Mark Fisher’s post over at Uncorked about a study that examined how restaurants can entice diners to buy more wine to accompany their food couldn’t have come at a more timely moment for us Grape Juice folk. We had just had dinner at one of the uber-restaurants in Toronto, recognized as a fab wine place by the Wine Spectator no less, and received some of the worst wine service we’ve ever had (more on that later). To top it off, the bottle of Burgundian red that we selected was later found in a retail store for not half, not a third, but a quarterof the price that was charged at the restaurant.
Does the study address this issue? Oh it certainly does. It’s sage advice is to promote ‘higher margin’ wines while avoiding pesky little cash inhibitors called promotions. It boggles the mind from the consumer’s point of view. I want value from top to bottom on a wine list; I want recommendations based on suitability, not profit (I know that’s a lot to ask); I want to be treated as something other than a walking, oinking piggy bank.
Restaurants: making it expensive doesn’t make me want to buy it. Honest. I’m past that whole wine stage where more expensive simply must be better. Show me value, show me that you appreciate your customer by having a reasonable profit margin on your bottles. You forget that I shop at the LCBO too. It’s the only place we can get our wine in this lovely province, and that means I know what all the price tags are just as well as you. When I see a $15 bottle for $50, you’re lucky I don’t smack you upside the head with the wine list out of righteous indignation. I’ve turned down wine with dinner on several occasions because the list prices were outrageous for solid, but not spectacular wines.
Care to know what your eye for profit have done? I’m seriously considering eating only at fine dining establishments that allow BYOB and I’ll gladly pay their corkage fee. It’s still cheaper than buying it on site, I get to have what I like, and I don’t run screaming through the liquor store like some sort of oenophilic poltergeist three days later when I find retail values in the teens.
There is a big difference between a $40 margin on a $100 bottle of wine, and the same differential on a $20 offering. Showing a little ingenuity with your wine list (and charging an arm and a leg for it) will win you repeat business, as you are offering a rounded, innovative experience, rather than shoving pricy sparkly things under my supposedly dazzled nose.
Break new ground, get off the beaten path. You upper-enders…you have a sommelier, I know you do. I’ve seen them cackling madly in your cellar trying to come up with improbably delicious pairings. Make use of them! The article mentioned the attractiveness of tasting sized samples to accompany meals (here here!), which allows the on staff wine freak the opportunity to be a little creative and suggest a variety of affordable pairings for each course and dish. Better yet, if you’re petrified of letting even a penny of money get away, offer wine pairings with dinner and allow the sommelier and his/her staff to serve the wine with each dish. Charge as much as you would for your cheapest bottle and for three 2oz. pours, or a whopping 6oz of wine, you’ve made a whack of money.
Stop moping about margins, price accordingly, and find other ways to wring my hard-earned cash from my account.