When I’m handed the wine list there are two ways I look at it—as a wine professional and as a wine drinker. As a wine professional I look at the list with curiosity to assess several things about it such as: how it’s organized, the focus of the selections and the markup. As a wine drinker I’m looking for a variety of wines I enjoy for a price that I can afford.
A wine list that doesn’t satisfy your customers’ needs will most likely ensure they won’t return to your restaurant. Bringing my experience together as a long time wine lover turned wine educator, I believe there are 5 main reasons why some wine lists suck.
- Your list is too long.
Let’s face it, size matters but not in the way you think. Bigger is not better when it comes to wine lists. Wine lists that are the size of a New York City phone book might have been the model for fine dining in the nineties but today’s diners demand a concise, well thought out wine list. Ordering wine can be daunting from the outset and asking customers to digest such a large offering becomes a chore even for a seasoned wine enthusiast. Consider keeping your wine list between 2-10 organized and easily understood pages. If you can afford it, technology can definitely make this process more fun and interactive with the use of iPads or Kindles that can also be tied to your inventory.
- Your list is full of mistakes.
Nobody’s perfect but I am shocked at how many lists I encounter where there are spelling mistakes, geography inaccuracies or other mistakes. While the general customer may never discover these wine faux pas, the wine savvy customer will and once they do they will distrust the entire wine program. While the wine geek customer is in the minority, they will outspend the casual wine drinker exponentially so this is a group of customers you want to capture. If you don’t have an in-house wine expert, consider hiring one to review your wine list to ensure it’s correct and then be sure to keep it up to date.
- Your list doesn’t have the right price points.
Make sure you have a nice spread of price points for each category in your wine list. Most customers are looking for solid choices at a fair price ($35-80 per bottle) and when they find this, it is a reason for them to return. Everyone has a smart phone in their pocket and can easily find out the retail value of most any wine so make sure your mark-ups are fair. One fine dining restaurant I visited had a section on their list for great wines priced at $35 per bottle along with other legendary wine selections that were hundreds of dollars. This ensures you capture the customer at all ends of the spectrum and even give them a reason to order a second bottle.
- You don’t have enough options by the glass.
Customers like to order wine by the glass even if it is more expensive than buying a bottle. Why? Today’s consumers like variety and, also, the option to select wines that pair with their food choices. If you only offer a few whites and a few reds by the glass, you are going to need to up your game or customers will go elsewhere. You must have some of the standard varieties but don’t ignore having by-the-glass selections of more unique wines like Argentine Malbec and Spanish Albarino or Tempranillo. Consumers young and old want to taste a variety of wines during a meal. According to the Wine Market Council’s President John Gillespie, the majority of core wine drinkers order wine by the glass when they dine at any type of restaurant. Respondents were also asked to rate a series of factors on their importance when considering purchasing wine at a restaurant and one of the most important factors was availability of wine by the glass. Seventy percent of people had this as one of the top 3 factors. These stats are self-reported results compiled from the 2012 Wine Market Council U.S. Wine Market 2012 Consumer Trends & Analysis Tracking Report.
- Your staff doesn’t know your wine list.
You can have a well-constructed wine list, with the right variety of wine and price points, but if your staff doesn’t know your list it will be a failure. If you don’t have a consistent training schedule that ensures your staff knows the wine on your list, you are throwing money out the window. If a customer asks a general question about a wine on the list and gets a blank stare from the server that tells them you don’t care about your wine program. According to the Wine Market Council study referenced above, approximately half of the core wine drinkers consider recommendations from the sommelier highly important. Whether you have an on-site sommelier or not wine training for the entire front of the house is essential to your bottom line.