Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Real Cost of Wine On The Restaurant’s Wine List

The Sommelier Is Not Your Friend 
& That Bottle COST WHAT!!! 

I recently read that the sommelier is your friend. No he’s not! While they are wine experts, their job is to sell wine! Never forget that point and you’ll be in better shape to survive the restaurant wine experience.

Looking at a wine list can be daunting. They either don’t give you much information or they’re as long as War and Peace! So asking the sommelier for suggestions may be prudent, but remember their job is to sell wine. This explains why when you ask about a particular bottle they seem to always recommend one that’s a little more expensive.

I also find it interesting when my server comes back and sadly tells me that they’re out of a particular wine and recommends one that happens to be a little more expensive.

If you don’t know the wines on the list, determine what the price would be at a store. Most restaurants have a 2.5 to 3 markup. So that $30 bottle of wine is really a $10 to $12 bottle and the $50 bottle really sells for between $17 and $20. Unfortunately it also means that $20 wine is really an $7 to $8.00 bottle. 

Now our friend John thinks more expensive wines have only a 2x markup. If he’s right that means the $200 bottle really should cost around $100.

Restaurants have a high markup because they make their money on alcohol sales not food. However what makes their cost even more out of line is that restaurants don’t pay retail. And the real markup is between 3 and 4 times their actual cost.

So remember, next time you look at the wine list, figure out what that bottle actually cost. It won’t guarantee that the wine will be good or that you’ll like it with your meal. But it does tell you what the wine maker thought.

And one final tip on buying wine in a restaurant. If more than one is going to drink the same wine it’s almost always better to buy the bottle, especially if you want more than one glass. It usually only takes around three glasses to pay for the whole bottle. So for less money you’ll get more wine.

And hopefully someday restaurants owners will figure out that if they sold their wine at a more reasonable price they’d sell more wine and make more money. 


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  1. Much of what you say is true. Unfortunately some of the most important details are assumptions that are not. Restaurants must make money on their food. There is no way that they could survive any other way, and that food markup is much more than the wine when you look at the numbers. The wine is often a liability, a service the restaurant is trying to offer to both help their customers and the waitstaff that serve them. Sure wine is marked up, it is a business, and a lot goes into that. A skilled hand is needed to put together and maintain wine lists that serve their base and highlight the cuisine. The servers are the ones that really benefit the most. For example lets take that $30 bottle of wine. You and a loved one go into a eating establishment. You each spend under $20 on your entrees and decide to enjoy some wine with dinner. Before the wine your tip would have been $7, I am assuming you spent between $35 and $40 on food and you tip between 18% and 20%. Add the tip from the wine and the server nearly doubles their pay for that turn of the table.