For restaurateurs, savvy marketing that makes wine accessible is half the game in this economy. By focusing on guests’ desire for greater value at less cost, operators have been employing all sorts of merchandising strategies. At the 80-room Burnsley Hotel in Denver, for example, the entire domestic wine list is available at the same price per glass, $8, as well as by the bottle, $30. According to Jason Ford, general manager, wine sales have increased and guests have been more willing to branch out to try less-familiar wines since that pricing change was made two years ago. “Since we launched the program, we’ve seen an increase in sales of 23 percent. Instead of just having one glass, they go on and try another. It invites experimentation.”
Similarly simplifying things, many concepts now also offer bottle deals on their lists to make them more accessible. All the wines at Fox’s the Lucky Monk, for example, are under $50. Poste Moderne Brasserie also does “50 Under $50.” At Jackson 20 in the 241-room Hotel Monaco in Alexandria, Va., part of the San Francisco-based Kimpton chain, beverage manager Ray Manning offers “20 for $20.” And at Cafe Dupont, it is “100 wines for $100.”
At the New York-based The One Group’s five restaurants around the county, “Wine Down Mondays” feature half-price wines by the glass or bottle. “We offer a wide variety and at all price points, from merlot by the glass all the way up to Quintessa and Joseph Phelps Insignia, says beverage director John Sherman. “We notice a lot of repeat customers. People respond to both the variety and the value.” For instance “Bottle Shock Sundays” at Sepia in Chicago feature the restaurant’s wines under $90, many at 50 percent off. “It’s a good way to move inventory, and a great way for guests to take a risk on wines that may be unknown to them,” says Scott Tyree, the wine director there.
Others are doing more with by-the-glass programs, giving guests lower entry points for a good glass of wine and encouraging them to try and experiment with more wines with different courses. Throughout its 50-plus restaurants Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants has been offering more wines by the glass in smaller pours, putting together 2 1/2-ounce tastes in flights. “We’ve played with taste and glass programs pretty intensely now for a year,” says Emily Wines, San Francisco-based master sommelier and director of wines at Kimpton. The flight program has “had a positive impact on sales. While overall wine sales are down, our by-the-glass sales are up.” Wines says she thinks it is because the smaller pours give guests “the wine experience without the commitment.”
Jonathan Fox, president and CEO of Chicago-based restaurant management consulting firm 3Sixty Dining Intelligence and owner of upscale pizza restaurant LaMadia and burger and pizza concept, The Lucky Monk, both in the Chicago area, has had the same experience. “We have 280 bottles—80 of which are by the glass, 4-ounce and 7-ounce pours,” he says. “This encourages interest and curiosity. Because guests don’t have to commit to a full glass, there’s a lot more willingness to go toward something that they may have never had before.”