VALUE OF MID-RANGE WINES
There are a few indicators that can tell you everything you need to know about a restaurant—bathroom cleanliness, plate presentation, the dust on the bottles behind the bar. These are tiny cues that speak volumes. They express how much the staff cares, how present management is, and how these variables might be likely to affect the bottom line. None is more important than sales of mid-range wines (those that wholesale for somewhere between $12 and $30). Mid-range wine sales in most restaurants can point a restaurant in the direction of success of failure. They are the windsock on top of your restaurant’s sailboat, and if you’re not paying attention, you could get stranded at sea.
Don’t believe me? For most restaurants, the percentage cost associated with wine is higher than most other sellable items. However, the margin of a good bottle of wine with dinner beats that gin and tonic (or iced tea!) by a long shot. It’s also true that guests enjoying a good bottle of wine are more likely to pair it with a nice entrée. They’re also much more likely to have a memorable dining experience. In many cases, the quickest and easiest-to-overlook way to turn around the bottom line is a steady boost in wine sales.
However, producing consistent wine sales is much easier said than done. It’s not about swinging for the fences with every table, touting a ’02 Joseph Phelps Insignia or that ’85 Chateau Lynch-Bages Paulliac to every guest you see. It’s also not about selling one $7 glass of Pinot Noir at a time. Just like the best outfits, who excel at turning average days into good ones, the top-selling front-of-the-houses turn average wine sales into good wine sales, and good sales into great ones. This happens with consistent effort by your staff at every table, taking advantage of every chance to upsell. It happens with the all-important combination of expertise and enthusiasm demonstrated by your staff. And it happens with your preparation of a well-crafted wine list. Wondering what’s happening where the rubber meets the road in your business? Look no further than your mid-range wine sales for the answer.
So, how do you generate higher sales in this all-important niche? First: the wine list. A good list represents as many regions as possible, as many varieties as possible, and as many price points as possible. Some regions and varieties are not possible. So, perhaps that Italian joint won’t have any Chilean reds. And, yes, California steakhouses will likely be heavy in California reds. However, gaps in your wine list can reasonably be interpreted as representing lost sales opportunities. Don’t find yourself married to one or two vendors; don’t find yourself married to one or two wine philosophies. Mix it up and don’t neglect the mid-rangers.
Second: education. Servers and bartenders who combine expertise with enthusiasm always find success. Staff wine tastings, whether they’re conducted by vendors or in-house, are a great way to boost knowledge and camaraderie. They cultivate a healthy exchange of ideas among staff members and reinforce an appreciation for wine. More than anything, they should be fun.
Third: a few upselling techniques that consistently work for mid-rangers. Try suggesting something recognizable and more expensive, followed by the suggestion of a mid-range wine that is similar, or “just as good (or well-rounded, or full-bodied, or juicy, etc)”. Make the suggestion with enthusiasm in ten seconds or less, and let the guest compare the price points. Or, turn those two low-end glasses of white for a couple into a mid-range bottle with a little enthusiasm (“Oh, have you ever tried...?” or “As long as you’re both getting a glass, would a bottle of…be a good idea?”). Finally, keep an open bottle around that you can pour to taste or offer at a discount. Your guests may not get that mid-ranger this time, but they’ll appreciate the kindness and may get it the next.
Ultimately, upselling is essential to the success of most restaurants, and mid-range wines are a great way to make it happen. The big wines will typically sell themselves, and the house wines have to sell. A healthy focus on the mid-rangers is the cornerstone of most successful wine programs, and can help turn those rough stretches into decent ones, and the decent ones into great ones.