Are waiters trying to inflate your wine bill by popping in and topping off everyone’s glass? Or is it just attentive service? [Slate via Dr.Vino]


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  1. I’d mostly consider it attentive service, unless you’re paying by the glass.

  2. chiieddy says:

    I agree with @valarmorghulis. This is no different than the bus boy coming around with the water pitcher and keeping your water topped off. It’s not about sales but about attentive service.

  3. GearheadGeek says:

    The fact that Christopher Hitchens phoned in his Slate article by ripping off Roger Cohen’s earlier Times piece isn’t all that surprising and doesn’t matter to regular people. After all, we’re not so intent upon regaling our dinner companions with witty anecdotes that we can’t put a hand over the glass when the poorly-programmed waitron unit tries to overfill our glass to get that pricey bottle emptied quickly.

  4. Buran says:

    Depends on how they bill it. If you actually ordered a glass, you should get billed, but if they are only billing you for each glass you actually ask for, it’s good service. Now, if they’re billing you for top-offs you didn’t ask for, that’s different…

  5. Ftp1423 says:

    Speaking as someone who has waited tables for a long time, you would only be topping off glasses of wine if the bottle was at the table. If you were buying by the glass there wouldn’t be anything to top off. I would refill glasses purely to get people to run through bottles quicker. People were more likely to order another bottle if it was finished before/just as the entrees were being delivered than at the end of the meal.

  6. B says:

    From personal experience, if I’m paying by the bottle, and the waiter pops in to refill the glass when it starts to get close to empty, I will end up drinking more wine.

  7. jscott73 says:

    Isn’t the answer to 99% of the question out there “money”.

    Having waited tables for severla years to get myself through college we were always trained to top off glasses of wine if they had a bottle at their table, this allowed them to perceive good customer service and attentiveness while allowing us to sell more bottles. “Win-win”…right?

  8. Of course they are. They have their orders from a secret headquarters in France…

  9. Its both good service AND bill inflation, and its been happening forever. I really don’t see what the problem is, since its not like you dont know when you order a new bottle.

  10. homerjay says:

    What difference does it make? YOU’RE the one drinking it and ordering another bottle, not the waiter.

  11. spicey says:

    Servers will always ASK FIRST before opening another bottle though.

    It would be such a pain in the ass if the opened another bottle without the customers’ permission, because when they get the bill, the customer will complain that they didn’t order it, and then the server would get a bad tip, or maybe even have to pay for the bottle themselves.

    Servers won’t risk a bad tip, just to raise sales for the restaurant.

  12. B says:

    @spicey: @homerjay: Yes, but you’re more likely to buy a second bottle the faster the first bottle is emptied.

  13. Parapraxis says:

    When I serve a bottle, I usually try to be very subtle to the host when they’re about 1/3 away from the bottom.

    “Shall i bring another bottle when this one is through?”

    Many times, people won’t, not because they don’t want to buy another bottle, but because they want to try another type of wine.

  14. homerjay says:

    @B: and WHO is responsible for emptying a bottle of wine? Certainly not the waiter, ya boozehound! :)

  15. csdiego says:

    It’s supposed to be considered good service, but to me it’s an annoyance.

  16. blackmage439 says:

    Personally, I don’t like it when waiters fill up my glass of anything without asking. I have a medical condition that disallows me from drinking too much liquid at a meal, or I become sick. When the guy (or gal) invariably shows up at the table with a fresh, tall glass that I have no intention of touching, all I can think is, “What a waste. That’s why I just paid $9.50 for a hamburger…” Is it too much for these people, or their snobby customers, to just freaking ASK for a refill?

  17. savvy9999 says:

    Restaurants should also make their food look and taste like dogshit (especially desserts), so I don’t buy what I don’t really want or need.

  18. homerjay says:

    @blackmage439: OR you could just say “no, thanks.”

  19. Noris says:

    @blackmage439: You’re one of THOSE people.

    You’re an anomaly. It’s not like these people sit there every day and figure out ways to bloat you with liquids. The vast majority of people want more when their cups are empty. You could just say that you don’t want any more and be done with it, understanding that you have a rare condition that people are not familiar with.

    I know that your life is hard, burdened with these OMG EXTRA CUPS at the table, but persevere and you can be a HERO!

  20. picardia says:

    If you’ve bought by the bottle — i.e., the only time this ever happens — it’s good service to pour. If people don’t want more, they can simply gesture to the waiter to prevent it. Besides, if I am buying wine by the bottle, I want to get tipsy, dammit. Keep pouring.

  21. meadandale says:


    You both support the conclusion of the article, that it is all about the money and not the service.

    Frankly, I don’t like my glass filled ‘full’. I like plenty of head room so I can swirl when I drink. It really pisses me off when someone makes the assumption that because my glass is only 1/3 full that I need it topped off. Next waiter that tries this won’t be happy with the tip.

  22. kerry says:

    @jscott73: If it was just about money it wouldn’t explain why nicer BYOB restaurants will also top off your glass. They get nothing but a corking fee from your bottle (and I’ve never been charged more than one fee per person, regardless of how many bottles we go through) but I’ve been to restaurants that will kindly serve the wine your brought and top off your glass throughout the meal. Perhaps they make a little extra in tip money, but I would imagine it’s ultimately about providing good service.

  23. meadandale says:


    I’ve always been charged a corking fee PER BOTTLE. And at $20 per bottle (which you’re expected to tip on) it is still a boon to the waiter to hurry you through the wine.

    In fact, the last time I went to Ruth’s Chris, on my birthday, I brought several bottles I’d had cellared for 6 or 7 years and this is exactly the experience I had.

  24. DeeJayQueue says:

    I was under the impression that waiters/bartenders were not allowed to give out drinks that you didn’t order. They can “not charge” you for something, but they can’t just put something on the table that you didn’t ask for. This would mean that waiters can’t really refill your glass without you asking them to unless you were paying by the bottle.

  25. DrGirlfriend says:

    I think it can be a sneaky way to get you to drink more, faster, and this can lead to another bottle being ordered because you are done with the wine but not with dinner.

    Also, I don’t like my wine glass topped off. I drink it at my own pace, finish the glass, and decide myself how much wine I want my next glass to have.

    I don’t doubt that many servers do it to be attentive, but personally, I don’t like it and when I see the server coming for a top-off, I ask them to please not do so. Politely, of course :) And yeah, I find that the slower I take it, the more mileage I get (and reduce the craving to get another bottle).

  26. Empire says:

    FWIW, my brother is a huge snob when it comes to restaurant customer service and he would scream the manager stupid if the server didn’t come around and top off wine glasses.

  27. warloc66 says:

    Hitchens is God. Oh, wait…

  28. geoffhazel says:

    sounds like the waiter is in the “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” position.

    I agree with the writer of the article regarding pouring wine in glasses for people that may not want any more. I hope they are all bold enough to say ‘no thanks’ when he comes around so there’s more for people who DO want more.

  29. smackswell says:

    As a server, I’ve never liked the concept of pouring more than the first glass. My feeling is that you bought the option to have as much or as little wine as you’d like. Some may want more while others just want a glass. If someone only wants one glass and doesn’t notice I’ve started refilling their glass, that’s wine wasted. And I certainly don’t want to waste your wine. Fortunately, I work in a place where management isn’t gung ho about it.

  30. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    @homerjay, @Noris: Saying no doesn’t do much good when the server has already refilled your glass or simply brought you a new drink and run off.

    What blackmage439 really needs to do is to tell the server not to bring any refills from the get go.

  31. Mr. Gunn says:

    Sometimes, usually with white wine or teh bubbles, I want to be topped off. With a nice red, I like to finish the whole thing before refilling, but I have never had trouble waving a server off, and I consider it service.

    Sounds like I probably go out to places that serve wine more often than most of the commenters in this thread, too.

  32. wesrubix says:

    This post is the most ignorant article I’ve seen on consumerist. (Yes, worse than when Popken complained that his screen on his laptop was defective when infact it simply was “glossy” and lacked the glare protective layer found on most laptops.)

    Standard operating procedure for waiters (under good service training) will refill a wine glass if less than 1/4th full when a bottle has been served to the table.

    Should you not want anymore wine, simply decline the refill, or, not be a cheapskate and think you can just take the wine home.

    Only certain states allow for restaurants to permit customers to take an unfinished bottle of wine home, and the restaurant itself may elect whether or not to participate in the procedure.

    If you ordered wine by the glass, you drink it by the glass. The server can’t give you another and charge you for it.

    I think Consumerist could’ve done a better job here by presenting the article in an odd light: “some people might actually think having the server automatically refill your wine glass is a way of upping your wine bill!”

    Now indirectly that is true: better service means better moods, and the propensity to drink more increases, along with the tip. But, that kind of reasoning is too stretched.

    The restaurant immediately sold the entire bottle once the patron accepted the wine after tasting it:

    Typical procedure:
    1. Customer selects wine.
    2. Server presents wine bottle to patron to confirm selection.
    3. Server opens wine bottle and pours a small amount for the customer to taste.
    4. The customer accepts or rejects the wine:
    4A. The customer accepts the wine and the bottle is sold to the table.
    4B. The customer rejects the wine (perhaps it is sour or bad from a poor cork job) and the restaurant offers a replacement (should it be a high-service restaurant).
    5. The server pours wine for those at the table who are legally allowed and desire wine.
    6. The server refills glasses of wine if they are below 1/4 full until the bottle is empty.
    7. When the bottle is empty, the server asks the table, or original customer who chose the wine, if another bottle is desirable.

    Nothing more than appropriate service. Do your homework consumerist, or better yet, try to present an article without sounding like an ignorant money conspiracy theorist.

  33. wesrubix says:

    I must add, I skimmed the article, and jumped straight to its comments: I have to applaud commenter ianrief for his/her accurate and informed counter points in comments.