Out with clients or co-workers? How not to embarrass yourself if you have to choose the wine.

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Ryan McVay

The boss has put you in charge of ordering wine at your next business function and you’re not a wine expert (and there isn’t one already in the group).  No worries; here are a few easy-to-follow tips.

If you can, first check out the wine list at the restaurant’s website before you go.  You can see the prices ahead of time and even look into the wines listed to get some ideas of what to order.

First and foremost is price.  You want to order a wine that is inexpensive but not so cheap that you look like too much of a spendthrift.  This depends on your company’s budget of course (and perhaps on the client you may be entertaining) but a good middle road is anywhere from $25 to $40 for a good bottle of wine at a restaurant.  If you anticipate a couple of bottles will be ordered during the meal, you may want to lean towards the lower side.

It is a great idea to ask the table if they have any preferences in wine choice.  Just know that it may take a while to reach consensus, so you should take the opinions of your guests into consideration without letting them stall the process too much.

You can also ask the waiter to recommend a wine for the table and discretely make the waiter aware of your price range by simply pointing to the preferred price point on the wine list.

Keep in mind some of the safe bets in wine selections which are most suitable to a variety of tastes.  If you find you have both red and white wine fans at the table, then a good choice is a Pinot Noir.  This gives the red wine lovers something that will suit their preference and gives the white wine lovers a red that’s not too heavy which they can enjoy.  The other standbys are Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Shiraz.  Unless the table is up for trying something new or different, you will want to stick to the wines that will be versatile enough to satisfy the group.

One final note…if you can, get a sense for who’s picking up the tab and if it’s appropriate even share with them what choice you’ve made before ordering with the waiter.  This shows respect for the person paying the bill and allows for them to identify something else if the choice is not suitable.

I recall a former colleague of mine was invited by a potential client to a nice dinner.  My colleague indicated that he would be footing the bill earlier during the meal and respectfully allowed them to make the wine choice.  Well, a couple of bottles were ordered and the bill finally came.  He was surprised to find that those bottles were over $100 a pop!  This very concerned colleague actually called me during the dinner explaining what happened and how much this dinner was going to be on his expense report.

These situations do happen but these tips can help avoid any awkwardness or embarrassment.  (Don’t worry, I approved his expense report!)

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