Only under sufferance would I ever go to a restaurant that offers poor food, but with very few exceptions I have to resign myself to accept being disappointed with the way wine is served.
If you run a restaurant, please consider carefully what I say below. I appreciate how much effort goes into providing good food and a pleasant environment, but so often find it sad that the same effort does not seem to be accorded to the wine. Below I discuss two areas where restaurants are often lacking.
There are pretty well established conventional temperatures for serving different types of wine. Look at the temperature chart at the back of Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book for example. I do not think it is tremendously important to get the temperature precisely correct according to what any one authority recommends, but it helps if you know roughly what you should be aiming for.
In particular, note that the highest temperature that any red wine should be served is a couple of degrees under 20°C – it is not the temperature of modern rooms, and even less is it the temperature of your kitchen in summer. The difference between 18 and (say) 25°C has a huge effect on wine. Try it! Too warm and wine is soupy, and has a slight alcohol burn; at the correct temperature it is refreshing and the aromas are better defined. This is not a difference that only wine buffs will notice. There is also a corresponding problem with white wines being served too cold. In my opinion that is not normally so bad, as cold wines will often warm quite quickly in the glass and bottle, but it is also something to be aware of. If in doubt, check your temperature chart.
A dark cupboard, ground level, or even a cellar, might be the most appropriate place for reds prior to serving. Eye-level in the restaurant kitchen is almost certainly bad! Or perhaps have a large stock of wine cooler sleeves in a freezer, and give reds a couple of minutes in a sleeve before serving in the summer. For whites, it is probably just a question of serving from a correctly adjusted fridge.
If you can afford it, and have enough space, a wine fridge with multiple temperature zones might be a good idea – for reds as well as whites. I do not think such wine fridges are really necessary, but they certainly make things easy, and if you get a model that displays wines attractively it could help increase sales.
Most people who have an opinion on the matter would agree that wine should be served from a tulip-shaped glass that tapers in slightly towards the top. That enables the aromas to develop, but not escape too quickly, thus allowing them to be appreciated by the drinker. The glass should be clear to show off the colour of the wine, and ideally it should be thin, particularly at the rim. I cannot rationally justify the requirement for the glass to be thin, but subjectively it seems to make a big difference.
A good benchmark for the size and shape of a general purpose wine glass would be the Riedel Vinum Chianti. Port, Sherry and dessert wines should probably be served from a smaller glass - I would suggest the ISO tasting glass as a benchmark for size and shape. But I am not at all suggesting you need to use Riedel Vinum glasses - there are many cheaper alternatives that will be fine for all but the most fussy of wine geeks.
As with serving temperature, I do not believe it is only wine buffs that will appreciate good wine glasses. They do make a real improvement to the wine drinking experience. Besides, a decent wine glass looks so much more attractive than a small stubby one.
Oh, and maybe one more thing…
Or maybe not. I am tempted to go on to discuss wine lists, matching with food, quality of information, and the apparently thorny issue of BYO. But I won’t – I’ll stop now. Almost whatever wine you give me will be so much better, and I shall be so much happier, if you serve it at the right temperature and put it in a decent glass.
I am not touting for business as a wine consultant, but if you are a restaurateur and have any questions do please ask. I’ll be more than happy to help, particularly if it will lead to me having a better restaurant experience.