As many of you know, I have been putting on wine dinners at a local restaurant for the better part of a year (the next one is on January 20th, send me an email [jeff (at) thedrunkencyclist (dot)com] if you are interested).
I have wanted to do it for a several years, but I was always worried that it would be far too much work for very little reward. When I finally decided to do it, I found there was a dearth of information of all that goes into it available on the internet.
Although I am far from an expert, there are a few things that I have learned that may (or may not) be of use as you try to plan your own event.
I have split the tips up into what to do before the event and what you needs to happen at the event itself. Last week, I discussed the former and today, I will focus on the latter:
- Go to the restaurant early. I try to stop by earlier in the day to make sure that any wines I want cold are well on their way to the desired temperature. Even if the manager swears up and down that he will take care of it, check anyway. Then, you need to get there at least a half an hour before the event starts, too. Set up the bottles and take a few photos before the mayhem starts. Be sure to greet everyone as they funnel through the door.
- Bring a corkscrew. Yes, there will be at least a couple at the restaurant, but chances are that the restaurant agreed to have you organize the dinner because they have no one there with even a remote interest in, nor much knowledge of, wine. In other words, their corkscrews are going to stink. If you happen to like the corkscrew you bring, develop the habit of putting it in your pocket immediately after opening a bottle. Trust me.
- People won’t show up. No matter how much you try to get an accurate count of the number of people showing up, someone (or more likely several) will not show up. And there is very little you can do about it–you can require a deposit or even full payment up front, but particularly when you are just starting out, no one will do that. Plus, you do not want to be that guy who keeps someone’s money when they have to cancel when they run over a co-worker’s foot with a lawn mower.
- People will show up. No matter how much you try to get an accurate count of the number of people showing up, someone (or more likely several) will show up. Suddenly, out of the blue, ten minutes into the first course, someone will stroll in as if they owned the place (as in the owner and his entourage), not realizing that there really is no room at the inn. The restaurant manager, however, will seat them in a heartbeat since there really is not much of an issue on their end. This will cause you to quickly reassess if you have enough wine for the remainder of the evening and to curse under you breath at least a few times.
Plan on enough wine. The worst thing is running out of wine. And unless you are serving $2000/bottle Domaine de la Romanée Conti, let people drink the stuff. I plan on one bottle for five people. Adjust the cost so that the wine is covered.
- Control the pours yourself, particularly if you have a set number of bottles. DO NOT let the restaurant staff do the pouring. They are used to pouring 5, 6, even 8 ounces of wine as a “serving.” I would strongly suggest you pour no more than two ounces at a time. Sure, you will have to pour more often, but there will be far less waste and people will not feel the need to drink more than they should.
Eat some yourself. Even if you only get a bite or two of each dish, force yourself to have some. Then drink the wine and see if your last-minute pairing works. If it doesn’t, own up to it. Also, depending on the number of courses, you are going to be there a while, you need to eat. I usually eat standing up, off to the side. No one seems to notice or care.
- Be sure to take the time to explain the wine. This might seem like an obvious one, but you are going to have to interrupt the merriment to introduce each wine. Even though you might be loathe to do it, be bold and get them to be quiet for 60 seconds or so. They came to learn about wine (ostensibly) so keep that in mind.
- Get the attendees’ email addresses. Not only will you want to contact them for successive events, but you should also send them a quick survey to figure out what went well (and what didn’t). It will also be easier to contact them about future events (particularly if they are, cough, at a different restaurant, cough).
- Have fun. Even though you are there to provide a service and some knowledge, there is no reason you should not interact on a personal level and enjoy yourself.
So there you have it. My 15 (or so) tips as to putting on a wine dinner at a restaurant. I would love to here if you have any additional caveats!