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Wine Substitution @ Prix Fixe Meal (long)

Wine Substitution @ Prix Fixe Meal (long)

Old Nov 26th, 2002, 06:52 PM
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Wine Substitution @ Prix Fixe Meal (long)

How would you respond to wine substitution during a Prix Fixe Menu meal without the server/sommelier informing that they are doing so?

Background: We just returned from 8 gorgeous days in Paris where everything went as planned. Even the weather cooperated, and we had NO rain for 8 straight days!

Anyway, we dined at Les Elysees Restuarant at the Hotel Vernet. The meal was wonderful. However, one incident during the meal "put me off". We ordered the Prix Fixe meal and the sommelier asked which wines we wanted to accompany the food. I selected one white and one red from a selection of 9 or 10 different choices under the Prix Fixe Menu wine list. As I drank the wine I noticed the taste was not as I expected so I asked to look at the bottle. The wine we were being served was not what I ordered from the wine menu.

I informed the server (who did not speak English) and then called the sommelier. He had spoken English well prior but when I brought this issue to his attention he first mumbled something in French. I brought it to his attention again when we were paying our bill and he literally ignored me. My French is very basic so I did not know what to say to him in French. However, I did ask him again why they had substituted the wines without informing me first. And again, he did not address my question.

So, I ask all of you Paris/France experts how you would have responded to this situation.

As I stated before the meal was excellent, but the episode left a bad taste in my mouth. It's ironic the incident took place at a more pricey restuarant.
Old Nov 26th, 2002, 07:18 PM
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I would have asked for the menu, and pointed to what I had ordered. Then pointed to the wine and shook my head no. Easy nuff.
Old Nov 26th, 2002, 08:20 PM
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This is certainly the sort of situation when you wish you had stuck with your study of the French language. But if you haven't, I would have first given the sommelier the benefit of the doubt - dealing with a disturbed customer in a foreign language is different from selling him a good wine with dinner. He may have had a limited "customer vocabulary." Nonetheless, had I been given a different bottle of wine from the one I ordered and I didn't speak French, I would have written down the name and year of the wine I had ordered and the name and year of the wine I received and thrown up my hands, or done what the other poster proposed - use the menu to point to what you ordered and gesture to show you got something else.
This is a good example of why it's not a bad idea to learn a few useful phrases before you leave home, not just the "where are the toilets, please?" but also the "I ordered the...but I got the...." This actually gives me an idea for a useful traveler's phrase book - one on how to deal with the unpleasant situations....thanks!
Old Nov 27th, 2002, 12:03 AM
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Why is it ironic that this would happen at a more pricey restaurant? This is something that could and does happen in your own country, not simply because you are in Paris. How would you respond if this situation came up in a country where you are a native speaker? Honestly, the only answer here is that you may have had more leverage if you could speak fluently with the sommelier. Did it tip you off that suddenly he wasn't fluent in English after you questioned the wine? I would have posted this with less sympathy towards the staff at the restaurant.
Old Nov 27th, 2002, 12:13 AM
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It sounds more like an innocent mistake to me...

It's always been my experience that the sommelier will show you the wine bottle that you have ordered before opening it, and they always let somebody taste it, unless of course the wine is being served in a carafe or by the glass. If this was the case, then perhaps it was just a simple mistake. Perhaps the sommelier truly did not understand your comments? I'm not saying that you are in the wrong, but this sounds more like a misunderstanding/communication problem than a malicious attempt to rip you off.
Old Nov 27th, 2002, 05:18 AM
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If you were unable to point at the bottle and say No or shake your head no, and make the sommelier understand what was wrong without using a single word of French, then you need some body language skills. Even a deaf-mute could communicate this simple idea without using any spoken language. Obviously if the guy works at a restaurant selling wines and can't understand what was wrong when he brought you the wrong wines, then he DIDN'T WANT to understand. It is as easy as that.
Old Nov 27th, 2002, 06:24 AM
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I truly dislike it when they substitue anything without prior advice. In a place like this, service should be impeccable and multilingual.
Two simple questions, irrespective of the quality of the wine:
Was the wine you got cheaper or more expensive than the one you had ordered?
Did they bill you for the cheaper one or the more expensive one?
Old Nov 27th, 2002, 07:57 AM
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I was shocked to read your story. It is very rare for something like this to happen, and if I were you I would complain to your nearest French tourist office (if you live in NY, it's 444, Madison Avenue) *and* to the Michelin guide, just to make sure this sommelier will not be allowed to touch a bottle of wine anymore:
http://www.viamichelin.com/viamichelin/fra/dyn/controller/poiRestaurantDisplayOne;jsessionid=E0B5FYO53LDU1RD BSTT4L5Q?id=F75005R337&type=GeoRedGuideRestaurantP oi
(Click on the "Donnez votre avis" or "envoyer par e-mail" red links on the left.

Old Nov 27th, 2002, 10:15 AM
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i think it may have been a simple misunderstanding. Wish you could have a better understanding of what happened.
Old Nov 27th, 2002, 10:28 AM
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Thanks for all that replied.

My initial post might have been unclear. The server I questioned about the wine (because he happen to be pouring it at the time) did not speak English well, but the sommelier spoke very good English when he initially greeted us at the door and as we were ordering our food and wine. Because he had exhibited his ability to speak and comprehend the English language early on in our interaction I thought it was very odd he suddenly became mum on the issue when I brought it to his attention. BTW, the white wine the sommelier did show to me prior to serving and I tasted it. But it was the red that he did not show before serving and the one that got substituted.

I wanted to come across as being as neutral as possible in this post without projecting any undue emotion to get your objective responses.

As for the person who posted why it's odd that this incident took place at a pricey restuarant; I thought this way because a lot of their clientale seem to be English speaking visitors at their hotel and restuarant. I would think they would be accustomed to dealing with English speakers. Had I gone to an out of the way bistro/cafe etc. and I knew they did not speak English, or initially responded postively to my inquery of "Faire vous parlez anglais," I would not have even posted this message and chalked one up to lesson learned, and as several of you have alluded to of "keeping up with my French as well as learning other phrases aside from the basics."

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