Tim Gaiser MS SommDay Series: It’s the Little Things: 8 Service Basics For Somms

by Tim Gaiser MS

This is part five, our final part in a five-part series of articles by Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser, which we have published consecutively here, on Pouring Points. Check the past four posts for Tim’s previous articles. Tim’s SommDay School Workshops are designed for students in the food, beverage, and hospitality industry who are just starting their Sommelier education journey, and ideal for those looking to further improve their service and tasting skills.

The standards for fine wine service are a vital part of any sommelier organization’s curriculum including the Court of Master Sommeliers. These standards were derived from traditional, formal European wine service used at the very top restaurants around the globe. The standards have existed in some form or another for decades. While a majority of the standards only apply to the very finest restaurants, there are a handful of common denominators that apply to wine service in any restaurant regardless of style or level of service.

Knowing these service standards is paramount to success at any sommelier service exam.

Some of the standards have to do with the mise-en-place, or the service set up that includes glassware, decanters, Champagne buckets/stands, and more. Other standards have to do with how the sommelier serves the guest and moves around the table. Still, others describe a very specific set of steps to elegantly—and safely—open a bottle of sparkling wine or further, how to decant an older bottle of red wine for the purposes of removing the sediment.

But before getting to any of the above, there are the basic standards which are the foundation of all fine dining service. Here are those basics:

  1. All service is from the right side of the guest. This is simply because food service is from the left and one of the universal laws has to do with avoiding occupied space. Further, if you serve a guest from the left you will be reaching across them which is a huge faux pas. More on that below.
  2. Always move around the table clockwise because you will be serving from the right side. Moving around the table counterclockwise—even momentarily—is totally out of place in formal service.
  3. Nothing touches the table except glassware. Everything else—corks, bottles, and decanters—is placed on an underliner. No exceptions.
  4. Everything comes to the table on a tray lined with a cloth napkin. That includes glassware, underliners, and any other equipment needed.
  5. The tray is always lined with a cloth napkin. Forget to line the tray with a napkin and you’ll discover how NASCAR was invented as the Champagne flutes on your tray go flying off as you round the corner too fast. Gravity; it’s the law. Respect it.
  6. Avoid reaching across a guest’s space. This is important! There’s a reason we have cardinal rules of service like “serve from the left, clear from the right,” and why beverage service is from the right side. The last thing you should ever do in serving is to reach across in front of a guest. It’s rude and a personal pet peeve. Avoid at all costs.
  7. Place and remove glasses elegantly! Place glassware from a lined tray gently and elegantly on the table and slide into position. In terms of position, when in doubt, place glasses at the point of the knife. Above all make sure the classes are placed consistently from cover to cover.
  8. What if I’m left-handed? In an exam, you need to be able to place and clear glassware right-handed—-even if you’re left-handed. Otherwise, you’ll be turning your back or elbow/arm to the guest you’re serving.

Learning to place glassware right-handed was a challenge for me. I throw a baseball left-handed and play basketball left-handed but do everything else right-handed. It took me many long months to break the habit of wanting to carry a tray in my right hand and place glassware with my left. But eventually, I could do it automatically.

These are the basics of fine wine service. Learn and practice them until they become automatic. Success will follow.


Learn more about Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser’s SommDay School Workshops at Napa Valley Wine Academy. 

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