The Biggest Wine Mistake at a Business Meal

Your client, Jennifer, has invited you out to dinner. This is your opportunity to build your professional relationship with her and cement your company’s business with her company. You arrive a few minutes early to the restaurant. When the maître d’ asks if you would like to go to the table you correctly decline and instead wait for Jennifer to arrive.

Once she arrives and you both are settled at the table, the waiter brings food menus and a wine menu and hands the wine menu to Jennifer. That’s when she makes the cardinal mistake: “Fred, you know about wine, why don’t you pick one for us to enjoy?”

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Big mistake. Fred is not picking up the bill; he is not the host of the meal. He could just as easily pick a very expensive bottle of wine as pick a moderately priced bottle. Yet, whatever he chooses, Jennifer is on the hook for it, even if it exceeds her entertainment allowance.

In the moment, Jennifer has another option, even if she really has no knowledge of which wine to choose: Ask if a sommelier is available or if the waitperson can offer a couple of suggestions to her based on the food they are ordering or her guest’s preference. She can check the waitperson’s suggestions before picking one for her and Fred to enjoy. That way she keeps her evening on budget and in her control.

In the future, Jennifer should get some basic education about wine so she can select something appropriate. It used to be that people ordered red wine when having a red meat for dinner and white wine when having white meat like chicken or fish. In today’s world, people have broken with tradition and may well drink white wine with red meat or red wine with chicken or fish. So, Jennifer can make an effort to identify two or three varietals of white wine and two or three varietals of red wine and what foods they might be paired with. Then, knowing the preferences of her dinner guests and her budget limitations, she can select a red and/or a white that will satisfy the palates of her guests.

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The first question to ask the people at the table is which wine they prefer: red or white. It may well be there is only one person drinking white while the others all want red or vice versa. The person who wants white is encouraged to select a glass from the “by the glass” portion of the menu while the host selects a bottle of red for everyone else.

For the host, the wine selection task is simple: Know your budget, ask your guests for their preferences, know a little about different reds and whites, and then don’t cede the choice of wine to another person at the table. Make the choice yourself.

If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to etiquetteatwork@emilypost.com. You can hear more Emily Post etiquette advice on the Awesome Etiquette podcast featuring Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. Listen and subscribe at infiniteguest.org.

Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at emilypost.com./

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.

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