Restaurants are thinking beyond the bottle when serving wine.
Nontraditional wine packaging continues to overcome dated and misguided stereotypes thanks to striking benefits like quality preservation, boosted bottom lines and return on investment (roi), cost-effectiveness, and sustainability. No matter if wine is on tap or canned, guests taste pours at their temperature-controlled best at approachable venues and prices. For both low- and high-volume restaurants, these nontraditional by the glass (BTG) services stay flexible enough for superior dining experiences and smart enough to sell all pours with zero product souring.
“First, you can actually make money doing this, and second, if you’re not paying attention to the role of sustainability in trying to keep our world from bursting into flames, you didn’t get the message,” explains Gordon Drysdale, culinary director and chef at Scoma’s in San Francisco, California, which has about 30 wines on tap.
Canned wines and wines on tap offer cost savings and reduction in waste since you can keg wines and utilize reusable packaging, says Michael Chetcuti, principal of Farm and Ferment, which umbrellas several restaurants experimenting with taps and cans across Michigan.
“We’re always watching trends and looking at ways for not only us as restaurateurs, but other restaurateurs, too, to save money, real estate, waste, and cost,” Chetcuti says. “We see cans as novel and as a really distinct package that kind of sells itself; we like it, and think it’s neat to play on different sizes and diameters of cans. I mean, Francis Coppola’s daughter’s been canning sparkling wine, called Sophia, for 25 years.”
At The Matheson, the 88 taps on their Wine Wall are powered by high-tech machines that use argon gas to push wine out and preserve pours, which can be dispensed in one, two-and-a-half, and half or full glasses. When you have a wine on tap program, you have more “diamond-in-the-rough” artisanal choices and opportunities for sommelier flexibility, says Dustin Valette, chef, vintner, and owner at The Matheson in Healdsburg, California.
The taps show the best of a region or brand, provide customized wine pairings, and elevate the dining experience since consumers aren’t limited to high-value or high-production wines; consumers get the best quality wine tied to the restaurant’s cuisine, he adds.
“Regular BTG programs, you expose yourself to a certain amount of risk because you put a shelf life on that wine as soon as you open it. It informs owners’ choices about what they can pour that makes sense for the business; this technology helps us get around that,” explains Jon McCarthy, Wine and Beverage Director at The Matheson.
For Sixty Vines in Dallas, Texas, CEO Jeff Carcara says no matter the wine, “they’re coming out at the proper temperature the winemaker wants always, and that one reason alone [is worth it]. It’s a competitive advantage.” Sixty Vines also ran tests on keg wines that sat for a year and found there wasn’t “a lot of recognizable change. And we’ve had some very prominent winemakers walk in, try wine on tap for the very first time, and they’re blown away,” he adds.
With wine on tap and cans, the quality is preserved to winemaker standards, and Carcara says a three to six tap program with two to three wine flights can start up for “less than $5,000”—an ideal price point for smaller venues or those with lower wine orders. And if you’re larger, McCarthy says implementing 20 to 30 wine taps sees ROI and bottom-line benefits in the uptick of consumer spend on glasses of wine, and increased engagement and visits.
When you open a bottle and fail to sell every drop, you’re just pouring all of your profit down the drain, but with the tap system, every drop is perfect and profitable, explains Drysdale. And he’s “been singing praises everywhere I go for canned wine” because his previous restaurant didn’t have space for a tap system, but still wanted a non-stuffy, approachable BTG program.
There’s a dramatic savings in the switch to wine on tap and canned wine, says Chetcuti, which allows restaurants’ programs to be more cost-effective and sharply reduce waste.
“If a bottle’s not open, guess what? You open it up and now you have to sell that whole bottle, but on tap, I can crank that tap all day long for an ounce, a half ounce, two ounces, 10 ounces; I can crank it all day long and I’m not losing,” explains Carcara.
This also includes reduction in labor costs with staff spending less time opening, carrying, and managing wine boxes. Plus, it lowers your carbon footprint, and helps eliminate storage woes and pressure on the post-pandemic glass shortage, says Molly Cohen, director of Wine and Spirits at The Smith and corporate director of Wine and Spirits at Corner Table Restaurants, which has locations in New York City, Washington D.C., and Chicago.
“There’s a huge impact in terms of waste reduction so that translates into cost, so there’s definitely a financial incentive for restaurateurs to look at this, but it’s not a one size fits all,” explains Cohen, where The Smith operates about six taps. “I’ve noticed in the last five to 10 years, public perception is changing for the better, so concerns restaurant owners might have had before, that’s changing, and you’re seeing more places adopt tap wine programs in a wider variety of spaces.”
Less waste lowers costs and improves margins, but experts say it also impacts restaurant sustainability. “One of the strong things about cans, besides environmental impact, is reduced shipping costs and storage space, and ease of recycling,” McCarthy says.
Chetcuti agrees nontraditional packaging helps restaurant sustainability, and in under five years the tech will improve to “get the most out of those systems and recycle 100 percent and have almost zero waste,” he says.
Since the 2015 start of their tap program, Drysdale adds, they’ve pulled 35,000 bottles annually from recycling systems plus removed cardboard, dumpsters, glass, and wine transport and fuel costs.
“We can talk about sustainability with 28 bottles being saved from the landfill because when they’re throwing glass into the recycling bin, only about 20 percent gets recycled,” says Carcara. “We’re using reusable kegs or fully recyclable kegs and we have partnerships to make sure they’re picked up and recycled … and aluminum cans are recycled at about 100 percent.”
Getting started with best practices comes easier with canned wines because, as Drysdale says, if you have storage, your distributor can likely deliver it tomorrow. “And it’s an interesting, out-of-the-ordinary approach and appropriate for younger clientele who think it’s fun,” he adds. “With a wine tap program, you gotta brace yourself for the initial cost, which comes down to how many handles, but you’re looking at thousands of dollars for entry-level.”
Consider your concept type and clientele thoroughly before starting, Cohen advises. “We’re always trying to be creative, and younger generations are more open to experimentation and non-conventional options so this is fun, keep it interesting. There’s something more casual, less stuffy about this type of wine service for consumers who might be intimidated by formal wine service presentations or models.”