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Drop dead, restaurant wine prices

restaurant wine prices
Restaurant wine prices are too high, which prevents restaurants from selling more wine and restaurant customers from drinking more wine. Everyone understands this but restaurants (see the cheap wine book and various academic studies); nevertheless, the people who run them seem content to charge higher prices, sell less wine, and make even less money.

The Wine Curmudgeon was reminded of this again on Saturday night during dinner at Urbano’s, probably Dallas’ best-known BYOB restaurant and where the food is more or less moderately priced. During the 2 ½ hours we were there, everyone was drinking wine, most of the tables had more than one bottle (including sparkling and rose, not a common sight), and hardly any of the wine I saw was grocery store plonk. The table next to us, in fact, came prepared with a very expensive wine carryall that contained several pricey bottles.

What was the reason for all that wine? Urbano’s charges $5 per bottle for corkage, so no one had to pay $50 for a bottle from a mediocre wine list. Instead, a table of of four will spend $10 at Urbano’s for two bottles of wine, cutting the bill by at least one-third.

The caveats? Urbano is small, with fewer than a couple of dozen tables, and its reputation as BYOB means it attracts wine drinkers. But given the traditional Dallas antipathy to wine – the bottle at my table when I go out usually gets more than a few stares from the sweet tea drinkers – every table at Urbano’s that had wine speaks volumes about the difference price makes. Because, as our waitress told me, 80 percent of their customers bring their own wine.

So, once again, a plea for fair restaurant wine pricing. I don’t expect wine so cheap that it competes with retail pricing. But would it be so awful if restaurants only doubled the price of the bottle that cost them $10 instead of tripling it?

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7 thoughts on “Drop dead, restaurant wine prices

  • By Darcy - Reply

    Thank you for your continued vigilance on this topic. Here in Chicago it’s not unusual to see $12 prices for a glass of wine that is less than that for a full bottle at retail.
    And very little creativity of choices, compounding the problem. I’d love to see a shift.

  • By Denton Holland - Reply

    I’m sure Mitch appreciates the kind words, but I’m not sure I do. Now it’ll be twice as hard to get a weekend reservation! One thing you did not mention (and I know it adds nothing to the point you were making), you do not have to take your own wine to Urbano if you want some with your meal. It has a nicely varied and reasonably priced list of its own.

  • By Ed Masciana - Reply

    Coming from both sides of the equation, wholesale and restaurant, I can see both sides. It’s not about the markup that is important in wine pricing. It’s about the dollars!

    Considering the costs of running a restaurant today, which are HUGE, you can’t make a profit of $10.00 on a bottle of wine and call that a profit. It’s more like a loss. When you take into consideration all the costs, rent, labor, insurance and the like, you can’t make less than $17.00 a bottle profit in a medium priced restaurant. I don’t care if costs $2 or $50. So the cheaper wines have to have more of a mark-up and the expensive wines less. I’ve done it and guess what? You sell more expensive wines, make more profit. The customer is getting a deal, is drinking better for less and thus will come back. WIN WIN!

  • By Buff - Reply

    Appreciate your comments. As an owner of a winery i only wish restaurant marked prices up 3X. I am finding restaurants marking wine up 4X. Trust me the waiter makes more on his tips versus the money I make producing the wine.

  • By Michael Graves - Reply

    If a restaurant makes the effort to have a decent list I will partake. However, it’s so easy to look up a wine on a mobile phone that they can easily price themselves beyond my sensibility. I appreciate that they need to make money, but I will not pay for the bottle while only receiving a glass.

    Here in Houston, and specifically in The Heights, there’s a small informal Italian place known as Collina’s Italian Cafe. It’s BYOB because of an ancient bylaw that created a small dry area back in the day.

    The food is ok. Not fancy, but good and affordable. On any given night you’ll find bottles on more than half of the tables. I like to nonchalantly survey the place and ascertain the balance of $ vs $$ bottles. Most are under $20. However, once-in-a-while someone shows up with something surprising.

    I like to take my favorite pizza wine, which is an Amador County Barbera.

  • By Ed Barton - Reply

    In Oklahoma, the restaurant prices are set by the wholsaler/ distributor.We can thank the 3 tier system for this problem. I was working on a remodel of a restaurant when the salesman dropped off the pricing sheet. It listed the cost to the restaurant and the price they are to charge by the bottle or by the glass. We have no corkage fees available to us here. Wish we did. Maybe the states will wake up to this massive rip off in the future,but I dont think I will live that long. Thanks for all of your hard work on educating the public on the vast array of wines available to us.

  • By Ash @ The Delightful Home - Reply

    Thanks for keeping tabs on this topic! When I visit the small town I grew up in, I notice the only wines available at restaurants are the same offered at the nearby grocery store… and a glass costs as much as the bottle!

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