Wine Series: How To Make Your Restaurant Wine-Friendly

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

Over the next few weeks Restaurant Management talks to Barbara Wichman Nowak and Beverly Wichman Pittman, who will give advice on everything from how to make your restaurant wine-friendly to how to save money and find the best value on wines.

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 in October.

This week the sisters tell RMGT how to make your restaurant wine-friendly.

Why is it important to be a wine-friendly restaurant?

To make money! Wine is so popular and increasingly so in the U.S., but it’s also where restaurants often make money—more than on the food. So it’s going to attract people in and keep them coming back. It’s easier and less expensive to keep people coming back than finding new customers.

How do you create a wine list that is helpful to customers?

Keep it simple. List wines by category—some customers may not understand what a Bordeaux is, for example. So use categories like ‘light whites,’ and ‘medium-bodied whites.’ Keep it very easy and understandable with a small explanation for each wine.

It’s also great to include which foods the wine might go well with.

And make clear the size of the pour (when it’s by the glass) and the price per-glass and the price of the bottle.

How do you ensure your wait staff are knowledgeable about wine?

Make the wines available to them so they can learn about them over time. It also helps if they taste the foods along with the wines. They don’t even need to learn everything about wine but just focus on the wines at that restaurant

They should be able to pair—just a couple of wines for the dishes. But they should know the basics in case a person just wants a drink. Servers should ask customers what is their favorite wine before making recommendations.

Wine can be a really good upsell so always suggest one and it may encourage someone to have wine if they weren’t considering it. People go to restaurants because they like to try different things so this can make them more likely to return if a server encourages them to try something they like.

How important is the glassware?

Poor quality glassware can totally ruin a wine experience. It doesn’t have to be Riedel or crystal. Make sure it’s a nice size because people like to look at wine, to smell it, to swirl it.

And make sure it’s not cheap or tacky because the more glass there is (the thicker it is), the more glass people taste and the less wine.

Don’t take away your best glassware from the table if a customer orders wine by the glass instead of the bottle; these diners also want a quality experience.

How do you ensure you are offering an ample list of wines by the glass?

Make sure you offer some expensive wines. The reason people go out is to try something different and something a little more high end. They might not buy an expensive bottle, but they might by the glass.

It’s important to have the variety by the style from light to medium to full bodied wines in the whites and reds.

If you get a lot of repeat customers, change your wines by the glass regularly.

Are wine flights a good idea?

They’re ideal for wine lovers who want to try something unfamiliar. They’re also a good way for a restaurant to be really creative and come up with a theme. It’s also nice to add rosés or sparkling wines, especially in the summer.

Keep flights at a reasonable cost. They can be a taste for what people want to order with dinner or what they’ll have next time they come in. However, offering some expensive wines in a flight is also a good way to interest customers and encourage them to drink more of those wines next time they visit.

Include at least three wines in a flight; and no more than five, and 2 oz. is a good pour.

How should you to store your wine?

If you don’t have a preservation system, make sure you always put the cork back into the bottle.

Don’t keep wine in sunlight or heat.

All wines—even if they’re vacuum-sealed—should go into the fridge overnight because the cold temperature will retard the aging process.

A lot of this comes down to training the staff about the importance of it. It’s a good idea to mark bottles with the date when they are opened.

By Amanda Baltazar

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