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Agony Aunt: What should I do if a customer knocks over a bottle of wine and demands it is replaced?

Published:  20 February, 2009

A customer knocked over a half-full bottle of wine the other day, then insisted I replace it with a full bottle. How should I have dealt with the problem?'


A customer knocked over a half-full bottle of wine the other day, then insisted I replace it with a full bottle. How should I have dealt with the problem?'

I think the answer, like anything in life, lies in finding a balance. Your main focus is to make your customers happy - but not at any price.

Two main factors come into play: how the customer talks to you and the price of the spilled bottle.

Let's say the customer knocks over his half-full bottle and insinuates that it was your fault. Such a customer may even be rude and abusive. In my book this guy is out of luck. I would charge him for a replacement bottle and say: 'I am terribly sorry, sir, about this accident, but I am afraid I cannot replace your bottle as it was the last one in the cellar (even if it was not!). But do let me organise a couple of glasses of something else for you.'

If the abuse continues, he can forget about the replacement wine. I would also, after consulting the restaurant manager, bring him the bill and ask him to leave the restaurant. I would also point out that I wouldn't have left an expensive bottle on the table unless I was asked to do so.

This is a point of principle. We are professionals and if we get treated like trash I think we should politely stand up for ourselves.

In a second example let's say the customer knocks over the bottle and becomes very upset. He doesn't want to create a scene and he's disappointed because he and his wife were having a fantastic meal with a £500 bottle of wine, and he would like to have it replaced.

In all probability, a bottle at this level would have been one of a kind in my cellar, but even if it wasn't I would still deny his request. I would say: 'I am very sorry about this. I hope your clothes weren't ruined. I understand that you only had half a bottle, but I really cannot replace it. If I may, could I open a bottle of 'Château Blah-Blah' (something similar in style to the original bottle at around £150) and pour you a couple of glasses to go with your main course? (I would pour more than half bottle between the two glasses.) And please let me organise a half-bottle of dessert wine, with my compliments, for your desserts.'

If the accident described above featured a bottle that only cost £50 on the list I wouldn't even wait to be asked to replace the bottle.

If it was a member of our staff who knocked over the bottle, I would be highly embarrassed of course. I would check to make sure no one's clothes had been stained and I would replace the bottle, even if it cost £500 (if I had another bottle, otherwise I would replace it with something similar in value and style) before being asked. I would also issue a voucher offering a complimentary dinner for him to use next time (hoping there will be a next time). And, obviously, we would pay any dry cleaning costs.

Roberto della Pietra, head sommelier, Roussillon