Despite their advantages, relatively few operators focus on sourcing half bottles of wine. If displayed prominently at the bar, however, wine in this format constitutes a great conversation starter and potential service upgrade. Offering a selection of half bottles can work wonders to elevate the vibe and can make certain guests feel special. So why are half bottles so difficult to find? Many operators view them as a headache. Since the overhead is roughly similar to a full 750-ml. bottles, production costs for the half bottle can be disproportionately high.
Dedication to the format can remain strong among super-premium producers. One of the lasting effects of the economic downturn has been a focus on less formal dining and half-bottle service provides an amenity that fits the mood. It provides the feel of a luxury experience that is much more casual than a full bottle.
Making Sense of the Format
How do you leverage these advantages? Because of the rarity factor, if your restaurant has made the effort to carry half bottles, make sure they’re on display or guests will never think to order them. Prep yourself with some key bullet points about each half bottle you carry, so you can proactively recommend it as an upgrade whenever a specific wine by the glass is requested. Particularly if you’re carrying categories of popular imported wine that don’t specialize in this format, make a special point of bringing these unusual opportunities to the attention of guests early in the conversation.
Who are the best potential half bottle targets? Solo business travelers, couples concerned about moderating alcohol consumption but looking for a special wine experience, grazers more drawn to bar bites than a full meal and anyone who expresses a desire to experiment with a sequence of wine tastes to match a succession of different courses. Surveys have shown, by the way, that a percentage of guests are predisposed to view wines by the glass skeptically, because of prior negative experiences, while they tend to trust the half bottle as a format ensuring freshness.
Make sure you point out to red wine drinkers that the same exact wine matures more rapidly in a half bottle size than in a full bottle. Fuller-bodied reds tend to taste smoother and more accessible so they can be easier to drink young. Also, guests sometime forget that Champagnes, most of which are made in half bottles, are an outstanding option with food; they also are more forward than the same wine in a full bottle and provide an opportunity for customizing a special premium experience at a relative cost savings compared to a full bottle. ·
Step by Step
1. Display the half bottles you carry.
2. Learn the story of why half bottles are rare so that you can ideally weave theme into an overall recommendation.
3. Try to identify guests who might be pre-disposed to a half bottle recommendation.
4. Learn the short story of each individual half bottle, how it differs from the comparable glass pour in style, and which ones best complement each dish on your menu.
5. Point out the quicker aging, and softer tannin structure, of the young full-bodied reds you offer, and the opportunity to enjoy a superb Champagne at a more moderate cost than the full bottle.