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If The Glass Fits

Posted on  | February 1, 2008   Bookmark and Share
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Raise your hand if this has ever happened to you: you’ve ordered a nice bottle of wine at a restaurant, only to find it served in a cheap clunky glass. The glass releases none of the wine’s bouquet, and it’s so small the wine practically spills over the top. “Nobody deserves to be served a good wine in a bad glass,” said Kathleen Talbert, a representative for Riedel. Indeed, inferior glassware cheapens the experience of fine dining.

High-end wine glasses can be expensive, they are easy to break, and they require hand-polishing, but restaurants can turn off customers by using obviously inferior stemware. “Operators need to consider that the consumer is much more educated than they were in years past,” said Mike Coggins of Villeroy & Boch. “They need to focus on presentation in choosing the right glass.”

There are a bewildering number of choices for wineglasses. “It can go from a simple one or two glasses, up to an entire extensive line of glassware based on the restaurant’s audience,” explained Jim Pappas of Fortessa, which imports Schott Zwiesel stemware. Most restaurants will be fine with a handful of elegant styles. A native of France, Thibault Chaillon of Champagne Charles Heidsieck noted that many French restaurants only have three wine glass styles: white, red, and vin de tables for everyday use. Ultimately, restaurants can find a balance between durability and elegance without breaking the bank – or the glass.

Brett Goldfarb started his career in the casual dining industry more than two decades ago as a dishwasher, working his way up through the ranks as a bartender and server to become senior director of operations and training at Florida-based Roadhouse Grill today. He has seen thousands of wineglasses break, and yet lives to tell the tale.
“The biggest problem with wineglasses is that they break,” Goldfarb said. “The wine glass is the most fragile glass you deal with.” The stems snap in the dishwasher, or a glass left near the service bar on a busy evening can easily be knocked over. “I don’t know of anyone who’s made an unbreakable glass!”

The bistro Vapiano opened its first U.S. location in Arlington, Virginia in May 2007. General manager Alex Meltzer didn’t know how many wineglasses broke in the restaurant’s first 6 months, but it was enough that he recently restocked the shelves with 150 new glasses. Derek Brown, sommelier at Komi restaurant in Washington, DC, faces the same problem. “We have very high breakage – consumers have no idea. It’s a lot!”
Wineglasses are the most broken service item. In his experience, Goldfarb has seen about 15% break each month. At that level, a restaurant can expect to replace all its wineglasses every six months. That’s a big expense. And that’s why restaurants are increasingly turning to sturdier yet elegant stemware.

Libbey Glassware has traditionally made low-cost glasses popular at casual restaurants. “Libbey’s product is more affordable and more durable while retaining the look restaurant owners want,” said Linda Szyskowski. Most of its wineglasses are round rimmed, but it has a growing line of sheer rimmed glasses, such as its Aficionado line made with the company’s proprietary SheerRim/Dura Temp Edge process. This line includes both red and white wineglasses.

“One of the big things in restaurants is not that the glass will break, but how it will break,” Szyskowski explained. “With Libbey’s process, the glass breaks in just several large pieces instead of shattering into a million tiny ones.” Libbey Glassware is available through major foodservice providers. It is also the exclusive U.S. importer of Luigi Bormioli glassware.

“Riedel’s restaurant line has expanded tremendously in just a few short years,” said Kathleen Talbert. Riedel launched its latest series, the Extreme Restaurant, in April 2007. Maximilian Riedel, an eleventh-generation glassmaker and now head of the company’s U.S. division, developed the line after tiring of hand-carrying his own glasses to restaurants.

“These glasses have slightly thicker bowls, a slightly thicker stem and a wider base,” Riedel said. “The wider base makes it less likely that the glass will tip over and since the stem is often the point of breakage, the slightly thicker stem increases durability. All the Riedel Restaurant glasses have a sheer rim, as opposed to the rolled rim found on much of the restaurant stemware.” The Extreme Restaurant series includes four varietally-specific glasses with diamond-shaped bowls: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir/Burgundy, and Riesling/Sauvignon Blanc/Zinfandel. In addition, the series offers a cocktail glass.

The Riedel Extreme Restaurant Series is only sold through select distributors. In Northern California, it is sold through Wine Warehouse; in Florida through Southern Wine & Spirits, and in Metro New York through Lauber Imports. Riedel also owns the Spiegelau brand.

Schott Zwiesel targets the upscale and luxury market. Jim Pappas is the executive VP of corporate sales at Fortessa, the exclusive U.S. importer. He explained how the company’s Tritan technology uses platinum instead of lead “to strengthen the glass at the vulnerable zones – the lip, the foot, the bowl where it meets the stem. It’s really incredible.” He added, “Schott Zwiesel is break resistant and dishwasher safe. There’s really nothing like it.”

Schott Zwiesel offers about a dozen lines of stemware. Pappas noted in particular the Forté series, which is classically round shaped, as well as the distinctly angular Pure series. “Pure is very recognizable,” he added.

Unlike most glassware producers, Fortessa doesn’t sell through distributors. “Our primary model is direct. We market and distribute the product to end-users,” said Pappas. There are a few exceptions – for example, International Wine Accessories (IWA) sells its line.

Villeroy & Boch produces glassware for the high-end market, and it is sold through authorized distributors. Mike Coggins, vice president of sales and marketing for the company’s hotel & restaurant division, noted several series they have recently introduced. Maxima is oversized glassware for both red and white wines, while Schumann’s is a more casual line.

Coggins is even seeing a shift among caterers upgrading their wineglasses from 8 ounces to 12 ounces. “Most operators concentrate on a few glasses for wine,” he noted. “It’s pretty rare for operators to offer an extensive range of glasses – we often see them offering just two glasses, and sometimes even one!”

Adequate Inventory “Restaurants often buy just enough glassware to get by,” said Mike Coggins of Villeroy & Boch. This causes headaches for the staff who have to quickly wash and restock glasses during a busy shift, and they may skip important steps like polishing, or fill wine into a hot glass. With inadequate inventory, glasses wear out quicker, “like wearing only one pair of shoes all the time,” Coggins explained.

Proper Dishwasher Racks “Caring for glassware in a restaurant setting is different than loading it in your home dishwasher,” explained Maximilian Riedel. “Proper racks are a must – one size does not fit all. The rack holds the glasses securely, and prevents chipping and excess vibrations during the wash cycle.” Improper racks are one of the leading causes of glassware breakage.

Washing “Always wash stemware well with soap and water and rinse thoroughly,” said Linda Szyskowski of Libbey. “Any residue on the glass can detract from the taste and experience of wine or spirits.” Maximilian Riedel added that staff should remove the glasses after the final rinse cycle is complete, “otherwise soap residue present in the steam will redeposit itself on the glasses.” Once glasses leave the dishwasher, they must have time to cool off. Thermal shock from pouring a cold beverage into a hot glass can break the glass.

Polishing There’s no way around this. Customers expect sparkling, shiny glasses, so stemware should be polished by hand using a microfiber cloth. However, glasses are frequently broken during polishing, as people sometimes rotate the bowl and base in opposite directions, snapping the stem right off. Jim Pappas of Fortessa emphasized that servers be trained to rotate the glass in one direction.

Staff Training Most glassware is broken because of human error, but breakage isn’t inevitable. “The most critical piece is staff education,” stressed Brett Goldfarb. The staff must be trained how to handle, wash, care for, polish and serve the restaurant’s stemware. With proper staff training, a wineglass can have a long, unbroken life.

Where to Buy
Restaurants and on-premise facilities can buy wine glasses through wholesalers.
Additional information on specific glass lines can be found at the following:

Riedel Crystal America

IWA (International Wine Accessories)
Distributes Schott Zwiesel Forté, as well as Spiegelau Vino Grande line

800-527-4072, and ask for the
Wholesale Division

Libbey Foodservice
Exclusive U.S. importer of Luigi Bormioli glassware

Schott Zwiesel
www.fortessa.com, then click on
Schott Zwiesel and then Tritan

Villeroy & Boch
then click on Professionals


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