Dining Etiquette Series – Crystal Gazing



Question: What did the women of Sex And The City not know how to do
that Bogart and Bergman finally got right in Casablanca

Answer: The correct way to hold stemware! In a number of scenes throughout the series, the sophisticated ladies of Sex and the City are seen holding their wine or champagne glasses incorrectly–by the bowl instead of the stem. And, although Bogie and Bergman fumbled their goblets, as well, in Casablanca, they finally got it right in the scene where they are together for the last time in Paris. Toasting each other with champagne and holding their glasses correctly by the stems, Bogie utters one of his most famous lines: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Why is it so important to hold stemware by the stem instead of the bowl?  Well, believe it or not stemware is designed for a purpose, not just to look pretty. Water and wine goblets and champagne and sherry flutes are meant to be held by the stem to avoid warming your water or chilled white or rosé wine, or changing the chemical balance of your room-temperature red wine. But, they also are pretty and there are few things more unsightly than a beautiful stemware glass bowl that has fingerprints all over it. Many people are under the misconception that it looks “cool” to hold your stemware by the bowl, but in reality it just makes you look clueless to those who are savvy about such things. Read world renowned food critic Anthony Dias Blue’s mini-rant on the subject.

To hold the glass by its stem so that you have control, delicately place your thumb and all fingers in the middle of the stem, or in the case of a very long-stemmed glass a little more than half-way up the stem.

The exception to the rule is the brandy snifter, which has a short stem, and which you should cup with your hand just under the bowl with the stem between your fingers. Unlike other wines and champagnes, with brandy—or cognac—you do want to warm the liquid, and holding the snifter in this manner will keep the bowl fingerprint free.

Glasses and Goblets to the Right

Glasses and goblets are placed to the upper right of your dinner or luncheon plate, and depending on the level of formality of the meal may include a water glass, wine goblets and champagne and/or sherry flutes. Brandy snifters and small cordial glasses may be brought out at the end of the meal, either during or after the dessert course. At a very formal affair, brandy and cordials might be served with coffee or demitaisse in the living room, parlor, library, lounge or outdoors on the veranda.

Arrangement of the Crystal

Whether the glassware and stemware are made of fine crystal or everyday glass does not matter. What is important is the arrangement of the glassware. As there usually is no room for more than four glasses at a place setting, additional glasses will be brought out, if necessary. In the arrangement of the glasses, the glass or goblet that holds your water is placed closest to you, directly above your knife, as you will use that glass throughout your meal. Other goblets will be placed in the following common arrangements:

Triangle – Three glasses, consisting of a water goblet and red and white wine glasses.

Diamond – Four glasses consisting of a water goblet and red and white wine glasses and a champagne, sherry or dessert wine flute.

For example, if sherry were being served with the first course, your sherry glass would be the one farthest away from you, white wine with the next course would be the next farthest and the red wine glass for the main course would be next to your water goblet. Your glasses might be in a slightly different arrangement, perhaps in a straight line, but they should be positioned in the select-from-outside-in formation.

Waiter Service from the Right

At a formal meal, either in a restaurant, dining hall or private home, servers will replenish your water throughout the meal, as needed. Other beverages, including soft drinks, will be poured, as requested or required with each course. Service will be from the right both when providing glasses and pouring, as well as when replacing or removing glasses.

At an informal or casual meal, you might have tall glasses, tumblers, or steins or pilsner glasses to hold beer on tap. Such glasses should be held at the bottom half rather than the top, for the best control, to keep fingerprints off the glass and to make you look your best while holding and drinking from the glass.

Whether you are dining formally, casually or somewhere in between, use good posture when sitting at the table to avoid bumping the server or spilling your drink.

Sip, Don’t Gulp

Whether drinking your water, soft drink, wine, champagne, sherry, cordial or brandy, be sure to sip your drinks rather than gulp them down. Swallow your food completely before taking a sip of your drink. Pacing your small sips, rather than taking large gulps, will help you to avoid getting the hiccups, becoming tipsy or filling up too fast. And, again, watch your posture. This will aid in your enjoyment of the conversation and food and with digestion!

If You Don’t Want a Particular Beverage

Not everyone wants to or can drink alcoholic beverages. If you wish to pass on wine and other spirits, don’t turn your glass upside down. Rather, simply hold your hand over the top of the glass when the server arrives to pour, look at the server, smile and say, “no, thank you.” The server should refrain from pouring and at some point remove your goblet. You may then request a soft drink, or simply sip your water. If the server errs and pours the wine or other spirits anyway, simply ignore it, and don’t complain or make a fuss. When you have an opportunity, ask the waiter politely to remove the goblet. If there is a toast, you may toast with your water, if you prefer it to champagne.

Until next time,


6 thoughts on “Dining Etiquette Series – Crystal Gazing

  1. Jeanne Nelson says:

    Thank you for this great question, Miguel! Because hock wine glasses were originally designed to hold German Riesling, a white wine, purists will proclaim that the only time to use a hock glass is to serve that particular wine. So in that sense hock glasses were not normally used at formal tables. However, purists will also say that each type of wine should have its own glass and many formal tables are now set with generic white and red wine glasses to accommodate a variety of white, red and even rose wines.Thus, my opinion is that you should most certainly use your beautiful hock wine glasses at your next dinner party, whether it is formal or informal. You might consider, however, serving a white wine in them as that is what the hock glass was designed to hold.


  2. Miguel Garcia says:

    Dear Jeanna,I purchased a really nice set or hock wine glasses and I would really like to use them for my next dinner party. Are hock glasses normally used in a formal table setting? If not, when are they used. Kind regards,Miguel


  3. Jeanne Nelson says:

    Dear H,Water goblets are filled three-quarters full with clear chilled water. Because the water goblet is larger than the other stemware filling it more would make it heavy, unwieldy and easy to spill. The water goblet should be refilled throughout the formal dinner or luncheon.Because sherry has a higher alcohol content it is correct to serve only a small amount. Fill your particular cordial / sherry glasses two-thirds full or with about an ounce and a half of sherry. Champagne flutes are filled approximately two-thirds full so that the bubbles can be funneled delightfully upward and enjoyed.Generally, white wine is served chilled (approximately two hours in the refrigerator) and the white wineglass is filled with thee ounces of wine or one-third full.Red wine is served at a cool room temperature and the red wineglass filled with about four ounces or one-half full. With regard to refills, usually the beginning courses are lighter and consume less time than the later courses so there is no need to offer refills, say, during the appetizer or salad courses unless a guest requests one. During the main and later courses, which are more leisurely, wine glasses should be refilled as desired, but judiciously. Glasses that are meant for the wine to be served with a particular course should be removed when the dishes for that course have been cleared, and the next glass to be used filled with the appropriate wine when that course has been served.Although purists will insist that only strong coffee, such as espresso, should be served in demitasse cups I am in the camp that says that these small cups with accompanying small saucers and spoons may be used to serve regular coffee at formal dinners and luncheons, along with cream and sugar. Fill the cups three-quarters full with espresso or coffee unless a guests requests otherwise. Just be prepared to provide refills!


  4. H says:

    How much water, red wine, white wine, champagne, and sherry do I serve during formal dinners?I have read books and searched the internet but I am still confused. Different sources state very different things.Filled to the rim, my water goblets hold 10.5 oz., the all-purpose wine glasses hold 6 oz., the champagne flutes hold 6 oz., and the cordials for sherry hold 2 oz. Do I measure the appropriate drink for each glass in ounces? If yes, how much?I know that water glasses are to be refilled during the entire dinner, but how about the other drinks? Will each course only have one serving of its appropriate drink with no refills?When the plate for each course is cleared away, is the glass for the drink that accompanied that course also taken away at that time?My European grandmother always served espresso in the demitasse cups after dinner. My American husband, his family and many of our friends and colleagues do not drink espresso. Is it o.k. to serve a different type of coffee in the demitasse cups after dinner?Thank you for your help!


  5. Jeanne Nelson says:

    Dear J, Using wine glasses for water or sherry at any time is lovely. I use sherry glasses for juice when entertaining at breakfast or brunch. Just be sure to use a separate glass for each type of beverage. To conserve on table space, place only the glass that will be used with a particular course, and remove it when it's no longer needed. For example, remove glassware when a guest does not wish to have wine, declines a refill, or when replacing one beverage with another, such as the sherry that you served with the soup course with the wine that is accompanying the main course. The water glass or goblet should remain on the table and be refilled as needed throughout the meal.


  6. J says:

    Is it OK to use stemmed wine glasses for water or sherry during informal luncheonsor dinners? Rather than having too many glasses on table?Thank you.


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