Ordering expensive wine by mistake

By Felix Salmon
January 26, 2010
order a $2,000 bottle of wine by mistake -- or even a $6,000 bottle, for that matter -- you have no one to blame but yourself: getting angry at the restaurant is silly, even if it's psychologically understandable. But I think there's something missing from the commentary about these cases: part of the reason for the anger is that the drinkers in question didn't get anything like full value out of the wines.


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If you order a $2,000 bottle of wine by mistake — or even a $6,000 bottle, for that matter — you have no one to blame but yourself: getting angry at the restaurant is silly, even if it’s psychologically understandable. But I think there’s something missing from the commentary about these cases: part of the reason for the anger is that the drinkers in question didn’t get anything like full value out of the wines.

When people enjoy ordering and drinking expensive wines in restaurants, an enormous part of the the pleasure they get is a simple function of the amount of money that they’re paying. If you know that you’re drinking an expensive wine, you pay it more attention, and you discover and delight in aspects of its structure that you might not otherwise notice or even particularly like. If you served a thousand-dollar wine in a twenty-dollar bottle and charged $20 for it, not a single person, no matter how sophisticated their palate and no matter how deep their pockets, would ever take a sip and declare that they would happily pay $1,000 for it. If they buy it and know what they’re drinking, on the other hand, they’re as likely as not to declare it cheap at the price.

As to the question of what restaurants can do to avoid situations such as these, I think a little bit of pomp and ceremony goes a long way — further than simply just letting your hand drift over in the general vicinity of the price column when confirming the order. If you make a show of polishing new glasses for the wine, and ask if the customer wants it decanted, and generally make it clear that they’ve chosen a very special wine, then no one is likely to be offended, while someone who ordered the wine by mistake might well get the message that they’ve ordered something unusually expensive.

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