All over the New Jersey and Philadelphia food news today is a story about a bottle of wine and a little bit of miscommunication. A diner at Bobby Flay Steak at the Borgata hotel and casino in Atlantic City asked his waitress for a recommendation on a bottle of wine, letting her know he didn’t know much about wine. She made a recommendation, and he asked how much the wine was.

He says she said it was “thirty-seven fifty.” She says she told him it was $3,750 — definitely a story of he said/she said.

When the bill was presented to the host who was paying, it was about $3,700 more than he expected. Management at Bobby Flay Steak was not willing to take the charge off the tab, but it was willing to reduce the cost of the bottle to $2,200.

I can imagine how horrified I would be if I had accidentally ordered a bottle of wine that expensive and my host was presented with a bill that reflected my mistake. Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid that type of error if you remember one simple rule.

It’s perfectly fine to name your price range when you’re asking your waiter/waitress, a wine steward or a sommelier for a suggestion on a bottle of wine.

Wine lists that are several pages long can be overwhelming. I haven’t tasted nearly enough wine to be familiar with most of the wines at a restaurant like Bobby Flay Steak or any fine dining restaurant that has a list more than a page long, so I ask for recommendations, and I always give a price range.

I say something like, “Can you recommend a wine in the $60 price range that will go with our entrees?” (I peruse the list first to make sure there are wines in that range.)

I have never had the person I’m asking roll their eyes or in any way indicate that they thought I was tacky or cheap. What usually happens next is that I’ll be asked if I’d prefer red or white, and then after a few more questions, I’m given two or three recommendations.

But, what if the person I asked did let me know, even subtly, that he thought it was tacky for me to name my price? I would let it slide. Because here’s the thing: It’s not a reflection on me or my wine knowledge. It’s a reflection on the restaurant employee. He doesn’t know how to do his job well.   

So, if you’re ever in the position where you’re asking for a wine recommendation from a list that reads like the phone book, name your price range with confidence. It will save you from the awkwardness of having to say “no” to bottles that are out of your budget, and it makes the process of choosing a wine more pleasant for both you and your server.

And, it just may save you $3,700.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

How to not accidentally order a $3,750 wine
There's a simple rule for ordering from a wine list that will help you avoid any embarrassment.