A recent conversation with a major California wine company boss reminded me how differently on-premise operators think of the wines they serve as opposed to spirits. One of this gentleman's wines, a major on-premise success, followed the modern tradition of building its brand as an exclusive, on-premise wine first, and only after achieving solid success branching out into limited off-premise release, so as not to disturb the hard-won allegiances of restaurateurs who like the idea of pouring a wine their customers like and can't buy to drink at home.
Then there's the inevitable price sensitivity that comes when a wine poured for, say, $10 a glass is suddenly available for $16 a bottle at the corner wine shop. Careful calibration is required, or operators may start dropping the wines from their by the glass mix.
With spirits, though, it's often high volume only that determines the mix, even though many restaurants have taken greater care post-recession to keep the back bar under control. And some top selling brands are positively required, yet simply constructing a spirit list from the top few sellers in each category doesn't really highlight your operation as anything special. Even small distillers don't often hold brands back from off-premise shelves, but an operator who wants to champion an obscure or hard to find spirit might win customer loyalty quicker than by stocking Brand X. When a brand is sold everywhere, it's hard for the seller to stand out, and that's a big problem for many chain restaurants today.