Wine Etiquette

16 Feb

Young people, inexperienced with wine but striving to make it in the business world, are famous for their wine bloopers. In their defense, most have little or no education in wine, either in their background or from their employer. For this reason, we should be empathetic to their status as novices. A bit of good-natured advice gets many started on the road to acquiring basic competence with wine.

What’s a real jolt is how many senior businesspeople  know so little about wine, not to mention the nuances of business entertaining. There’s a double-whammy in these situations. First, if you know something about wine you may be forced not only to silently witness—but also to endure—a bad wine experience, as many people I know have.

However, if the wine offender is your boss or most important client or customer, you find yourself facing a second cluster of challenges involving long-term economics and customer-satisfaction scores.

One of my favorite stories on this front involves an American purchasing manager who flew over to Taiwan to complain about a price increase for the parts he was buying. At a dinner with his American sales representative and three Taiwanese from the supplier, he saw fit to launch into lengthy complaints about how awful he found the food and the rice wine.

The purchasing manager’s attitude seemed to be that he merited a whole bunch of sympathy for being dragged half way around the world and exposed to food and drink outside his limited comfort zone. He was also under the impression that his Asian hosts understood English so poorly as to be barely able to understand him. He simply ignored them and directed his injudicious remarks to his fellow American.

In the midst of all this, his American counterpart jocularly reminded the guest that two of the Taiwanese spoke better English than they did and that the rice wine being served was considered to be the best in Asia and well-paired with the food. Moreover, it was being served up especially to give the customer a memorable and educational cross-cultural experience.

It’s hard to imagine how someone could be so insensitive or have such an overdeveloped sense of “the customer is always right” to behave like a species we thought had gone extinct—the Ugly American.  Nonetheless, I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of my friend’s story, which ended as you might have guessed.

The purchasing manager’s long journey had no impact on his supplier’s willingness [in truth, ability] to negotiate more favorable pricing. After he left, the American sales representative had to make up for the stunning rudeness of their mutual customer by repeatedly entertaining his Asian colleagues with food and imported French wines. He wasn’t worried about losing the business. Even with the price increase, the Taiwanese were still the world’s most affordable supplier by a healthy margin.

The rep has such a sunny personality that he successfully dispelled the lingering clouds left by the purchasing manager’s visit. But in an ideal world, the purchasing manager would have had some training in the do’s and don’ts of doing business internationally.

What’s the moral of the story? Sometimes success in business means acquiring a taste for things that, at first, you didn’t think you liked.



No Responses to “Wine Etiquette”

  1. Peter Krupp Photography February 19, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

    On the subject of wine etiquette, here’s a blooper worthy of note. Several years ago our department manager took us to a very nice restaurant to welcome our new advertising agency rep. Our manager ordered wine throughout the meal from hors-d’oeuvres through Sherry and a dessert wine at the finish of the meal. Needless to say, we all had a wonderful time…until the next day. The following morning, our manager presented each of us a bill for our share of the wine consumed. He even split, equally among us, the cost of wine consumed by our new agency rep. How’s that for wine etiquette?

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