How to spot a wine scam at a hotel or restaurant : Internet Scambusters #955
Will the return to restaurant dining lead to a rash of wine scams?
Possibly -- if you're tempted to splash out in an unfamiliar eatery or confronted with a huge wine list.
In this week's issue, we'll explain the most common ways customers are tricked into overpaying for their libations and 7 simple steps you can take to avoid being conned.
Let's get started…
7 Ways to Avoid a Restaurant Wine Scam
Americans drink about a billion gallons of wine a year, from 'two buck Chuck' to the rarest and most expensive vintages that cost thousands. Some of us get ripped off in the process.
And as we return down the long and slow road to normality, more of us are likely to be visiting restaurants and vacationing again. Instead of our supermarket favorites, we may be tempted to splash out on an expensive number in an upscale eatery.
If that's you, beware! Restaurants and hotels are anxious to recoup lost income from the lockdown days -- and likely have their eyes on the mouthwatering profits to be made from vino.
After all, all they have to do is buy and resell the bottle. No preps, unlike with a meal.
On average, they already mark up the prices of their wine by between 200% and 300% more than they paid per bottle. That's tough enough for us consumers, but unscrupulous venues may have spotted an opportunity to earn a lot more.
We warned last year about the way a few wine producers use misleading labels and additives to trick people into paying a lot for a poor product: Wine Tricksters Look For Seasonal Boost.
But wine scams don't end there. When you sit down in an unfamiliar restaurant, you could be a target for owners and servers who exploit the ignorance most of us share about wine varieties and vintages.
As investigative news site Vice.com puts it: "A sprawling wine list can be overwhelming, and if you don't know much about wine, there's a good chance you're going to get swindled."
In fact, recent research at Britain's prestigious Oxford University shows how easily most of us are overawed by wine names and descriptions without knowing the first thing about their taste or value. Studies even suggest that playing certain kinds of music can encourage our quaffing.
And of course, the more we quaff, the less discerning our palates become. Even when the taste doesn't live up to our expectations, we tend to "swallow it" and otherwise keep our mouths shut. We don't want to look stupid in front of guests!
In fact, to avoid this discomfort, and faced with a multi-page wine list, many of us resort to asking the waiter for a recommendation or description. Although most, we would expect, would give us an honest answer, the waiter also knows that an imaginative description, true or not, can make people believe a wine tastes better than it really is.
One former wine waiter told Vice.com: "I'd just talk about the soil and the earthiness and chocolate and tobacco -- those are the enticing words, because they're kind of sexual, and so people just eat up these descriptions and they believe whatever you say.
"Even if the wine isn't medium bodied and doesn't have cherry notes, they'll taste it and believe what they want to."
Even if the wine was "corked" -- that is, it has reacted with the cork stopper -- most people either don't realize or don't like to complain.
A favorite trick is to upsell -- persuade the customer to buy a much more expensive bottle. Tactics include:
- Telling the customer that the French version of a similar California wine is much better (and costlier).
- Grimacing -- pulling a face if the customer makes a cheap selection.
- Bringing in another waiter to pose as the restaurant's sommelier or wine expert.
- Saying that a particular selection is out of stock and offering a more expensive substitute.
In less scrupulous establishments, servers have been known to serve an entirely different and cheaper wine in place of an ordered expensive one.
7 Key Actions
So, if you're not a wine expert, what can you do to avoid being scammed? Here are seven actions you can take:
- Don't try to pass yourself off as an expert if you're not. The waiter (and perhaps your guests) will see straight through it but talk as "one expert to another" to push you in an expensive direction.
- Obviously, though, it pays to do a little research, especially if you plan to visit an expensive place. These days, you might be able to see the full wine list online. Check the markup: How much does the restaurant charge compared with store-bought bottle? A markup of anything above 400% should raise an eyebrow.
- Also, learn how to tell if a bottle is corked. See How To Tell If A Wine Is Corked. Most, if not all, restaurants will replace a corked bottle.
- Set a limit on how much you're prepared to pay for a bottle. And if your waiter suggests a bottle represents better value than a couple of glasses, make sure you're prepared to drink (or take home) the extra amount.
- If you have a preference for a particular variety but don't know the difference between all the different labels, opt for an American one. It'll be cheaper!
- Make sure you're getting your bottle. Some wine lists don't make crystal clear that prices are for half-bottles. When it turns up, a customer can face extreme embarrassment! Similarly, if you're buying wine by the glass, make sure you know how much is in a glass. A standard serving is 5 ounces. There are 25 ounces in a standard bottle.
- When a bottle of wine is served, inspect the label to be sure it matches your list selection.
Don't forget too to watch out for the feel-good factor. Nice music, great company, and a friendly waiter can easily steer you into ordering that second or third bottle. Set your volume limit before you go!
So many of us will be glad to revisit restaurants as restrictions ease. Just don't let your enthusiasm set you up for a wine scam.
Alert of the Week
Stimulus and unemployment payments may sound like a great idea -- but not if they come from the World Bank.
That's because the World Bank isn't in the business of handing out cash to individuals. That hasn't stopped scammers pretending to do just that, by sending out texts and emails inviting recipients to apply for up to $25,000.
The link, of course, leads to a page that either requests confidential financial information or uploads malware onto your PC.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!