I spend a lot of time in the tasting rooms of local wineries, and I also spend some time in brewery tasting rooms. Visiting these tasting rooms is a great way to spend a weekend afternoon or an evening, and the experience can be even better if you show up prepared.

These tips will help you get the most out of your tasting room experience, whether you're visiting just one or spending a day following a wine or beer trail.

Do your research

tasting room information If you do your research before you head out, you won't be surprised by tasting hours or fees. (Photo: Robin Shreeves)

Before you go, visit the tasting room's website to learn the basics like the cost of a tasting, hours of operation and whether or not you need a reservation. If you have a group of five or more, find out about group policies, too. Some smaller establishments don't have the room to accommodate a big group without advance notice.

You'll also want to find out if the tasting room sells food, or if you're permitted to bring your own food and non-alcoholic beverages so you can stay and enjoy some food with the wine or beer. Not only will different tasting rooms have different policies, but also states have various laws about selling or bringing in food.

Lastly, visit the events page to find out if something special is going on that day. A festival or a concert may be just what you're looking for, or you may not want to deal with the crowds those events bring in.

When you're tasting

beer flight Ask the pourer if there's a recommended order in which you should drink your beer samples. (Photo: MaxyM/Shutterstock)
Start your tasting experience at home by foregoing any perfume or cologne. A big part of tasting is the aroma of what you're tasting. Don't ruin your experience — or the experience of the person next to you — by giving your nose competing aromas.

Taste in the order the person pouring suggests. Usually wines are poured in this order: whites first, dryer to sweeter; reds next, dryer to sweeter; finally, sweet wines in order of sweetness. This is to give your palate the best chance to experience each wine. If there are plain crackers or bread offered to nibble on to cleanse your palate, you just need a little in between each wine. These are part of the tasting experience, not part of a buffet. If you're tasting a flight of beers, ask the person pouring if there's a recommended order. Often the beers will be in tasting order placed in front of you from left to right, but not always.

Don't be embarrassed to dump. There are many reasons you may want to pour what's left in your glass in the dump bucket. You may not like the wine or beer, and that's okay. You may not want to keep drinking because you have several more to taste and you don't want to get tipsy. That's fine, too. You can dump for any reason. You can even spit, too, if there seems to be the right receptacle for doing so, although this is much more common with wine than beer. (But, let me warn you from experience, spitting isn't as easy it looks. If you've never done it in this scenario before, you may want to practice with some water at home — seriously. If you don't want to end up with red wine dribbling down your chin and onto your shirt or accidentally spitting on your own hair, practice first.)

Only ask for a second taste of something if you're honestly considering purchasing it. When you purchase a tasting, it comes with a certain number of pours in small amounts, usually an ounce or less each. Often you can choose from a menu and pick what you want, but you'll still only get a certain amount of pours. Don't try to get extra unless you really are considering purchasing a specific wine or beer, and then ask politely, "I think I want to buy this, but can please I have a small taste of it again to make sure?"

Don't walk out with the glass unless it's part of the tasting price. Many tasting rooms throw in the glass with their logo for the price of the tasting, but not all do. Also, if you don't want the glass, feel free to leave it. It will get washed and reused.

Above all, be patient and wait your turn. When people are standing three or four deep at the tasting room bar, it's going to take time to get through an entire tasting. Factor that into the time you've allocated for your visit.

Buy something

tip jar Not all tasting rooms have tip jars for their employees, but if you see one, tips are always appreciated. (Photo: Maria Dryfhout/Shutterstock)

If you're in a smaller wine region or you're visiting a small craft brewery, often the wines or beers you'll sample in a tasting room may not be available in the majority of stores. So if you liked something, buy it. Of course, you don't have to buy anything if you didn't like anything, but it's always good if at least one member of your groups buys some wine or beer after you're done to help support the business.

Finally whether you buy something or not, look for a tip jar. If there is one, use it. People who pour in tasting rooms are often making an hourly wage, usually minimum or not much higher. If they've been polite, informative and given you as much attention as possible considering the volume of customers, leave a tip.

But what about your own experiences? What tips do you have for getting the most out of a tasting room visit?

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