Wine programs have become more sophisticated in recent years—way back in the day, all most casual restaurants had to do was offer Chablis, Burgundy, and rosé. Today’s consumers expect more, and your wines available by the glass should reflect that.
If you don’t have a wine-by-the-glass program, it’s probably time to consider one. And if you do have one, it’s worth taking a look at it to see what you can update or improve to maximize its potential and profit.
A by-the-glass program is an easy way to drive more wine sales and also a great way to build up to a starter wine list if you don’t have one. The success of the by-the-glass program may warrant the move to bottle sales, with the wine list book and all the trappings.
Here are a few tips for starting or enhancing a BTG wine program.
1) Start with a small, unique selection. Make sure you’re offering guests wines that they probably don’t have in their fridge at home or that they can find in the local grocery store (if they’re in states where groceries can sell wine). You can start small, maybe offer three reds and three whites, and see how that works out with your staff and your customers, and fine tune from there.
Your by-the-glass program should evolve constantly: Expand and contract the number of selections by frequently adding new items and deleting slow movers.
2) Work with a great wine sales representative. What makes a great rep? They must be knowledgeable and honest, for starters. The best look to establish a true partnership—one that is beneficial to both sides of the equation.
My experience early on was with the bigger distributors, who readily have the support resources for their portfolio and personnel to back it all up. But smaller distributors are catching up by offering specialized portfolios that are rich in unique wines and sold by more experienced sales reps.
3) Consider regional preferences. We all love to read about which exotic styles or regions for wine are selling at a double-digit rate in New York or L.A. and it’s important to keep up on trends. But the reality is that incredible rosé, or malbec, or tempranillo may not be the best fit for you. You know which wines, styles, and price points work in your region, your concept and your target customer.
That said, offering distinctive wines and being able to introduce your guests to something new can be an advantage if done right. A great sales rep can be a great initial source of street intelligence, especially emerging trends.
Wine trade publications can also provide a wealth of information. And don’t forget about your waitstaff, who can offer valuable input on what customers are looking for and at what price point.
4) Price it right. Speaking of pricing, the goal is to try to hit the perfect balance of the price/value relationship. Again, your rep can help with special seasonal pricing, vintage changes—they sometimes offer better pricing to move the last of the previous vintage out.
And if a deal on closeout items seems too good to be true, ask for a sample bottle to try.
The accepted norm in pricing seems to be to pay for the bottle with the first glass of wine you sell, but you should tailor your pricing to your market. It’s generally important to stay competitive on price—a few points shaved on your mark-up can pay huge dividends in the long run.
5) Invest in staff training. All your due diligence will be wasted if your employees aren’t motivated to sell your wines by the glass. Information is king, so make sure your waitstaff is armed with facts and details to effectively and confidently market the product.
Wine industry publications and the wineries’ websites are good sources for information. And don’t forget staff seminars with your distributor rep—get them as invested as they should be in your program’s success.
6) Preserve your investment. Make sure you have adequate, cool, and logically organized storage space. Your storage goal temperature-wise should be about 59 degrees or less for the red, and 39 degrees or less for the whites. The key is avoiding huge spikes in temperature.
Metro shelving that is specific to wine storage (laying bottles on their side, not upright) is usually readily available from your local restaurant supply house. I’ve also had success with scratch-and-dent wine cooler units from stores such as Home Depot. As your program progresses, check with the wine accessory companies on larger units.
Inspect your wine deliveries as they come into your operation, especially during the warmer months. Open a case if you’re concerned—a white wine that is warm to the touch is not a good thing, same thing for a red wine that has bled thru the cork or capsule.
The most important item is maintaining the freshness of the opened wine for as long as you can. Once you pull that cork, or twist that cap, the clock starts ticking. Nothing will kill the best program in the world more than the customer getting oxidized wine.
Your basic rule of thumb on how long an opened wine lasts is one to two days with the cork put back in, and six to seven days with a vac-u-vin type device. Invest in one of these or something similar, and maintain a log on usage/date as a quick reference. This is a great low-tech tool to help track fast and slow movers and analyze to success of the program. ·
Tom Geoghegan is a 30+ year industry veteran, with extensive experience in the on and off-premise trade segment, and on the wholesaler side of the distribution network.