300 on dinner you might expect that a wrong bottle would be comped, because that’s the level of service they’re selling and you’re paying for. Most restaurants compensate to the degree the customer was harmed. In this case the guests were still pretty happy, and it was still a good bottle of wine. My own feeling is that in this context to have given a good bottle away because the vintage was incorrect might have been “too much”. Perhaps even made the guests feel awkward. I know I personally would have felt a bit jerky if they comped the bottle… but then, maybe I’m not the norm. (There’s also a chance I’m wearing my restauranteur hat too firmly these days!)

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