Business dinners can be tricky to navigate, especially if this is your first time hosting a new client, networking with an industry titan or taking out your employees.
While not understanding wine probably won’t make or break your dinner, it could indicate a lack of preparation, which some look upon as poor performance. On the other hand, a solid understanding of wine could improve everyone’s experience and facilitate the dinner moving forward.
For entrepreneurs who spend their days capturing industry share instead of sipping new blends at the local winery, ordering wine can feel like a crucible. Your fingers feel damp as you hold the wine list. All eyes are on you. The waiter hovers. What do you do?
Decide whether you’ll order for yourself or for the whole table.
If you’re new to the world of wine, it’s probably best to allow your guests to order their own wine. However, because you’re picking up the tab, it might be necessary to order for the whole table.
Make this decision beforehand so you can study the wine list. Don’t order an expensive bottle of wine if not everyone will appreciate it. Ask your dinner guests what types of wine they prefer so you can make selections everyone will enjoy.
Determine your budget.
One of the first things you’ll learn about wine is that it can get expensive. In business, you have to adhere to a variety of budgets to stay in the black -- dinner is no different. Decide how much you’re willing to spend on food and wine, and stick to that number.
Prepare in advance.
Running a successful business is about planning, research and implementation. You probably spent hours researching the potential client you’re trying to impress, so why not do the same with the restaurant’s wine list?
Request the list in advance, and review it carefully alongside the menu. One of the best ways to focus your search is to decide what you’re going to order and then look for pairings. You usually want to order red wines with red meat and white wines with chicken and seafood.
Related: Host a Delightful Dinner Party for Clients and Colleagues
Blended wines, however, are complicated -- these types of wines are becoming new bestsellers, and there isn’t always a lot of information in the menu about them. Call ahead to get the details on a blend before holding up the dinner by asking your server at the table.
The quickest way to blow your cover is to mangle the pronunciation of the wine you’re ordering. This is easy to do considering many wines aren’t pronounced the way they’re spelled. For example, some of the most popular wines -- such as pinot, cabernet and merlot -- have a silent T at the end.
Look up the correct pronunciation of any wines you’re likely to order and practice until they roll off your tongue. If you’re worried about a vocal faux pas, choose a wine you absolutely can pronounce and leave the gewürztraminer for another day.
Ask the sommelier.
If your hands are sweating just thinking about a complicated wine list, relax! Most fine restaurants employ a wine expert whose job is to help you find the perfect wine.
A sommelier is a walking encyclopedia of wine knowledge. He can help you plan what wine to order for your table or your own meal. You may want to meet with the sommelier before your dinner or request his help in narrowing down your choices during the meal.
The world won’t end if you pronounce merlot with a hard T, and I’ve never heard of horrified employees quitting when their boss ordered chardonnay with steak. Yes, wine is a common part of business, and an appreciation for wine is certainly a plus for any new entrepreneur, but ordering from the wine list shouldn’t feel like walking into a firing squad.
If you’re at a business dinner, choose and enjoy a wine that pairs well with your meal. If you need help making a choice, don’t hesitate to call over the sommelier. Take a nice, sweet sip and then have a great dining experience with your guests.