Restaurants & Bars 5

Upselling wines

Fintastic | May 23, 2012 11:23 AM

The following is a long-winded rant, so if you'd prefer not to read someone complain then please back out now.
In Montreal I find that 'upselling' by servers is relatively rare (or at least I rarely fall into these traps). This is always something I've found more common in Toronto, NYC, etc. In fact, I've noticed that sommeliers in places like Lawrence have actually down-sold me from pricier wines to more affordable ones. However, I've had a few instances in the past few weeks that makes me wonder what's going on.

What turned out to be a lovely, celebrity-filled night in the Joe Beef garden yesterday was somewhat marred by the waiter bringing us several wine options when a particular bottle was requested. One bottle was a magnum of what he repeatedly insisted was the very same wine we had ordered. Given our group size this seemed a reasonable option (we even discussed in front of him that the price would be similar to buying 2 individual bottles). Although I expect to pay something of a premium for a magnum relative to two regular-sized bottles, ours seemed somewhat excessive ($55 for the 750ml vs. $150 for the 1.5L). As I made the final order for our table, I felt responsible for having picked a pricey bottle and ended up footing much of the wine bill, walking out of JB paying $175 myself. Shame on me, perhaps, for not asking the price, but with the list only written inside I put too much trust in this server who was otherwise very good. This is an establishment who's owners preach, in their Art of Living, that one should spend less than 3 minutes picking a wine instead of extensively debating the options with a server. With Dave McMillan sitting to my immediate left I felt compelled to obey this tenet - an unfortunate choice.

At Smoking Vallee there was not so much of an up-sell as a bait-and-switch. With the restaurant having run out of all fishy options, my primarily pescatarian dining companion had no suitable mains to order. Upon inquiring the restaurant offered her a vegetarian spin on a foie gras and duck gizzard risotto. The kitchen replaced these meaty ingredients with raw radishes and some sort of salad green (radicchio?) yet ended up charging the same price. Given their accommodation this was not totally unexpected, but it seems a bit chintzy to charge the foie gras price for radishes.

The first recent instance was at Communion. One unusually humid spring day, my cousin and I stopped in for a quick drink before our dinner at DNA. My cousin asked the bartender about getting a cocktail, and the barman told him that this was not his usual gig and he didn't really know how to mix. Gesturing at the wine specials on the board to my left (noting prices that ranged between $6 and $9) I asked if he instead had a light red wine that would go well with the heat. Stating an ideal option, he fetched a bottle and - without providing us a taste - poured two glasses. Although I agree that it was indeed light-bodied, the only flavour comparison I can make is to some $9 fait au Quebec dep wine I bought in a recent emergency. Once we finished the swill I requested the bill, which revealed each glass to be $15.

Am I imagining some sort of shift in town or have I just been unfortunate recently? I hate to complain, but I also hate having to ask servers the prices of their suggestions - especially when my price preference should be implicitly clear. In each case I was with out-of-towners who do not speak French well or at all, so often we conducted our business primarily in English. I'm not saying that this is a Franco-Anglo issue, but rather these places perhaps treated us as tourists by giving us a one-time visitor tax..
Thanks for putting up with my complaining - I feel better now. Let me know if I'm being irrational..

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