Wine Series: How Every Restaurant Can Create A Stand-Out Wine Program

Its high profit margin makes wine a product that many restaurants seek to sell more of. But how?

Over several weeks Restaurant Management talks to Barbara Wichman Nowak and Beverly Wichman Pittman, who give advice on everything from how to make your restaurant wine-friendly to how to avoid common wine mistakes.

Known as The Saucy Sisters, Nowak and Pittman are the authors of ‘The Saucy Sisters’ Guide to Wine: What Every Girl Should Know Before She Uncorks’ and ‘The Everything Wine Book.’ Their third book, ‘The Saucy Sisters' Guide to Wine: What Every Girl Should Know Before She Unscrews,’ will be published next month.

This week the sisters highlight some simple ways that restaurants can make their wine program stand out:

Provide doggie bags for leftover wine

The more expensive a bottle of wine is, the more a doggie bag for undrunk wine will encourage customers to buy it. There are all kinds of fun doggie bags or boxes available from different retailers such as

Buy bags or boxes with your restaurant name and logo printed on them, so allowing customers to take unfinished bottles of wine home can also be a marketing opportunity. It’s a good idea to provide a bag with handles—it’s easier to carry and customers will use it over and over.

Make it clear on your menu that unfinished bottles of wine can be taken home and make sure your servers know your policy.

Provide clean glasses for a second bottle of the same wine

This is a great extra touch that a restaurant can provide. Glasses gather fingerprints and lipstick marks and it’s nice to start out fresh.

This also means that the guest can do the tasting ritual again because a clean glass lends itself to tasting. This really shows a restaurant cares about its wine service.

Provide wine labels to take home in a personalized restaurant folder

Use a special machine (available from many wine retailers for as little as $7) to remove labels from wine bottles and place them in a small 5 x 7cardboard folder that is printed with your restaurant’s name.

This extra touch offers beautiful presentation and is another marketing opportunity for the restaurant.

Serve wines by the glass in a carafe

Most people who enjoy wine do not want a full glass but they do want what they’re paying for. Wine lovers enjoy swirling and sipping their wine and if they have a carafe, they can pour in as much as they want at any given time.

The presentation with a carafe is worth many times the extra cost that comes from buying and washing the carafes.

This kind of service shows a restaurant cares about the people who are buying by the glass and wants everyone to have a great experience.

Bring the bottle to tables when pouring wines by the glass           

This shows a restaurant values the wine experience as well as the customer knowledge, and that they’re pouring what the guest ordered.

Offer 1 oz., 2 oz. and 4 oz. pours of expensive wines

A standard pour is usually 5 oz. to 6 oz. Offering smaller pours allows guests to sample more wines and often to purchase a full glass of a more expensive wine. Smaller pours can often have a higher markup.

When pouring smaller amounts, use full-size wine glasses to show that the guest is not being penalized for having less wine. If they then order a full pour they can use the same glass.

Offer a good selection of half bottles

A lot of people, even if they can take it home, might not want a full bottle of wine so a half bottle gives them much more flexibility.

A half bottle is also a nice follow-up to a full bottle, or allows guests to sample two half bottles instead of one full bottle to try two different things.

Offer to decant wines

This primarily refers to red wines. It’s always a nice touch to ask guests if they’d like their wine decanted. Typically a server or sommelier decants once, unless the customer asks for it to be done additional times.

It’s helpful if the restaurant is knowledgeable about the wines it’s serving so servers know which should be decanted. If a wine has sediment, it should always be decanted, as should young tannic red wines. Every wine benefits from exposure to air and it’s not going to hurt to decant. Decanting aerates the wine and smoothes out the harshness that tannins supply.

Use fine stemware (like Riedel)

This illustrates to customers that your wine is worthy of these nice glasses. It is costly for the restaurant and it tastes nicer out of really thin, fine crystal.

The breakages you’ll incur (and you will) are worth it for the customer experience.

Have a wine/food pairing menu with premium wines

These are exciting for the chef/sommelier to work on and for the customer. Restaurants can usually charge a little more for tasting dinners because of this. Customers will try some premium wines that they wouldn’t usually try and the dinners can be offered at different tiers—regular wines or more expensive wines; three courses, or six courses, for example.

Develop a wine list that’s diverse rather than big

If you offer variety, people will find something they will enjoy. A huge wine list, while impressive because of its size and maybe because it’s bound in leather, is too intimidating and takes too much time for a diner to go through.

So simply ensure you offer lots of different styles and wine regions.

By Amanda Baltazar

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News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by WTWH Media LLC.