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5 Tips for Wine-List Development

June 15, 2011 By: Kelly Magyarics


Wine glassesThe by-the-glass wine list often is a customer’s first impression of a restaurant or bar, and patrons keep a keen eye on list selection and value. To maximize profits, operators are wise to remember their unique “formula” for creating price appeal and identify guest expectations for quality and price. Once you create a detailed wine list and educate your staff on different varietals, you can set out to promote your wine in fun and unique ways. Here are a few quick tips that will help you get the most out of your wine list:

1. Do your research. Julian Mayor, the head sommelier at Bourbon Steak in Washington, D.C., notes that the wine-by-the-glass pricing process is a balancing act, requiring “research into your guests’ preferences, what other restaurants offer, what wines are new and interesting that aren’t offered elsewhere and who can provide those wines to your restaurant at the best prices.”

2. Include several of the same varietals but at different price points. Two or three oaky Chardonnays at the same price point is redundant, and those choices waste menu lines that could be better served with different varietals, regions or price points. As Mayor points out, higher-end options bring increased profits, while attractive, less expensive wines result in more sales.

3. Train your staff to understand the factors that go into wine pricing, such as varietal class, labor type (manual vs. machine harvesting), origin/region, oak treatment, aging requirements and name recognition. If employees are knowledgeable about what goes into making wine, they can educate guests on why different varietals are at different price points.

4. Reduce waste. Operators need to reduce upfront costs with savings over time to determine if these pricey products work for them. The master sommelier at Citronelle in Washington, D.C., Kathy Morgan finds simple refrigeration is more effective than any low-price gas or vacuum system. She makes an extra effort to select by-the-glass wines that hold up well, noting that some actually taste better the next day.

5. Know your sweet spot. Every list has a “sweet spot,” and Morgan says, “If you can’t keep the $15 selections in stock, then that’s your sweet spot, and you need more $15 selections — and you should probably drop one or two in the price points above and below $15.”


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