Earlier this week, a diner at the Atlantic City, NJ location of Bobby Flay Steak claimed a misleading conversation inadvertently led to his ordering a $3,750 bottle of wine: Self-proclaimed wine novice Joe Lentini told the Star-Ledger a server verbally described the bottle's cost as "thirty-seven fifty," leading him to believe that it cost $37.50 instead of several thousand dollars.
In his complaint, Lentini argued that he asked for a server recommendation specifically because "I don't have experience with wine." But Joe Lupo, senior vice president of Borgata Hotel & Casino, which houses the restaurant, tells Eater the diner specifically asked for the restaurant's "best bottle" of Cabernet. "It wasn't simply a recommendation," says Lupo, who did not witness the incident firsthand but conducted an investigation of the complaint. "We would only recommend a bottle of that price if it was specifically asked for. Being a consumer... for a server to recommend a $3,000 bottle of wine would be outrageous. It would offend 99 percent of the people, because most of the bottles that are ordered are probably in a $40 to $200 range."
According to Eater wine editor Levi Dalton, that's standard protocol at most restaurants. "Very few working sommeliers would recommend a bottle over $400 unless they were pointed in a higher direction by the guest," he says. "What sommeliers usually do is confirm the pricing with the guest by gesturing to the wine on the wine list and asking for confirmation that that is what the guest wants to order. Basically you would wait for the guest to initiate that kind of conversation, and you would ask them to confirm the choice."
A miscommunication may have occurred because "waitstaff generally have less experience or training in dealing with these kinds of situations," Dalton says. But Lupo emphasizes that two separate employees — the server and a sommelier called upon to open the bottle — physically pointed to the menu and received verification from the guest that the bottle was appropriate. (Lentini told the Star-Ledger that he relied only on the "thirty-seven fifty" verbal price confirmation because "I didn't have my glasses.") According to Lupo, surveillance video from Bobby Flay Steak shows that one of the guests at Lentini's table "went over to the bar, looked at a wine list, thumbed through it, and then came back to the table and asked the server for the price," he says. "The server presented a receipt and showed him the price — that was before the wine was consumed." An unnamed member of Lentini's party told the Star-Ledger that he inquired about the price "before the dinner was completed" but after the bottle had already been opened.
Either way, the incident does serve as a friendly reminder to name a price range when you're asking for wine recommendations: There's no shame in ordering the second-cheapest bottle on the list.