Tag Archives: restaurant wine

Restaurant wine prices 2018

restaurant wine pricesSome restaurants are moving away from traditional wine pricing, and selling wine at prices we can afford to pay

There’s actually some good news surrounding restaurant wine prices 2018 – which is especially welcome after 2017’s higher prices and, not surprisingly, flat consumption.

I’ve talked to a number of restaurant officials in different parts of the country over the past two or three months who are being more aggressive with pricing. That includes extended half-price wine nights, half-price wine happy hour promotions, and even – as difficult as it is to believe – lower markups than the traditional 3 ½ to 4 times wholesale.

Yes, this is a small sample size, and there remain too many restaurants that consider charging $30 for an $8 retail bottle of wine their inalienable right, just like freedom of speech and assembly. But good news is good news.

Perhaps even more important: The restaurants that are cutting wine prices are seeing impressive results. An Italian restaurant owner in New Jersey told me his second biggest wine night of the week is half-price Monday, second only to Saturday night. Ordinarily, Monday is one of his worst days for wine sales.

In New Orleans, meanwhile, the general manager at a popular French Quarter restaurant said half-price wine happy hour has done the impossible – keep his restaurant busy between lunch and dinner, usually a dead spot. In this, he said, given the choice between a packed dining room and traditional wine pricing, he’ll take the packed dining room every time.

A few other notes from my reporting and research on restaurant wine prices 2018. Unfortunately, in these cases, the more things change, the more they stay the same:

• A Dallas seafood restaurant that caters to the city’s social and political elite has about one-third more red wines on its list than whites. And the markups remain mostly 4-1.

• The restaurant business’ leading trade magazine recently ran a very basic story about how to put together a restaurant wine list, the kind of thing I might write for the blog. One would like to think that anyone reading that magazine would already know how to do that. That the story still ran speaks to the need for basic wine list information – which, actually, shouldn’t be surprising. Also not surprising: the story didn’t mention pricing at all.

• Where are the young people? No matter where I eat (and not just in Dallas, where wine is still seen as exotic by many diners), I don’t see enough Millennials and Gen Xers drinking wine. I’ve been coast to coast this spring, and most of the wine was being consumed by older white couples – even in restaurants where where there were lots of younger people. One more reason why I fear for the future of the wine business.

More about restaurant wine prices:
The John Cleese Fawlty Towers guide to restaurant wine service
Restaurant wine prices explained: Follow the money
Winecast 28: Bret Thorn, Nation’s Restaurant News

Winebits 524: Alcohol levels, restaurant wine, Lidl

alcohol levelsThis week’s wine news: Do GOP tax cuts mean more alcohol in wine? Plus, restaurant will cut menu prices, but not wine prices, and a new Lidl means lower grocery costs

Higher alcohol levels? The GOP tax plan changed the way the federal government taxes wine, and Blake Gray reports on Wine-searcher.com that the changes could lead to higher alcohol levels. The explanation is incredibly convoluted, taking into account that wines up to 16 percent alcohol will be taxed at a lower rate, about the same as 14 percent wines had been taxed at. The result, writes Gray, is that “your certainty of getting a lower-alcohol wine might be about to go away” since producers won’t make wines at a lower alcohol level just to qualify for the lower tax rate.

Not with my list, you don’t: Buried at the bottom of this Bloomberg story, which heralds a potentially revolutionary restaurant pricing model aimed at the decline in people eating out, is this: “Sadly, [there are] no immediate plans to introduce flexible pricing on the wine list.” Which just goes to show, no matter how many times we complain about it, the restaurant business doesn’t understand wine, doesn’t care to understand wine, and won’t do anything about ridiculously high prices.

Lower wine prices? Retailers near one of the new Lidl grocery stores on the East Coast set prices for key staples up to 55 percent less than in markets without the discount retailer, according to a study by the University of North Carolina. The numbers are astonishing, with Lidl’s prices 25 percent lower on average than traditional supermarkets. The study did not include wine in its results, but we can only hope that the same effect exists, given Lidl’s emphasis on including wine in its cost-cutting efforts. Because I’m tired of fake grocery store wine pricing.

Wine trends 2018

wine trends 2018

Who needs wine? We have legal weed.

Wine trends 2018: The wine business prepares for a future where fewer of us drink wine, focusing on “authenticity” and making us believe smooth is good

Wine trends 2018 will revolve around the wine business preparing for a future where fewer of us drink wine. Meanwhile, the news for wine prices in 2018 isn’t good. And my 2017 trends are here.

• The search for authenticity, or, Can we scam the wine drinker? As Big Wine owns more brands, they’ll try to convince us these wines aren’t like other mass-produced consumer goods. Instead, they’ll insist that their plonk is “authentic,” part of a post-modern corporate effort to persuade us that “everyday consumerist choices — from organic heirloom tomatoes to eco-tourist yoga retreats to small-batch whiskey” will make the world a better place. So mass-produced grocery store brands that use every winemaking trick and tool possible will be described as artisan and boutique and hand-crafted – adjectives that are the opposite of what the wines are. Wine analyst Paul Mabray has written extensively about this, and we’re trying to arrange a podcast to talk about it.

• We’re stuck with smooth. The worst descriptor in the history of wine is smooth; first, because it means nothing – water is smooth – and second, because wine isn’t supposed to be smooth. It is supposed to have texture and structure and body. Nevertheless, we’ll see wine marketed as “a sumptuous, almost magical outcome of the growing season and winemaking process.” Or, even worse, have smooth in its name. Or, even worse still, cost $20 or more and be boring, alcohol-infused fruit juice that only a handpicked focus group could love.

• The continuing death spiral of restaurant wine. We’ve talked about this many times over the past 18 months, and it’s just going to get worse. One study says almost three-quarters of adults will make dinner at home at least four nights a week this year. Where does this leave restaurant wine? Getting pricier, less interesting, and in the hands of aging Baby Boomers, the only ones who can afford to buy it. I saw this at a tres chic Dallas restaurant in December. We were the only table with a bottle of wine, and I had to navigate a sad and overpriced wine list to find something drinkable. Meanwhile, there was only one glass of wine at the table of eight Millennials next to us, and one of the men was drinking Basil Hayden with dinner.

• Big Wine branches out. The biggest wine companies have been hedging their bets with craft beer and spirits for years, and will continue to do so. But they will also expand into legal weed; witness Constellation Brands’ $191 million investment in a Canadian medical marijuana company. And why not, given that U.S. wine consumption is flat? It’s worth knowing that Constellation’s most profitable business, even though it owns Meomi, Mondavi, and Kim Crawford, is beer and craft spirits.

• Winery consolidation continues, mostly among medium-sized companies. This means that your $20 California brand, once owned by a family or a small group, will become part of a larger company that owns a lot of $20 brands. These companies, like Precept Wine, Foley Family Wines, and the Crimson Wine Group, have been active for a decade or more and own some of the best-known names in U.S. wine. This is happening for two reasons: first, the original owners are ready to retire and no one in the family wants the business; and second, the U.S. wine business has evolved into a business just like anything else – becoming what one analyst has called corporatized. Which then leads to smooth and the authenticity scam.

Winebits 511: Frey Vineyards, customer service, restaurant sales

Frey WineyardsThis week’s wine news: U.S. organic wine may have suffered a serious setback when Frey Vineyards burned, plus customers want top-notch service and more bad news for restaurants

Organic wine: Frey Vineyards, destroyed in last week’s wine country wildfires, was one of the leading organic producers in the country, one of only two or three with national distribution. Its destruction deals another setback to organic wine, which has never been as popular as other organic food products. It accounts for less than five percent of U.S. wine sales; that compares to the 13 percent market share for organic fruits and vegetables. I’ve written a lot about why organic wine does so badly in the marketplace, but the best explanation is so simple I’m embarrassed I didn’t think of it. Says Tyler Rodrigue, an organic viticulture consultant in northern California. “Consumers assume that wine, by its very nature, is pure and natural to begin with. Ask most consumers, and they don’t equate a vineyard with a factory farm the same way they do for other products. Vineyards are beautiful, and don’t look like a picture of a factory farm.”

It’s all about customer service: The Wine Curmudgeon is the son and grandson of retailers, so this study from a company that tracks on-line reviews called Trustpilot isn’t surprising. We want better service when we shop on-line, even more than cheap prices. Which is what I heard when the subject came up at the dinner table, which was more often than not. Says the report: “ ‘Price’ only shows up around in 4-5% of 1-star reviews and in 10% of 5-star reviews, significantly behind the top five most common words.” Why does this matter to wine retailers? What’s more confusing than buying wine? What other category requires service to find something to buy that is enjoyable? In other words, fake discounts and shelf talkers blaring 92 points aren’t enough. We want a person to answer our questions knowledgeably and intelligently.

Restaurant sales continue to slump: How bad has the restaurant sales slump become? So bad that the people who parse the numbers are desperatley looking for silver linings. Throw out the hurricane states from this summer’s sales figures, and the decline in sales from month to month are less than two percent. Not much of a silver lining, is it? Or, as the chart with the story shows, same store sales have declined for 11 of the past 12 months. We’ve written about this on the blog many times, since poor restaurant sales numbers usually mean higher restaurant wine prices, as operators increase wine prices to make up for losing money elsewhere. No doubt this will continue to happen.

Follow-up: John Cleese/Fawlty Towers guide to restaurant wine service

restaurant wine serviceMany of you who read the post agree: Nothing much has changed with restaurant wine service in 42 years

Last week’s post, featuring the infamous Fawlty Towers restaurant wine service scene, elicited not just huge traffic but a variety of comments and emails from visitors.

So my friends in the restaurant business need to do some soul searching. Why does a 42-year-old video where John Cleese opens a wine bottle by holding it between his knees, and where he doesn’t get all of the cork out on the first try, and where he refuses to acknowledge that the wine – an expensive red Burgundy – is flawed, still matter?

Yes, some of it is because John Cleese is funny. Yes, some it is because this a well-designed website that deftly uses Google’s search algorithm to attract traffic.

But the real reason? Because this stuff still happens – four decades after Cleese made fun of it. And how frustrating is that? Consider that:

The Big Guy reported last week from Bar Harbor, Maine – hardly a shot and beer kind of town – that the waiter left half of the cork in a bottle of pricey white Burgundy. He had to finish taking the cork out of a bottle of wine, which is inexcusable.

• A regular blog visitor from Texas emailed to say that not only did a waiter try to open the bottle between her knees, but couldn’t do it even then. She had to run to the bar to get it opened. Which is also inexcusable.

• A blog visitor from Califormia emailed that Cleese left out one other restaurant wine service aggravation: “Six people sit down in a restaurant, are given menus and one drinks or wine list. First words out of the server’s mouth, “Would anyone like something to drink?’ ”

We pay three and four times retail in restaurants for what are often crappy wines. What does it say about how little they care about our money that they can’t even give us decent service to go with the overpriced wine?

Winebits 488: Cheap wine quality, nutrition labels, restaurant wine

cheap wine qualityThis week, three of the WC’s favorite topics – cheap wine quality, why nutrition labels matter, and restaurant wine prices

Bring on the taste test: An English wine shop hosted a blind tasting, and the £5 bottle (about US$6.50) beat four more expensive wines, including a $40 red Bordeaux. This does not surprise to the Wine Curmudgeon, of course, who has been advocating these sorts of blind tastings for years. The winner was a Spanish verdejo, Abadia Mercier, which is not available in this country. But almost any verdejo – a white wine that is fresh, crisp, and lemony – should do the trick if you want to try a similar blind tasting with your friends. Verdejos, like the Blume, have been the wine of the week on the blog for years, and almost all have cost $10 or less.

Bring on the nutrition labels: Millennials, who are supposed to the future of the wine business, like nutrition and ingredient labels – so much so that a recent study of snack foods should be a “wake-up call” for brands. “When you see a majority of that size say, ‘Fewer ingredients means a snack is healthier,’ that’s a pretty massive shift for the age group, said one of the men who did the study. “Being health-conscious is a smart move and it is transcending the generations right now.” Unless, of course, you’re the wine business, where telling us what’s in our wine is heresy.

Bring on the wine list: A journalist turned wine geek says restaurants charge more for wine that people are more familiar with, like cabernet sauvignon – “a ‘gimme tax’ on glasses of brand-name grapes like chardonnay and malbec. They could charge more because most drinkers see a familiar grape, go on autopilot, and think, ‘Give it to me; I don’t care what it costs.” I’ve never heard this before, though it does seem to explain why some familiar brands are marked up more than wines made with the odd grapes that I like.

British restaurants to customers: Sod off

restaurant wine pricesBritish restaurant wine prices are ridiculously high, just like those in the U.S.

British journalist Matthew Bell is even more angry about restaurant wine prices than the Wine Curmudgeon is.

As he writes in London’s Daily Mail newspaper: “But if you think you’re paying a reasonable price for a decent bottle, think again. … restaurants are relying on the fact most of us don’t know much about wine to squeeze the biggest profits out of frugal diners.”

Which, as regular visitors here know, is something we’ve been warning consumers about for the past couple of years. As restaurant traffic and profits slump, they’re using wine to make up the difference – and gouging those of us who want a quality bottle at a fair price.

As Bell writes: “Take The Connaught hotel restaurant in London, which has two Michelin stars, and where a meal for two can set you back £300 (about US$381). A small glass of house white (125ml) costs £10 (about US$13). But go on-line and you could buy a whole bottle of the very same wine for just £9.70. That represents a mark-up of a staggering 500 per cent.”

There’s a terrific chart with the story showing the markups at four London restaurants – 300 percent for a couple of simple Italian white wines, 312 percent for a French red posing as a house wine, and 233 percent for another French red.

In other words, British restaurants are doing the same thing to their customers that U.S. restaurants are doing to us, and a London food critic calls it a big problem. Would that food critics in this country noticed the same thing.

And the results? Writes Bell: Those of us who don’t know much about wine are left “with an unenviable choice — either we pick the cheapest, and get ripped off; or go upmarket and spend more money, when all we ever wanted was a simple glass of wine.”