Man Up, Restaurants, Sell Cheap Wine For A Fair Price

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in: Soapbox

Kyle Meyer. Credt: Mina Bahadarakhann

OK, maybe it’s because I’m a little under the weather as I write this but, dagnabbit I am more than a little bent right now.

What can it take, for the love of Mike, to get a decent, well-priced glass of wine at a restaurant? Time after time, meal after meal, I bring a bottle of wine with me to dinner, seeing as I am in the business. But I always take a look at the list, just in case there is a cool, reasonably-priced by-the-glass option to kick-start the evening. Alas, more often than not, I’m rippin’ out my bottle straight away and gladly paying the $25 corkage fee, realizing I might have to pay that twice knowing the crew I run around with.

How hard can it be? Why do restaurants consistently charge $10 (or more) a glass for a bottle that costs $6 (or less) wholesale? I understand the concept of getting your cost back on the first pour, but c’mon, this is getting silly.

Since I am a wine seller, life for me will go on. I have enough wine street smarts to navigate lists and find something decent or bust out my own bottle if it’s not happening. My concern, however, is for that group of wine drinkers that we fine wine merchants (and, we hope, progressive restaurateurs), are trying to transition over from Two (and a half) Buck Chuck and Yellowtail to another level of wine, one that, while not much more expensive ($10 to $12 a bottle retail instead of $2.49 or $8) delivers another dimension of flavor and styles.

Short-sighted proposition

If restaurants are going to be content with trying to squeeze as many dollars as they can out of a bottle, we will soon lose touch with this new wave of wine drinkers. We won’t be able to bridge the gap and continue to nurture their palates if these people are forced to pay $12 for a glass of mediocre “coastal” Cabernet, when they could be paying $6 for a fabulous Old Vine Grenache from Spain, or Picpoul from the Languedoc. At $12 for an OK glass of Cabernet, I would be reaching for beer provided I didn’t have that wine in my bag.

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And that’s the point. Merchants and restaurateurs have to work together to foster and educate this new generation of wine lovers. There are numerous studies showing that millennials are very curious about wine but, like many folks nowadays, do not have serious money burning a hole in their pockets. That said, these consumers are also curious about craft brews, so they often have a unique, artisan drinking experience for less — simply because there is some kind of archaic formula in place dictating the minimum price for a glass of wine.

What if restaurants charged $6 (the price of a 12-ounce beer, for the most part) for an interesting glass of wine? Not wicker basket Chianti, not corporate Cabernet, not private label Chardonnay sourced from Fresno, but a real, authentic, genuine bottle of wine that could open eyes. Would they lose money or sell more wine? Would they gain customers because they were offering cool wines at great prices? Granted, more restaurants have expanded their wine lists to include many offerings south of $50 a bottle. But let’s be honest, that was born out of necessity based on the economy, and was hardly a peace offering to those of us who couldn’t find a bottle less than $75 just a few short years ago. Why couldn’t restaurants apply that same philosophy to their by-the-glass programs?

Smaller dining establishment, more wine for a fair price

Trust me when I say the corporate wine world wants to keep everything just the way it is. There is a wealth of boring cheap wine tied into the spirits business. This wine is essentially sold for nothing to engage restaurants to purchase bar liquors from these large wine/spirits conglomerates. One thing I’ve noticed is that when the dining establishment is smaller, and has no spirits, the wine selection tends to be stronger. Coincidence? I think not. The “big boys” want the restaurants to do one-stop shopping since, to them, wine is merely a greaser to sell more gin. The problem is, more than a few restaurants are all too happy to comply.

I say to those restaurants, “fight the power!” and don’t let the man keep you down. Take a chance, engage your customers, and show them the world of wine is more than whatever the distributor is closing out that month. Find interesting, food-friendly wines and sell the wine for a fair price. I’ll help you out. Email me, or look at our list of sub-$10 wines on our website. Before you know it, I think your customers may be having a revelatory moment like Steve Martin’s character in “The Jerk”:Well if this is out there just think how much more is out there!”

Top photo: Kyle Meyer. Credit: Mina Bahadarakhann


Zester Daily Soapbox contributor Kyle Meyer is a managing partner and director of purchasing for bestwinesonline.com, a brand new online retail fine wine experience.

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Comments

gdfo
on: 4/22/13
I have to agree with you 100%. Lots of people in restaurant management do not know wine and what to choose and then the price it as if it were rocket parts for a NASA mission. What people can do is call or write to the management or owner and discuss it with them.
Corie Brown
on: 4/22/13
We bought a $10 2007 Gatos Locos Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot Noir at Kyle's shop a couple of weeks ago. Last night my husband and I tasted it against an $85 Pinot from the Pisoni Vineyard. The Gatos Locos trounced the big, fat competition. Thanks for the recommendation, Kyle!
Corie Brown
on: 5/1/13
Restaurant Sciences, an independent firm that closely tracks food and beverage product sales throughout the foodservice industry in North America, recently examined the rising price of wine by the glass in restaurants. Today, they released their findings that over the past six months, wine prices in American restaurants have steadily increased. The family dining and white-tablecloth establishments especially have posted significant upticks with average increases of 8.36% and 5.35%, respectively. Here is a link to the press release and data table detailing the latest survey from Restaurant Sciences, http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Restaurant-Sciences-Data-Unveils-Wine-Prices-Inching-Up-Over-Last-6-Months-1785228.htm.
Tina Caputo
on: 5/1/13
Try this link if the one above doesn't work: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/restaurant-sciences-data-unveils-wine-135444779.html
Mary
on: 5/3/13
At our restaurant we mark up wine 3x cost. Then we divide that by 4 for the glass cost. when you eat out, you have to pay for the glasses, the storage, the taxes on the inventory, oh yeah - in my state 14 percent sales tax is added into the costs (i.e. it's a tax on me instead of the customer yet I have to pass it on). And wine glass breakage. Let me tell you. $$$. We have a wine dispenser that hold 20 bottles of wine. 10 red and 10 whites. This allows our customer to try a wide variety of wines at "tastes" price of a couple of dollars.That dispenser cost me (and therefore the customer) the price of a car but it enables us to play with and learn about wine with the least $$ pain. We try to get our customers to try grapes other than chardonnay and cabernet. Now our customers love malbecs and Riojas. There are great bargains in Spanish wines. Big taste for the buck. We show that to our customers yet we retain the right to make a profit or heaven help us, break even. We're in a town of 20,000. in the middle of nowhere. We sell 3x the amount of wine as beer and that number is growing. And, our beer is craft beer, not swill. We don't serve $6.00 glasses of wine because we don't want people to drink too much and we want people to try better wines and last but not least we can't pay our bills serving $6.00 glasses of wine.
robert
on: 6/27/13
I always look at an establishment's wine list but most are simply terrible so I happily cork. Even that however, is starting to get a little ridiculous. I don't mind paying $20-25 corkage but recently, I have seen corkage creep into the $30-35 range. Most of those places, I will never return to simply because their list is terrible and they make it very difficult and expensive for a wine drinker to bring in their own wine. Restaurants continue to do this at their own peril in my opinion since it will drive off customers.
Bob
on: 6/27/13
Why is it in Italy I could get a 1/2 carafe of wonderful, local house wine for 5-6 Euros. I'd drink wine more often when I'm out if it wasn't so damned expensive. A bottle should not be half of the bill.

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