There were a lot of lessons for the entire beverage industry from last week’s annual presentation by the Wine Marketing Council. Most of the attention each year goes to an ancillary report presented by The Nielsen Company, which reports which varietals and regions are up, which are down, which show signs of making a big leap forward, and about where the opportunities are, especially among new and unfamiliar consumers.
But to me, the major tip coming from this year’s road show by the council is how important a broad and robust by the glass wine program is for every restaurant today.
This was the first year the annual report included statistics by-the-glass consumption trends, and according to the council’s president, John Gillespie, the majority of wine drinkers now order wine by the glass when they dine at any type of restaurant. At the same time, fewer than half of these buyers will order wine by the bottle, no matter the outlet – fine dining, steakhouse or casual.
Even the so-called luxury wine buyer, those who regularly spend $30 or more at retail shops for a single bottle of wine, are seen as increasingly opting for their wines by the glass, whether at a casual dinner out during the week or at a more pricey weekend celebratory dinner. By-the-glass rates are higher for women, while by-the-bottle rates continue to be higher for men, but the trend line, especially among younger wine drinkers, most notably the youngest legal age wine consumers, is unmistakable – if you want to sell more wine, you’ll need to offer more by the glass.
There are loads of reasons why this continues to be the preferred manner for customers to drink wine when in your restaurants: taking advantage of the opportunity to sample unfamiliar grape varietals or wine-producing regions, pairing different wines with different courses and times of the meal, managing total alcohol consumption for health or safety reasons, even making the dinner with friends more collaborative and interactive – if a wine is remarkably good, bad or just unexpected, a guest will likely pass it around to share the experience, and this is potentially way more fun than everyone swirling the same vintage and trying to find a way to describe it to each other.
The council, a non-profit association of grape growers, wine producers, importers, wholesalers, and other affiliated businesses and organizations, works diligently to further the acceptance of wine as a part of American culture and to encourage responsible enjoyment of wine in the United States, does great work reporting on what just happened. But this year, the most important message is that the American drinker has once again proven to be different, and to demand that things be served “their way,” as a fast food company once encouraged them to insist upon. When it comes to wine, that means everything by the glass.