How to Save on Wine at Restaurants

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eHow Money Blog

Smiling friends clinking wine glassesYou know that nuances of wine bottle labels can place your budget in jeopardy. But if you’re not careful, a glass or two ordered at a restaurant or bar can also break your bank, according to studies that have uncovered such potential financial pitfalls. What is it about merlots, pinots or Bordeaux (and other wines, too) that make us throw caution to the wind and abandon budgetary restraint?

Wine appeals to many emotions, says Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and psychology professor at California State University-Los Angeles. As a result, cost is usually one of the last things you’re thinking of right before ordering wine at a restaurant.

We often see wine as a luxury, and wine appeals to our desire for the finer things in life. So splurging on a pricey glass, or a bottle for the table, seems natural. After all, you’re already splurging by eating out.

It’s also equated with fun enjoyed sharing a bottle with family and friends. So you don’t want to seem like a cheapskate or killjoy at a table of pals.

There are a couple tricks that will help you keep a level head when ordering wine without sacrificing taste or intoxicating your budget. The next time you’re eating out or at the bar, keep these things in mind.

Don’t order to impress.Couple having dinner
Going out with new friends or co-workers without a wine game plan is a recipe for financial disaster, according to new research published in the Journal of Consumer Research. Because you don’t want to appear foolish or uncultured, you’ve got an increased risk of herd ordering and buying a glass or two of an overpriced varietal you don’t even like, says the study.

Dubbed the “social default effect” by the study authors, it turns out that when you’re not comfortable engaging in thoughtful deliberation, you’re more likely to choose a wine based on social defaults. So “I’ll have what he’s having” becomes the standard for choosing wine. Even if he’s having something that’s out of your price range, you’re still likely to order up the pricey vino.

The fix: This one’s simple. Check out the restaurant’s wine list online before sitting down so you have an idea of what you’d like to order.

Don’t think about the past.Three young women drinking wine together in their pajamas
Remember that time you tossed back an expensive merlot with your college roomie? And what about that pinot grigio that reminds you of your dearly departed favorite Aunt Susan? Research says it’s hazardous to your wallet’s health to wax nostalgic when perusing the wine list. Apparently, contemplating your wine order while reminiscing about fond times from your childhood, times when you were surrounded by family and friends and wine or any other good old days that included wine lowers your inhibitions. It also makes you more likely to order a glass of a wine similar to the one you’re reminiscing about, even if it’s not affordable.

The fix: If you find yourself getting emotional or nostalgic when reading the wine list, take a moment to return to the present. Look around the room or bar, focusing on unfamiliar things like furnishings or wall décor. Then return to deliberating the wine choices to make a decision that’s best for your palate and financial picture.

Tune out.Happy laughing women drinking Champagne and singing Christmas song
A restaurant or bar’s background music does more than set the mood or make you want to bust a move. Music can also contribute to you busting your budget with extra glasses of wine you never intended on purchasing, says research published in the British Journal of Psychology. Scientists found that aspects of music like tempo, lyrics and meaning influenced how study participants tasted the very same wine. In short, you taste based on the music. So if you sip to a mellow song, your wine will taste more mellow than if you listen to a refreshing, zingy tune. And if you like what you taste, you’re going to buy a lot of it.

Wondering what the scientists consider mellow or refined? The experiment used four songs and classified them as follows:
• “Carmina Burana” by Carl Orff: powerful and heavy
• “Waltz of the Flowers” from Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker”: subtle and refined
• “Just Can’t Get Enough” by Nouvelle Vague: zingy and refreshing
• “Slow Breakdown” by Michael Brook: mellow and soft

The fix: Gently and discretely swish a few sips of water in your mouth to cleanse your palate. Then focus on the sound of your tablemate’s voice while taking a small sip of wine. You might find your cabernet tastes a little different from when you were subconsciously influenced by the music.

Learn the right lesson.learn
Researchers say we learn to love or hate wine from others, too. For instance, if the person next to you smiles, makes an audible sound of pleasure or simply seems content after taking a sip of wine, you’re more likely to enjoy your sip, too.

Same goes for if someone at your table, or within earshot, says something favorable about the wine’s aroma or flavor. Even a stranger such as a waiter could nod approvingly when discussing wine and influence how you perceive the taste of the wine. And if you rate the wine as more tasty than you expected (or than it really is) you’re more likely to order additional glasses, increasing the odds you and your wallet will have a hangover the next day.

The fix: Instead of impulsively ordering another glass after a social prompt, wait five minutes. Experts say that’s often enough time to reset your ability to think logically rather than emotionally or impulsively. Believe me, your budget and head will thank you in the morning!

Photo credit: Getty ThinkStock

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