Nfld. & Labrador

Happy Cheapskate: Just how much wine do you get at a restaurant?

When you order a glass of wine to go with your dinner, how much do you get? Columnist Nancy Walsh toted a measuring glass to find out.
Like other restaurants, Swiss Chalet serves precise servings of wine. (CBC)

When I worked in restaurants and bars — in my university days, back in the Dark Ages — there wasn't much instruction given about pouring a glass of wine. I recall being shown an empty glass and told to fill it "Oh, to about here or so."

The wine often came out of a box or a jug, truth be told, and no one was terribly fussy.

Those days are gone.

Now, restaurants will tell you the size of their pour, be it five, six or nine ounces.

Since we customers pay dearly for this liquid bliss, I decided to make sure we get what we're promised.

So over the past few months, I took my measuring cup and iPad everywhere I went, measured what was put before me and took some photos. 

(Yes, it was hugely embarrassing.)

My first stop was the Gypsy Tea Room, where I was told their pour was exactly five ounces.

Sure enough. Five ounces or, according to my measuring cup, 150 ml.

At the Gypsy Tea Room in downtown St. John's, customers get precisely five ounces in a serving of wine. (Nancy Walsh/CBC)

The next two restaurants also promised five ounces and they delivered, to the millilitre.

I confess I was surprised. How could a free-pour be so accurate?

Then at Magnum and Stein, I saw a jigger-type device attached to a bottle of wine.
And it struck me. Nobody is free-pouring anymore. Everybody had to be measuring their wine pour because they were all so darn accurate.

Even Swiss Chalet.

Some establishments use a jigger to pour the desired amount. Others use a measured carafe. 

Have a gander at the carafe your wine comes in at The Keg.

If you look carefully at the carafes used at The Keg (left), you'll notice they are etched to allow servers to pour accurately. (Nancy Walsh/CBC)

The Keg etches their carafes in two spots: one at the six ounce mark; another at the nine-ounce point. That's because The Keg offers wine in six- and nine-ounce servings. With those etchings, the staff can't over- or underpour

I did measure to make sure the six-ounce mark was indeed six ounces. Ditto for the nine. 

The reason for this precision is simple.

Wine sales key to profit

Restaurants rely on the sale of alcohol to deliver the profit. At least, that's what I was told repeatedly.

Those that sell wine by the glass hope to recoup the cost of the entire bottle within two glasses, at most. The rest goes into the bank or general coffers.

Cases in point: 

At Swiss Chalet, five ounces of Woodbridge Chardonnay costs $7.49. The bottle at NLC is $15.49. 

At Blue on Water, a six-ounce glass of their white and red offerings costs $11.50; a bottle of one of them, Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc is $19.48 at the liquor store.

The conclusion?

When you buy a five or six or nine-ounce glass of wine, you really do get it.

Two slight exceptions:
At Gracie Joe's, the pour was a sniff shy of five ounces, and the server at The Sprout had no idea how much wine might be in the glass — and it turned out to be slightly more than five ounces. That was surprising, because their small glasses give the impression of a small serving. 

Just in case you think the CBC paid for my gallivanting all over St. John's, let me reassure you. We can thank my partner — in the private sector — for paying for this bit of … er … science. 

Another happy note:  A generous free pour has not gone the way of the dinosaur. At a New Year's Eve function a few years ago, the best bartender in the world poured the biggest glass of wine I'd ever seen. I can't recall the cost but remember thinking it a very good deal.

Come to think if it, she wasn't around when I went back for the next New Year's...

About the Happy Cheapskate 

Nancy Walsh has a habit of reading the labels of products she consumes. (CBC )

Like most of us, I hate getting ripped off.

Or worse, feeling ripped off.

There are some things worth a higher price to me. I'll fork over cash for a brand name pair of running shoes. I bought cheap ones before and they hurt.

I'll pay for premium chocolate on occasion, but Cadbury rocks my world.

I refuse to pay for a frozen food product that has been bleached, battered, covered in oil and salt and made out to be something nutritious.

The Happy Cheapskate is all about value. Join me as I search for it. 

If there's anything you'd like me to look into, email me

Follow Nancy Walsh on Twitter at @nancywalshcbc.


Nancy Walsh

CBC News

Nancy Walsh is the morning news anchor for CBC Radio One in Newfoundland and Labrador. Her colum, the Happy Cheapskate, airs every second Wednesday on the St. John's Morning Show.


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